Inbound Marketing vs. content marketing – what is the difference?

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When new waves like content marketing and inbound marketing flows over the marketing landscape, it’s almost unavoidable that the concepts will blend together.

Marketing experts, agencies, and other people bring in their interpretation of the words, and evangelists on each wing like to make a big fuss that content is just a part of inbound – or the opposite.

Basically, an unconstructive play on terms, but since we use both concepts a lot, it is still possible to define what we mean when we say content marketing and inbound marketing, respectively.

It’s all about valuable content

Let’s take content marketing first. The authoritative source of the term is the Content Marketing Institute, which describes content marketing as:

“… a 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.”

In a simplistic way, it is to publish a continuous stream of valuable content that attracts and maintains customers.

But is not that the essence of inbound marketing? Yes, it is.

Inbound marketing is about attracting potential customers to their website with valuable content, converting visitors to leads that can be processed until they’re “hot” enough for the sales department to take over, roughly speaking.

But what is the difference between inbound and content marketing?

One of the differences is that inbound marketing as a methodology is more closely focused on lead generation and lead nurturing.

Inbound is also more dependent on certain technical tools, such as call to actions, forms, email workflows, lead score, etc.

Inbound marketing is also much more related to marketing automation than what content marketing is. This is not that strange because it was the marketing automation company HubSpot, who invented the concept of inbound marketing. In addition, it is a term for marketing that draws people into the content of the company, unlike classic outbound, pushing advertising messages into the minds of people.

Said in another way…

Still confused? Let me say that in a few other ways:

You can do content marketing without making inbound marketing. But you cannot make effective inbound marketing without using content marketing. Valuable content is the fuel that drives the lead generation engine and thus the inbound traffic to the website.

However, not all of your inbound activities can be called content marketing. Email workflows and CRM integration are important in inbound but do not have much to do with themselves.

What about a specific format such as a company blog – inbound or content?

Assuming that the content is really valuable then it is content marketing. If you also use the blog to harvest contact information on the visitors by getting them to download additional content, it is a part of inbound marketing.

I hope that this explains the concepts, similarities and differences and has given a little more clarity. Otherwise, there is more help (or further confusion) to get here:

HubSpot:  The Difference Between Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing

Content Marketing Institute:  The 7 Business Goals of Content Marketing: Inbound Marketing Is Not Enough


Torkild Smith is the owner of Bramhall Web Designs, helping business owners to get more time so they can concentrate on closing more deals with their strategic partners.

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Torkild Smith

Torkild Smith is the owner of Bramhall Web Designs, helping business owners to get more time so they can concentrate on closing more deals with their strategic partners.

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