Content marketing vs. inbound marketing: What’s the difference?

Content marketing vs. inbound marketing

You’ve heard us say many times: Content marketing is the practice of using quality content so as to earn buyer trust from your potential customers. Content is king, and with a solid content marketing strategy, you have a solid foundation for educating your buyers, addressing their needs and winning them over.

But regular and original content is only half the story. Yes, it helps generate traffic and search engines find you, but it falls short of helping you capture leads and move them along your customer journey pipeline.

Content marketing requires a strategic digital marketing framework, which is where the term “inbound marketing” comes from. Often people will use the terms “content marketing” and “inbound marketing” interchangeably, but do they mean the same thing? If not, what’s the difference?

That’s exactly what we’re going to cover in this blog post, where we take a look at:

  • What is content marketing?
  • What is inbound marketing?
  • Content marketing vs. inbound marketing - What’s the difference?
  • What does an inbound marketing strategy look like?

Content marketing vs. inbound marketing: The short answer


Here’s the simplest and shortest answer: content marketing is simply a part of inbound marketing, a component that sits under the inbound marketing umbrella, if you will. Now let’s look at these terms in more detail:

What is content marketing?

The Content Marketing Institute have created a fantastic definition, so rather than paraphrase, here’s the definition in full:

“Content marketing is 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.”

Content marketing can take many forms as well. Examples of content would be:

  • A blog post addressing a specific pain point of your audience
  • An infographic that your audience can share
  • An informative video on your site or video platform

In any case, content gives you the platform position yourself as an authority figure, to build trust, allowing your buyers turn up more informed, more educated and ready to buy from. It’s about obsessing over your customers, their needs and their pain points, and answering their desire for information.

We’ve talked about “They ask, you answer” and the “Big 5” as the best example of content marketing in its truest form, and once the principles of content marketing, you’ll begin to see big companies embracing the methodology. Microsoft, Cisco and John Deere are all fantastic examples.Your content marketing efforts will undoubtedly generate traffic for your website, which means you need to have a strategy for collecting the leads, which continues nicely to:

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is a set of tools, technologies and processes that work together to capture leads, build relationships, and convert your leads into loyal and paying customers. Inbound and content marketing work together, with content being the essential backbone that drives traffic.

The Inbound Marketing Fly-Wheel. SOURCE: HubSpot

An inbound marketing strategy means you have multiple channels configured for the whole buyer journey: Attract, Engage, Delight. By addressing every stage, you have a toolset for marketing and sales to drive your business forward. In addition to content, inbound marketing requires the following:

  • Content offers - These are premium pieces of content that cover a specific topic, like eBooks or whitepapers. These might be promoted with a pop-up form or section of a landing page, or they can even be the next step once someone has read a blog post.
  • Call to action - CTAs encourage your audience to take action on your site, whether it’s a button on a landing page, or a link embedded in a blog post. Calls-to-action turn ordinary visitors into leads you can nurture over time. 
  • Landing pages - These allow your audience to learn more about something, after being redirected from a call-to-action. Landing pages need to be well organised and optimised for SEO, so more people can find your content easily.
  • Content capture - Your website needs to have some method of capturing leads on your website. This usually takes the form of a lead capture form, be it a contact form, diagnostic, or form to gate a piece of content. You might also want to capture leads by tracking visitors to your website, using tools such as Google Analytics or HubSpot.
  • Email marketing - Content marketing is about using content to build awareness and trust in your brand, and the aforementioned inbound marketing tools are used to capture users and turn them into leads. But that’s a pointless exercise if you don’t have an email marketing platform in place. Integrating your email marketing platform with your forms is a must, as it allows you to stay in touch with your audience and move them along the sales funnel, ever closer to a customer.
  • Marketing automation - Following up with captured leads can be a time consuming task. Marketing automation means you can create personalised sequences that trigger after certain actions, such as filling in a form or buying your products and services. It takes the hassle out of making sure following up with a lead is done, when automation can do it for you.
  • CRM (Customer Relationship Management) - Without a CRM, you haven’t got a place to store all these leads you’ve captured. No more needs to be said!
  • Social media sharing - We think this is a no brainer. If you’re publishing regular and original content, be it a blog or a whitepaper, you need a tool to share it on your social channels so that more of your audience know it’s there. In turn, that also gives people the opportunity to share the content on your behalf, amplifying the reach your content achieves.
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimisation - And finally, good quality content can only go so far. Your site needs to be SEO friendly and optimised for search engines, so that your organic footprint can go. You can even support this with Google Ads, helping reach your audience faster.

Content is king, but it’s only a part of the puzzle

Let’s summarise: It’s not a case of content marketing vs. inbound marketing. Instead, inbound marketing and content marketing and work together, with content marketing merely a piece of your inbound marketing strategy.

Once you’ve embraced content marketing, your next step is to evaluate what tools you need to implement inbound marketing in your business. You’ll notice we’re an inbound marketing agency ourselves, and if you need support getting setup in your business, fill in the diagnostic to let us know where you’re at.

BONUS TIP: If you’re looking for a template for putting together you’re inbound marketing strategy, why not get our full guide on The Marketing BLUEPRINTTM!