inbound marketing content marketing difference

The Difference Between Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing in 2021

In 1996, before smartphones, streaming platforms, and social media, Bill Gates famously declared that “content is king.” He predicted that the Internet would revolve around one thing: valuable content.

Fast forward to today, and it’s clear that Gates was right. Inbound marketing and content marketing— both content-driven strategies— are two of the most important ways to reach potential customers in 2020.

While the two terms are often used interchangeably, it’s important to understand the subtle difference between inbound and content marketing. Before comparing the two, let’s unpack what each method entails and how it can benefit your business.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is one of the most widely used— and most valuable— forms of digital marketing.

A 2018 study by the Content Marketing Institute found that 91% of B2B marketers use content marketing, and 86% of B2C marketers think it’s an essential marketing strategy (source).

As the name suggests, content marketing involves the creation and distribution of valuable, relevant, and timely information and entertainment. The goal is to attract target audiences, convert leads into paying customers and keep your current customer base engaged.

Having a content marketing strategy calls for content being unique to your brand, relevant to your target audience, and— most importantly— useful to potential customers.

When creating content for your business, ask yourself what question it can answer for your customers. How can it add value and strengthen their relationship with your brand?

Today, a good content strategy utilizes multiple channels and various forms of content to reach potential customers. Below are a few examples of content that can foster customer relationships with your business:

  • Educational articles
  • How-to videos
  • Webinars
  • Infographics
  • Social media posts

What is inbound marketing?

These days, Internet users are inundated with more information and advertisements than ever. Cold email pitches, pop-up ads and scripted phone calls just don’t work the way they used to.

Inbound marketing emerged in the 2010s as a less-invasive alternative to disruptive “outbound” marketing techniques like pop-up ads, embedded videos and banner ads.

Instead, it focuses on attracting customers through non-interruptive content and helpful interactions.

An Inbound marketing strategy targets prospects you’ve already interacted with, such as someone who signed up for your e-newsletter, attended your webinar or followed your social media account.

These are “warm” leads and are more likely to respond to your targeted messaging.

In fact, inbound marketing can generate up to three times more leads per dollar than traditional marketing methods, regardless of your company’s size or marketing budget.

That’s likely why 76% of marketers use inbound marketing as their primary strategy. (source)

Instead of simply placing ads where you assume your customers will be, inbound marketing melts the advertising into the content, providing context and increasing value. Here are a few examples of inbound marketing techniques:

  • Blog posts
  • How-to videos
  • Social media posts
  • Search Engine Optimized website text
  • Webinars
  • Email newsletters

What is the difference between inbound marketing and content marketing?

Both inbound marketing and content marketing center around one thing: valuable content. Through a more holistic marketing approach that focuses on customer needs and satisfaction, companies can attract, engage, and convert leads without disruption.

The main difference between content marketing and inbound marketing is how the message reaches it’s audience. While the two methods have the same end goal, the activities involved are slightly different for each strategy.

While inbound marketing utilizes a variety of digital marketing techniques, content marketing only involves the creation and distribution of content. That’s why content marketing is often seen as a part of inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing uses a variety of targeted offers or calls-to-action that are based on each unique visitor’s interaction with your brand. Content marketing on the other hand, targets broader audiences.

Which marketing method should I use?

Both inbound marketing and content marketing should be part of your digital marketing strategy. Great content can increase brand awareness, generate leads and foster customer loyalty. Your inbound marketing efforts should include content marketing, but not be limited to it.

If you need help creating the right content strategy for your marketing team, consider working with a digital marketing agency that can help you boost your online presence and grow your business where it matters most.