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Content Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing

Peter Campbell
By Peter Campbell - February 21, 2017

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We get this question from time to time. Yes, terms like these can be confusing. Don’t worry—you’re not alone! The disciplines of Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing are especially easy to mix up because they overlap in many ways. Today we’re going to set the record straight. In doing so, we hope to help you get a better handle on your own marketing efforts. But if you get through this article and still have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask us! We like making new friends.

What Is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound Marketing a holistic marketing methodology focused on consumer-centric tactics rather than product-centric. Or, to put this another way, the goal of Inbound Marketing is to get your consumers to come to you of their own free will. The emergence of Inbound Marketing represented a fundamental shift the way brands interact with consumer.

Indeed, traditional marketing tactics were focused on bombarding consumers with information about products that they may or may not have been interested in. This was never a pleasant experience for the consumer, but the dawn of the Internet Age finally gave these annoyed consumers real power and drove the final nail into the coffin of these obsolete strategies.

If you’re just looking to make a quick buck, it’s going to be harder than ever in 2017. Consumers are better informed than ever, and if you want to find success, you’ve got to be the real thing. That means that you need to engage with consumers on an educational level before you make any kind of sales pitch.

By establishing yourself as an authority with a strong, engaging, educational, NON-PUSHY online presence, you’ll form meaningful, long-lasting relationships with consumers. There are a number of different things that play into a successful inbound strategy, and content is among the most important.

Cue our jump to Content Marketing.  

What Is Content Marketing?

Content Marketing is more specific than Inbound Marketing—it falls under the inbound umbrella. So let’s start by defining exactly what we mean when we say “content,” since it’s kind of a vague term.

“Content” is marketing lingo for something that you’ve created for your target consumers to engage with. It might be photos or videos, but most often, it’s written. Or, at least the foundation is written. Using visual content to make your written content is highly encouraged.

You should know that not all content is created equally. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to be educating your audience. But if you’re serious about educating your audience, you need to understand who they are. We’ll talk about how to gain this type of understanding in our next section.

So what does “content” look like?

Content comes in many forms. Your website is a great place to showcase how helpful and engaging you are, but a truly successful content strategy demands frequency. You need to be putting new content out into the world often, and there is no better way to do this than blogging. You should publishing long, well-researched, easy-to-digest blog posts regularly.

Content can also come in the form of eBooks, gated content offers designed to get you new contacts, or pretty much anything else! As long as it is easily accessible for your consumers, go for it!

So how does this fit into Inbound Marketing as a whole?

How Does Content Fit Into The Inbound Methodology?

Inbound Marketing draws on a variety of different disciplines, but they are all interdependent. Content Marketing should not exist in a vacuum, nor should any of its complementary methodologies. Anything less than a comprehensive strategy will fall short in the end. Inbound demands a deep understanding of your consumers and what makes them tick. Much of the legwork for an effective Inbound campaign needs to be done ahead of time, including the Buyer Personas and the Buyer’s Journey.

Buyer Personas are fictional characters that inbound marketers create to represent the real consumer out there who would be interested in a given product. Because they are based on actual consumer research, these personas are complex, with their own sets of hopes, dreams, fears, and motivators. Marketers use personas so that they know who they are trying to talk to when they design strategies and produce content. They will need to nurture this theoretical (but real) person through the Buyer’s Journey to close their sale.

The “Buyer’s Journey” is a series of steps that must occur for some random person out there to become your customer. These steps are not focused on any product, rather the problem that your product will solve. For this reason, it’s important to be aware of your value proposition to consumers. These steps are as follows:

The Buyer's Journey

1. Awareness Stage

2. Consideration Stage

3. Decision Stage

This is when your Buyer Persona first identifies their problem.


(This is the problem that you want to help them solve)

This is when your Buyer Persona begins to consider how to solve this problem.


(We want them to choose your product!)

This is when they pull the trigger on a product that will solve their problem.


(Fingers crossed!)


So let’s circle back to content…

Each and every piece of content that you write should be addressed to a specific Buyer Persona in a specific stage of the Buyer’s Journey. Content needs to address real people in real situations, because that’s who’s going to be reading it!

If you have a problem you need to solve, what do you do?

Most of us just head to Google and type in a question. Inbound Marketers strive to have their content be among the highest ranked search results. This is where blogging comes in handy (remember blogging from earlier?). Blogging is great for both content marketing and SEO. Publishing high-quality content regularly will help you climb the search rankings if you have some SEO know-how under your belt.

Things like SEO can get very technical (you can read more about it HERE), but it would be useless without high-quality content to rank. In fact, almost nothing that marketers do would be worth much without the foundation of great content. Think of it this way…

Content is the meat on the inbound Sandwich. The bread, the lettuce, the tomato, the condiments, (SEO, Link Building, Branding, Design Aesthetics) are important, but the meat is where the protein is. Don’t let your consumers be malnourished; give them the protein they need in order to grow!

beginner's guide to inbound
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