Inbound vs. Content Marketing: Is There Really a Difference?

Paige Stortz | January 21, 2021 | inbound marketing, content marketing,

Was the dress blue and black or gold and white? Is it pronounced “gif” or “jif?” 

Well, I hate to break it to you, but whether you saw blue or gold, it was the same dress, and however you pronounce it, it’s still a GIF.

Marketers, too, are prone to similar debates that hinge on technicalities and personal interpretation. And one that seems to surface in many marketing offices is this: 

Is there a difference between inbound marketing and content marketing?


The End Justifies the Meaning

Inbound marketing, as we define it here at Modthink, is marketing that leverages high-quality content to pull—never push—the right traffic and leads to the organization.

Rather than focusing its efforts on typical “outbound” tactics like TV commercials, billboards, or print ads, an inbound company tries to get customers to engage naturally. Such a company provides valuable information—you could call it content—customers are already looking for and are likely to act on.  

Then there's "content marketing."

Content marketing is “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,” according to the Content Marketing Institute. Once again, it's all about attracting customers with valuable information (aka content).  

Sound pretty similar, don’t they? 

And, with a quick scan of the blog-o-sphere, this pattern of synonyms and similarities holds fast. Inbound marketing and content marketing have both been referred to as a(n): 

3 Words Used to Describe both Inbound and Content Marketing Approach Strategy Tactic

The modifiers websites and blogs use to identify the two terms are practically interchangeable, if not exactly the same. Inbound and content marketing have a similar inherent purpose: they both aim at getting the right content in front of the right customer.

But while inbound marketing and content marketing are remarkably similar, their approaches differ somewhat. 


The Great Diverge

So, channeling my inner Robert Frost, let me break down where and how the two approaches diverge. 

For content marketing, it is all about creating and distributing content like blogs, whitepages, case studies, and podcasts. Content marketing focuses on well-informed assets that attract the customer’s interest. 

Then, there’s inbound. Inbound marketing tactics inform and support one another, with conversion being the end goal. Inbound is made up of SEO, email marketing, web design, social media, lead generation, and content marketing.

Did you catch that? Content marketing is a part of inbound marketing.

This is because content marketing informs and supports the other inbound tactics and vice versa. SEO and social media can be used to push content marketing and content marketing can help with lead generation and SEO.

In an ode to the rest of the blog-o-sphere, inbound marketing is the “umbrella” and content marketing is the “pole and handle.”

Inbound marketing is the “umbrella” and content marketing is the “pole and handle.”

Say a college wants to grow awareness of its business program. We might recommend that they improve their search rankings, pour some fuel on their social posting and blogging, and maybe revamp their website. This is all inbound, but, technically, only the social posts and blogs are "content marketing."


Interestingly enough, even though inbound is the overarching, all-encompassing term, it is used far less frequently than its counterpart content marketing.

On LinkedIn, #ContentMarketing has over 70 times more followers than #InboundMarketing. And, on Google, searches for "content marketing" have grown at a much higher rate than "inbound marketing."


Is There Really a Difference?

Yes…and no. 

While their tactical approaches differ and one may come up in conversation more often, their purpose—getting quality content in front of the right audience—are fundamentally the same.

Still curious about the ins and outs of inbound and content marketing?

It's one of our favorite topics. Just reach out. 

Let's Talk Inbound Content - Contact us

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