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Joanna Swartwood, Director of Marketing and Revenue GrowthMon, Mar 3, 2014 5 min read

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

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

There's a lot of confusion among marketers on what the difference is between content marketing and Inbound Marketing. Many think that they are two different terms for the same thing, however, this isn't the case.

Let's take a look at what content marketing and Inbound Marketing is and explain the difference to get everyone on the same page.

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

Let's take a second to define each one of these terms.

What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is a collection of tactics that relies on producing amazing quality content to attract and educate readers.

The goal is to attract them to your website and once there, offer relevant premium content such as ebooks, webinars, white papers, etc. which they must submit their information on a form in exchange for the free content. Once submitted, they are nurtured and engaged down the marketing funnel.

Generally the tactics include:

  • Blogging
  • Guest Blogging
  • Content on 3rd party sites such as Youtube or Slideshare
  • Premium content downloads
  • Lead nurturing
  • Newsletters
  • Landing pages

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound Marketing is a marketing philosophy that is rooted in the idea of attracting those who are actively seeking information about your industry, solutions or company instead of traditional marketing philosophy of interrupting someone to push your message in front of them.

It's from this philosophy that you can build an Inbound Marketing strategy which lays out how it's applied for your business' marketing efforts.

For a GREAT overview on the Philosophy, watch this talk by Brian Hallagan of Hubspot

So What is the Difference?

To help illustrate this, I want you to imagine that you want to build a new table for at your house. You're not sure what you'll need to make it, so you buy a "Table Blueprint" with very detailed instructions. The blueprint tells you exactly what materials you will need and how to put them together.

So you go to Home Depot and carefully pick out all the tools and materials you need. There was a lot of different tools and materials you needed, however, they were all really important to the success of building your table.

Once you get home, you start following your blueprint as a guide to get you in the right direction and start to put all the materials together. Before you know it, you have a beautiful table just like what's pictured in the blueprint!

Applying this Story to Marketing...
As stated earlier, content marketing is simply a collection of tactics whereas Inbound Marketing is an overarching philosophy and strategy.

The blueprint that tells you how to use the tools and materials is like your marketing strategy and the end result of the table are your goals. The each block of wood and screw used to build the table are like the individual marketing tactics such as blogging, SEO, social media, email, etc.

The knowledge of which tools you will need and how to effectively use them throughout the project is like the Inbound Marketing Philosophy. This philosophy works like a lens in which you view your marketing strategy and tactics through.


To Recap...

  • Philosophy– The overall approach you take to marketing and attracting people
    • Knowing which tools you need and how to use them

  • Strategy– The overall vision of where you're going with your marketing
    • The Blueprint

  • Tactics– The individual actions you perform to drive closer to your marketing vision
    • Each block of wood and screw you use

Content marketing is one pieces contained within a larger Inbound Marketing strategy and philosophy. It is probably the biggest piece and is the "engine" that feeds all the other pieces.

These two are not necessarily always mutually exclusive. You can do content marketing tactics (and all marketing tactics) without adopting a full Inbound Marketing philosophy and strategy. For example, I could be doing social media marketing (the tactic) but simply broadcasting my message and spamming people's inbox (traditional marketing philosophy).


It's only until you have your philosophy, strategy and tactics all aligned and focused in the same direction that you will find HUGE success with Inbound Marketing. Simply applying some of the tactics without a clear direction in strategy and/or philosophy is kind of like driving a car without your headlights on. You will be moving forward, however, you don't know exactly where you're going, what the end destination looks like and there's a good chance you'll fall in the ditch a few times.

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