Content Marketing vs Inbound Marketing

Author: Kat Fitzsimmons+

At best, it’s a difference of opinion. At worst it’s a massive terminology chasm, lost in the interwebs.

Therein lies the contention of content marketing versus inbound marketing. I suppose that, in a way, content marketing has been going on "undefined" from the creation of the written word, like in the case of the Bible. The Bible fulfills many people's questions about life and makes "believers" out of the written scriptures. In turn, the Bible became a bestseller, churches were formed, and a very faithful following of subscribers was created--to the point that we formulate our communities and fundamental behaviors around the scripture. The Bible is a phenomenal example of content marketing...or perhaps it would better fall under inbound marketing. Regardless, it is absolutely a magnificent example of successful marketing, spanning through the ages...

Has the chicken and the egg adage arisen in a new style? 

First there was content and then there was marketing. Well created content turns into marketing, whether intended to be or not. Marketing creates content for the sake of marketing, which turns into understanding the process of making “believers”. This process then turns into inbound marketing or a more defined understanding of the effects of well delivered content.

And thus we have arrived at the birth of inbound marketing. Defined as content that has been dissected and modified into a pseudo-science. Hubspot, the father of the term, breaks it down as follows:

- Content + Distribution: Content that answers prospective client's questions and basic needs. Content is appropriately disseminated through a wide variety of channels.
- Lifecycle Marketing: Is the continued distribution of content in order to gain believers or promoters.
- Personalization: The act of tailoring content to the needs and wants of a specific set of people, and then modifying this content over time to more accurately deliver content to that group.
- Multi-Channel: Simply delivering content using all the communication channels available to us today. This is completed through engagement with people "in the moment", by providing the ability to interact, answer those questions, find answers.
- Integration: The use of content creation, publishing, and analytics in conjunction to create the right content in the right place, at the right time.

Defined by The Content Marketing Institute, "Content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing consumer behavior. It is an ongoing process that is best integrated into your overall marketing strategy, and it focuses on owning media, not renting it." In a nutshell, this summarizes inbound marketing very well.

So what truly defines the line between content marketing and inbound marketing? It is apparent that both essentially define the same thing, however, the difference lies in the fact that content marketing is, for all intents and purposes, a subset of inbound marketing. Content marketing in and of itself does not include a marriage of both sales and marketing strategies--it focuses more on the information being created. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, collects and analyzes data, leads and other information regarding the marketing strategy as a whole. Thus, a far better understanding of the sales-marketing relationship transpires.

Regardless of where you stand on the subject, it’s easy to see that the two are very similar to each other. Inbound marketing is essentially a far more refined version of content marketing. So what really came first, the chicken or the egg?


  1. Great comparison between content marketing and the Bible at the beginning! Content marketing and inbound marketing can be so similar it's nearly impossible to distinguish between the two. This article did a great job of discerning between the two!

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