What’s the difference between content marketing and inbound marketing?

inbound v content

As clients and agencies shift their focus (and budgets) into content marketing and inbound marketing – the first question most people ask is what’s the difference between the two? 

The answer: nothing. Or, very little. Or, quite a lot.

Let me explain…

There was some really, really good research conducted by HubSpot on the subject where it reached out to thousands of marketers across the globe as part of its ‘State of Inbound’ report.

HubSpot is the company that originally coined the phrase inbound marketing so they asked 3,500 marketing and sales professionals the following question:

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.

I won’t spoil the result of the research but if you want to know what marketers think – take a look at this excellent post by Joe Chernov where he offers his slant.

In my view content marketing is a sub-set of inbound marketing.

I personally prefer inbound marketing as the lead descriptor and see content marketing as a distinct process which happens within the ‘inbound marketing strategy’.

For me it makes more sense to talk about the inbound marketing strategy first because it’s a clearer definition and means more than the nebulous concept of ‘content’. Anyway, content is an over used term to describe almost everything anyone does in marketing departments these days.

Top six tips for inbound marketing

The power of inbound marketing is well documented elsewhere but I thought I’d put together six quick tips which should help you mull over in your own mind thinking about what it can do for your business. So, here goes:

  1. Having a clear and distinct tone of voice and corporate identity is more important than the content itself. Why? Because there’s more content out there than you can shake a stick at. If I want to know everything about a subject – I simply use Google – and that’s just a starting point. People are more likely to be drawn to something presented beautifully and differently. This usually comes down to the tone and visual interpretation of the offer. If your business doesn’t have a distinct tone of voice it needs to get one quick.
  2. Tracking leads and monitoring results is essential to generate a ROI. There are plenty of good marketing automation tools that help to segment, nurture, track and close leads and these tools are essential for the the businesses making a success of inbound marketing activity.
  3. It’s not all about online. Sure, online content is the simplest and cheapest way to get ‘out there’ and draw people in – but there is still room for the real world. One example is the Red Bull ‘leap into space’.
  4. PR agencies are in a really good spot to manage your inbound marketing activity. In PR we’re used to telling (and re-telling) stories all the time in different and new ways to get the attention of multiple audiences. The fact that the filtering mechanism of a journalist or editor is less important (because we can reach an audience directly) to get a message across makes PR agencies a wise choice for setting an inbound strategy.
  5. Good design matters. When stuff looks better it just works better from a marketing point of view. Too many great ideas and wonderful content is spoiled by a poor design treatment.
  6. Less is more. You should focus on producing less content but making it better quality. Creating a deeper and richer experience for your target market through a campaign that cuts across as many ‘earned media’ and ‘owned media’ platforms you can is key to success.

Of course the idea which is formed from having a clear strategy of where you want to be is still the thing. It’s everything. Without a good idea you’ll see no success at all with your inbound marketing and content marketing efforts.

About Peter Davies

I'm a Manchester PR agency man. I work at RMS, the UK-based independent PR and marketing agency, I'm also a daddy and a football referee. Call me on 07779 033 016.
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