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

Even the most experienced marketer may have trouble telling the difference between content marketing and inbound marketing.

Believe me. I’ve been asked, “What’s the difference between…” many times, and not from marketing newbies.

The question is so common that HubSpot, an inbound marketing and sales platform company, surveyed 3,500 marketers and sales professionals to describe the difference between content marketing and inbound marketing.

HubSpot asked, “Which of the following best describes the relationship between ‘content marketing’ and ‘inbound marketing’?” and provided five options:

  1. They are synonyms.
  2. Content marketing is a subset of inbound marketing.
  3. Inbound marketing is a subset of content marketing.
  4. The two are fundamentally different.
  5. Don’t know.

 

What Was the Verdict?

The majority of marketing and sales professionals agreed that content marketing is a subset of inbound marketing.

HubSpot: How Departments See the Difference Between Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing

However, this was a HubSpot-delivered survey, over half of the respondents are HubSpot platform users, and inbound marketing is a term coined and merchandised by HubSpot.

What happens when you look at this same question and split the responses by HubSpot users vs. non-HubSpot users?

HubSpot: Do HubSpot Customers and Non-HubSpot Customers See a Difference between Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing

Perhaps thanks to HubSpot’s very active and convincing marketing, the results showed that nearly half of marketers who don’t use HubSpot still believe content marketing is a subset of inbound marketing.

It seems that the collective body of marketing and sales professionals have come to a consensus on which came first, the chicken or the egg. But how are these two marketing tactics defined?

 

What is Content Marketing?

 

Content marketing is the strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

— Content Marketing Institute

 

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is an approach focused on attracting customers through content and interactions that are relevant and helpful — not interruptive. With inbound marketing, potential customers find you through channels like blogs, search engines and social media.

— HubSpot

Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing are Two Halves of the Same Apple

Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing are Two Halves of the Same Apple

When it really comes down to it, the difference between content marketing and inbound marketing is really slim because the intent and many of the tactics are the same. Both believe that nurturing and educating customers is the way to attract more leads, increase sales and diminish the cost and time associated with closing a sale for a lower acquisition cost.

In this effort to educate prospective customers, content marketing and inbound marketing create collateral to nurture someone along the buyer’s journey.

The idea is that someone trying to fix a problem requires different content than someone who is further along in the buying journey when they are evaluating two potential solutions.

Inbound marketing takes this evolution found in the buyer’s journey to the next level with its inbound marketing methodology. The inbound marketing methodology takes the buyer’s journey and assigns greater explicit stages, as well as recommended tactics for moving someone from stranger to a brand or product to a brand evangelist or promoter.

If you’re familiar with the HubSpot platform, you’ll notice that the tactic assigned for moving someone from the stranger stage to promoter directly aligns with the support mechanisms the platform includes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to be aware of. 

 

My Trick for Distinguishing the Difference Between Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing:

 

  • Inbound marketing is a methodology; it includes website design, email marketing, event marketing, sales, etc., and its foundation is built on content. Inbound marketing’s objective is to drive new sales.
  • Content marketing is the strategy, development and promotional execution of content toward a persona or industry vertical. Content marketing is not necessarily always intended to drive new sales prospects, it can also be used to drive customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Whether you practice content marketing or inbound marketing is purely based on objective.

Now this is the appropriate moment to mention that Jacobs & Clevenger is a partner agency with HubSpot. We have inbound and content marketing clients using its marketing software and tools, but we also have clients who don’t rely on the platform to accomplish their goals. The marketing technology stack J&C uses in partnership with our clients is purely based on their needs and budgets.

Download the Content Marketing Template Tools Kit to get started developing the content you'll need for either a content or inbound marketing strategy. 

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