Skip to content
Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistFri, Dec 30, 2016 4 min read

What's the Difference between Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing?

{}As a business owner or marketer, you’ve likely heard about inbound marketing and content marketing by now. It is, after all, the marketing of the future. It’s the most cost-effective and efficient way to market your brand today.

But you might be confused about what the two terms really mean and what makes them distinct. Both concepts are similar, so it’s no surprise. However, they are not synonymous.

The Similarities

Both types of marketing occur online. Both are focused on building lasting relationships with leads, prospects, and customers. They’re both build on the goal of empowering potential customers. And they’re both focused on the creation of valuable content that educates and entertains audiences.

Now on to the differences…

What Exactly Is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is a subset of inbound; it is one piece of the inbound puzzle. It is the strategic marketing process that is focused on the creation and the distribution of relevant and valuable content. The goal of the content is to both attract and retain your target audience in order to drive profitable customer actions. At its core, it’s all about providing value and educating audiences. When done properly, this enables you to create long-lasting relationships with clients through the creation of trust and the establishment of credibility and authority.

Content marketing can improve brand awareness and visibility, keep you top of mind, generate leads, nurture leads, and ultimately convert them into customers who are ready to buy, and want to buy from your brand.

Your content can be informational and educational, self-promoting (albeit in a limited capacity), or entertaining. And it can be delivered in many ways, including emails, social media, blogs, webpages, and beyond.

What Is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is more wide ranging. It encompasses the complete methodology that allows companies like yours to better modify their marketing to fit the way buyers shop and buy products and services today. In opposition of outbound marketing (like billboard ads, annoying, flashing pop-up ads, direct mail, and radio commercials), inbound doesn’t interrupt or bother people. It includes tactics, like content marketing, that help brands get found where their audiences are seeking them out. It offers a systematic approach to converting anonymous web visitors into leads, who are then nurtured and converted until they’re sales ready.

Though inbound does rely heavily on content—and it wouldn’t exist without it—it also includes other activities like marketing automation, technical SEO, product or service trials, website design, and interactive tools—all of which may fall outside of the scope of content. Content is no doubt important to inbound, but inbound is not limited to only this activity. As a superset, inbound includes almost every other type of digital marketing, including email marketing, experiential marketing, and influential marketing.

In addition to producing and distributing content online, marketers must open themselves up to a variety of other effective inbound practices in order to create a greater impact and fuel growth.

You Need Both

When it comes to the success of your marketing activities, you need both inbound and content marketing. They work together to create powerful results. They feed off of each other. You cannot execute an inbound strategy without a content strategy. Blogs, long-form content, web content, videos, social media posts and all other forms of online content are ultimately the stars of the inbound show. Similarly, you could write content and put it up on your website, but without an inbound strategy behind it, you’re really only doing half the job, which wouldn’t be effective.


Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.