Inbound Marketing vs. Content Marketing: What's the Difference?

by Thaddeus Gerber | 4 MIN READ
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If you just woke up from your mid-afternoon nap, spluttering, “wait, there’s a difference?” you’re forgiven.

You’re not the only one.

The differences between inbound marketing vs. content marketing can be subtle for those new to digital marketing methodologies, but drastically different for those more initiated.

Let's take a look...

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Understanding Inbound Marketing

Instead of pushing your message down people’s throats, inbound marketing is all about drawing people in.

It involves leveraging key messaging and tools in an effort to help people to get to know you and trust you – naturally attracting the kind of prospects that are already seeking out information about you and your product/services.

The goal of inbound marketing is to place useful information where potential buyers are and at the most opportune times in an effort to encourage attention towards your brand.

In short, inbound is a comprehensive digital marketing methodology that often includes the use of content, though is not entirely dependent nor synonymous with content marketing.

Related: Inbound Marketing vs. Growth Hacking: Which is Best for Your Company?

Understanding Content Marketing

Where most people get lost in the comparison of inbound vs content is defining what constitutes content.

And rightly so.

Content encompasses blogs, offers, emails, newsletters - basically any written, image based or audio form of marketing asset. Content marketing involves utilizing all of these assets in an effort to attract and nurture new prospects.

Sounds a LOT like inbound marketing, right?

Not quite...

The difference between content & inbound

It’s clear that inbound marketing and content marketing are closely related.

But the difference lies in inbound's use of tools.

Inbound marketing involves the use of tools and technical mechanisms as part of it's more wholistic approach to attracting, nurturing and converting potential buyers. Content marketing, on the other hand, does involve promotion and basic tools for it's dissemination, but (by commonly accepted definition) is not inclusive of the tools and mechanisms.

Related: 4 Mandatory Technologies for Inbound Marketing Success

This includes common elements like marketing automation software, content management systems (CMS), social media marketing (SMM) software and even technical search engine optimization (SEO) tools.

Lately, the inbound movement has also adopted paid online advertising as part of the "inbound" definition. Hard-core inbound enthusiasts thought this was hypocritical, but when you consider the increasing amount of content saturating the market, in conjunction with algorithmic limitations placed upon organic social media reach...the need for paid strategies to increase awareness was a natural progression.

In short: Inbound marketing is a more comprehensive digital marketing methodology by comparison to content marketing.


Originally published December 17, 2014. Updated November 14, 2017.