Deconstruct: Content Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing
Oct 25, 2016
This year – #humblebrag #ICYMI – Centerline Digital was a finalist for Content Marketing Agency of the Year. I learned what content marketing is mostly through experience working on different client work and participating in agency discussions.
But then I started learning about inbound marketing. At Centerline Digital, we use HubSpot – the creators and champions of inbound marketing. Next month I’ll be heading to INBOUND to learn more about how to be a better marketer. The more I learned about the two marketing approaches, the more muddled the difference felt in my head.
I had to ask, what’s the difference between content marketing and inbound marketing? If you’re creating good content, what’s the difference? Does it matter? What works?
The goal in content marketing is to be creating content that your target is already looking for or talking about. By positioning a brand alongside the audience, the content you create becomes a conversation. Content might look like tips or insight that will equip your audience to work smarter. By aligning content with your brand’s expertise, you develop trust. Over time and various experiences with different content, the brand and buyer create a relationship. There’s no need to push a message or a product. You’ve created assets that are consistently relevant to a user’s needs.
For inbound marketing, you want to get in front of your audience – through content. You’re taking advantage of different types of assets from whitepapers to blog posts. You’re optimizing your SEO. You’re acting and reacting across social channels. All these things are working together toward a sale. As a brand, you’re suggesting similar content at every step to drive toward conversion. The approach is more about being opportunistic – or creating the opportunity.
What’s the difference?
Now we’ve established that the heart of both approaches is content. The biggest difference between these definitions is how you get your content in front of people.
First up, content marketing. The way you engage with your audience is through paid, earned, shared and owned content. Through a mix of content, you go to the channels and platforms your audience lives in for information. The goal is in the content’s conversational aspects and the relationship built between the brand and audience.
With inbound marketing, you rely on content to do the work for you in that moment. That means that your costs are related to creating content, without sponsoring or purchasing, and should be in front of the purchasing audience when they’re ready to purchase. You’re getting in front of customers while they’re searching for information, or suggesting related content that’s related. On this path, your aim is more about being present when people are looking.
So the differences lie in the relationship with content consumption. With content marketing, there’s more of an ecosystem of content. That creates some credibility for people to return to when they’re ready. In inbound marketing, you’re guided from one piece of content to another, leading towards a sale.
Does it matter?
From what I can tell, the debate is mostly baked in semantics, and sometimes that can be important. But if you’re a marketer, you’re concerned about getting to your audience however possible with the best ROI. It’s in your job description to try out different tactics and invest in the successful strategies. But different circumstances call for different kinds of conversations.
Some people claim that there’s a relationship between the two approaches. Before digging in, content marketing felt most like a type of inbound marketing. Others told me that they believe inbound is a type of content marketing. Now I’m more convinced both styles are different approaches to marketing through good content. In both ways, you’re trying to be relevant rather than random. The timing may not matter if your content is useful.
As with anything, you should customize your marketing based on your business needs. Some companies need direct advertising and should never consider strictly moving to content marketing. Just as some companies believe that sponsoring content is worth the boost.
Both content marketing and inbound marketing can be traced back to the early 20th century. But clearly there’s room to grow here – the terminology was only coined in the last twenty years. We’re all searching for the best formula to solve marketing challenges. The words we use matter less than the results we have.
What do YOU think? Does this resonate? Am I wrong? Let me know! You can find me on Twitter – I’m @samanthacibelli.