Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the difference between content marketing and inbound marketing. Are they one and the same? Is one better than the other? Can you do one without the other?
I usually answer by giving my top-level definition of content marketing
: Content marketing is creating original content or sharing existing content that will benefit your audience, developing an appealing hub for your content, and then using smart marketing strategies to get your audience to engage with your content and take specific action.
With content marketing, the focus is primarily on developing a strong story and compelling content that appeal to the target audience at all phases of the buying cycle. With inbound marketing, the focus is less on the content and more on specific tactics for attracting that audience to the content—although content still plays an important role.
Now, I don’t know whether that’s a precise definition, but it accurately describes the type of content marketing that is successful for my clients. However, I decided to delve deeper into the discussions between the two worlds—the content champions versus the inbound aficionados—to see how some high-profile thought leaders defined their practices.
I looked for answers at Content Marketing Institute
for content marketing and HubSpot
for inbound marketing, as well as some other prominent sources. And what I stumbled upon was a war of words—in which both sides basically agreed.
It reminded me of the old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers duet “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”
Things have come to a pretty pass
Our romance is growing flat,
For you like this and the other
While I go for this and that,
Goodness knows what the end will be
Oh I don’t know where I’m at
It looks as if we two will never be one
Something must be done…
Here is how these leaders define both content marketing and inbound marketing. You’ll see that although there are differences, there is a lot of overlap.
[Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4]
Though there are differing views, the goal is the same: to attract your audience by being smart, not pushy. The difference seems to lie in the emphasis on content. With inbound marketing, content is crucial, but it’s more of a tactic.
My belief? Though both content marketing and inbound marketing are important in today’s consumer-driven world, emphasizing the development of smart, relevant, and authentic content (content marketing) should be the main goal, supported by a strong strategy for being found online (inbound marketing).
If you don’t focus on providing good content, your inbound marketing will fail. Even if you capture attention with your calls to action and landing pages, you’ll lose your target when you don’t follow through with intelligent, entertaining content.
But oh, if we call the whole thing off
Then we must part
And oh, if we ever part, then that might break my heart
Content marketing focuses on developing specific pieces of content for a specific audience, and then promoting those pieces of content in the most relevant way. It’s not always about driving more leads to your sales department—although that may be one goal. It’s about developing a relationship. For me, the term content marketing places the emphasis where I think it should be—on the value of the ideas you produce.
[RELATED: Learn why you need a content marketing plan at our Fall content marketing boot camp.]
There really is no right and wrong way to look at content marketing or inbound marketing—just make sure you’re looking at it. Content marketing and inbound marketing are the marketing principles of the present and the future, regardless of which camp you’re in. From what I’ve seen, most marketers who claim to be either content marketers or inbound marketers are already blending the two.
So if you go for oysters and I go for ersters
I’ll order oysters and cancel the ersters
For we know we need each other so we
Better call the calling off off;
Let’s call the whole thing off.
Please don’t call the whole thing off. Dig deeper into the worlds of content marketing and inbound marketing, and consider the impact they can have on your marketing efforts. Now is the time to reevaluate the traditional and make a change.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Cursive Content blog.