What is the Difference Between Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing?

Data driven marketing has never been more confusing. Today there’s inbound marketing, content marketing, account-based marketing, results marketing, agile marketing, influencer marketing, email marketing, event marketing, experiential marketing and many more. I could list 10 other kinds of marketing for you to consider for your company. Flawless Inbound can help with them all.

To know which is right for you, and to know how much of each you need for your company, you have to understand the differences, how they fit together and how they work together to deliver the results you need to grow your company.

Let's start with a basic comparison between inbound marketing and content marketing, since these two types have a lot of people talking. What’s really the difference between them?

What Is Inbound Marketing?

The simplest explanation is always the best: inbound marketing provides a complete methodology that helps companies adjust their marketing to better fit the way today’s buyers are shopping for products and services.

People don’t want to be bothered or interrupted, so inbound marketing includes tactics that help companies get found when people are looking for them, as opposed to attempting to interrupt people who are not yet looking for products or services related to yours.

It provides a systematic approach to turning those anonymous visitors into leads (of all shapes and sizes), and then helps nurtures those leads until they become sales ready. All along the way, inbound marketing provides real-time data and insights that can be used to continuously improve performance and results.

Inbound marketing promotes earning a prospect's attention, as opposed to renting it by buying lists, attending trade shows, buying ads or making cold calls. Inbound marketing includes almost every type of marketing, including content marketing. So it’s easy to see where the confusion might come from.

What is Content Marketing?

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Who could argue with that? But content marketing clearly doesn’t include website design, email marketing, event marketing or other types of marketing, whereas inbound marketing does include a variety of diverse marketing tactics.

Related: The 7 Rules for Evaluating and Selecting an Inbound Agency Partner and 7 Inbound Marketing Trends in 2016

How Do They Work Together?           

Inbound needs content to work, so inbound marketing and content marketing work together as components. We can’t execute inbound marketing without a content strategy and without actual content in a variety of types. You need blog articles, long-form content like eBooks, content for social media and content for website pages, just to name examples of where content is the star of the show.

But it goes much deeper than this. Inbound marketing is a metrics and results-driven methodology, so you want content to drive results. In essence, your content marketing is going to be tightly integrated with your conversion strategy. Inbound produces results by using content to turn website visitors into leads, so the focus is on optimizing that content and that conversion experience.

Do You Need Both Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing?

Well, I guess if you wanted to simply write some content, put it on your website and use it to attract targeted audiences, you could do that – but you’d only be doing half the job. It would be like a doctor diagnosing your symptoms but never providing you with the treatment plan. Content marketing is just one piece of a complete inbound marketing strategy. Yes, you need content marketing, but you need a whole host of other inbound marketing tactics to deliver results.

Just think about all the other stuff that you do as a marketer: You have to get found on the search engines – is that content marketing? You have to build, maintain and optimize your website – is that content marketing? You have to email your clients and prospects regularly – is that content marketing? You have to go to events, you have to use social media, you have to run AdWords, you have to get people to talk about your business on other websites and you have to monitor your online reputation.

What Should We Expect From Each?

This is probably one of the best questions to ask. Again, the answer is that what you can expect from content marketing is far narrower than what your can expect from inbound marketing. Content marketing can attract and retain new clients, if it 's deployed within an overall inbound marketing campaign. But to simply write a whitepaper, put it on your website and expect it to generate leads might be asking content marketing to do too much.

However, when you create a strategic inbound marketing program and content marketing is a component of your overall plan, you can expect more visitors, more leads and more new customers.

Simply put, if your goal is to improve your website visitors' experience by giving them more content to read, then content marketing might be right for you. But if your goal is to build a repeatable, scalable, predictable lead-generation machine that kicks in leads month over month, then inbound marketing, with all its components, might be a better option for your company.