What’s the Difference Between Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing?

Traditional marketing is dead. I was dragged along to the funeral, threw a handful of dirt onto its cheaply made coffin, listened to an offensive and interruptive eulogy, and ended up being the only person to attend the wake.

tradtional marketing gravestone

RIP, Traditional Marketing

Thankfully, most small businesses and digital agencies are coping surprisingly well with the loss of traditional marketing methods, ditching the telesales and print advertising in favor of providing value to their target audience. We shouldn’t be surprised – outbound marketing was offensive, obnoxious, and designed to drag reluctant visitors kicking and screaming through your sales funnel. By contrast, modern marketing focuses on ‘pulling’ visitors to your website – offering them a pot of gold at the end of your website, and genuinely providing it when they get there. This ethos of valuable marketing seems to fall into two schools – ‘Inbound Marketing’, as popularized by digital marketing behemoths HubSpot, and ‘Content Marketing’, a well-established term that seems to directly compete with the Inbound ethos. For someone looking to reinvent their marketing strategy for the digital age, this can cause an understandable amount of confusion.

  • Which approach is better?
  • Which is right for my business?
  • In fact, is inbound marketing the same as content marketing?

HubSpot and Inbound Marketing

We started our research at the home of Inbound Marketing, HubSpot. Their ‘Inbound Methodology’ page is arguably the birthplace of the inbound ethos, and it’s a suitably content-rich affair; full of colorful infographics and hundreds of bullet-points. Sifting through the wealth of information available reveals the core tenets of the HubSpot belief, in the form of their ‘Major Themes’:

Create content that answers the questions of your target audience, and finds ways for the right people to see it.
Understand that your target audience will require different types of content, dependent on their position in the marketing funnel [see the Inbound Marketing Funnel below]. Tailor your content to suit the evolving needs of your target audience.
Get to know your visitors, and tailor content specifically to suit their developing needs.
Be flexible in your distribution of content, and interaction with visitors. Interact with them on their own terms, where they want to be interacted with.
Always use measurable metrics to assess the impact, efficacy and success of your marketing. Evolve your practices where required.

These represent, in a nutshell, the key principles of inbound marketing, from the mouth of the marketing horse itself. The emphasis is clearly on the complete and holistic nature of inbound marketing. Content is just one part of the conversion process from complete stranger to delighted customer, and a wealth of other stages, processes and analysis occurs alongside.

inbound content marketing funnel

Inbound Marketing Funnel

Inbound Marketing without Content?

Crucially though, the inbound process starts and ends with valuable content. The entire strategy is reliant on the creation of targeted, relevant material (be it articles, blog posts, eBooks or Tweets), and the value that visitors place upon that material. Unless you’re able to provide visitors with content that they genuinely value, you won’t be able to engage with them and start the conversion process.

  • Without regular blog posts, you won’t drive relevant traffic to your site
  • Without a valuable eBook on your landing page, your call-to-action will have literally no impact…
  • …and without a range of targeted, intelligent content to supply to your leads as they descend the marketing funnel, you’ll never close a sale.

Content is King

In short, content is king, and Inbound marketing is entirely reliant on the creation of content, and the inclusion of content marketing into its structure. As this article by Cursive Content summarizes:

‘Content is such a big part of inbound marketing that you wouldn’t be able to execute an inbound marketing program without content marketing.’
Cursive Content

I’m sure HubSpot would argue that without the marketing funnel, without measurable metrics and analysis, and without a holistic, multi-channel approach, content marketing wouldn’t work – but that implies a complete misunderstanding of the term ‘content marketing’. Content marketing includes all of the elements of inbound marketing, because marketing it itself a holistic process. Creating content in its own right is not marketing – it’s the targeted creation, dissemination and analysis of that content.

Inbound Marketing = Content Marketing

surprised marketing cat

‘They’re… THE SAME?!’

Inbound marketing and content marketing share the same core principles – creating valuable content, sharing that content and using further installments of targeted content to drive the sales process. It’s as simple as that. So where has all this confusion come from? Why are so many marketers fervent in their pursuit of inbound marketing, yet so distrustful of content marketing? Why are their two names for what is essentially the same marketing practice?

 The answer? HubSpot.

Inbound Marketing as a Brand

If you aren’t familiar with HubSpot, you should probably stop reading this and spend an hour on their website right now. They’re one of the biggest and brightest marketing companies in the world, and they provide the infrastructure and impetus to literally thousands of emerging and established digital agencies. To all intents and purposes, they provide marketing software and support to their customers, but I believe their legacy extends much, much further. This article set off by introducing HubSpot as the company responsible for popularizing the term ‘Inbound Marketing’ – but I’d like to amend that now. I actually believe that HubSpot are the company responsible for rebranding Content Marketing.

HubSpot as Value-Added Resellers

hubspot inbound marketing

You sly, sly people…

HubSpot have done what you’d expect a world-class marketing agency to do, and rebranded, remarketed and resold an existing concept as their own. The principles of content marketing are nothing new, but the hype and confusion generated by the introduction of an apparently new form of marketing allowed HubSpot to position itself as the biggest marketing agency in the world. In an obvious touch of irony, HubSpot’s business model of creating value-added resellers for their software has been overshadowed – and HubSpot are now the biggest VAR in the world, reselling content marketing as their own product. Doing this is obviously controversial, and established content-marketers are desperate to stand their ground and avoid losing out to the new inbound buzzword, so they attack inbound marketing – generating all of the hype and confusion we see today. In this instance, all publicity really is good publicity.

The Future of Marketing

So what are my predictions for the future? Will we still be having this debate in a year, two years, even ten years? Looking at HubSpot’s current direction, the answer is a resounding no. Already, the company are making moves to distance themselves from the term they created, choosing to slowly refocus their business as a complete all-in-one business solution, instead of marketing specialists. ‘Inbound marketing’ is giving way to ‘inbound sales’ and ‘inbound customer service’, and the creation of entirely ‘inbound’ businesses that base their entire infrastructure on the HubSpot ethos. By contrast, content marketing  is going nowhere. The principles of providing value to your visitors, leads and customers is not new, and we’re seeing this resurgence because it works. Content marketing never went away, and I don’t believe it ever will – but it might get rebranded a few more times.

Content Marketing for Your Business

If you were worried about the differences between inbound and content marketing before, you shouldn’t be now. They all focus on the same principles – providing value to your target audience, and receiving value back. Implementing a successful marketing strategy for your business or digital agency will require the same intelligent action regardless of your chosen path – you’ll still need a regularly updated business blog, a strong social media presence, a user-friendly website, a wealth of free resources, and the ability to direct and capitalize on traffic through measurable metrics, frequent analysis, CTAs, landing pages and continued customer engagement. And as for a last word on the difference between the content approach, and the inbound approach?

It’s all marketing baby.

If there’s one thing this article should attest to, it’s the undeniable power of content marketing. If you want to learn more about content marketing, or would like your business to benefit from world-class articles, blog posts, guides and eBooks, click a link below!
Content Marketing Explained – A Free eBook Resource

Discover the perfect content solution for your business

What are your predictions for the battle between Inbound and Content? Are there any differences we missed? Let us know in the comments section!

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