What is the difference between Inbound and Content Marketing? And why do we say Content?

by | Mar 15, 2017 | Content Marketing Theory, Education

There’s a whole library of articles online that passionately discuss marketing terminology and argue in favour of “inbound” vs “content” marketing.

The edges will always be fuzzy and it’s not worth the time to engage in hairsplitting debates over terminology.

So we want to be pragmatic about it while having an intellectually sound line of reasoning in the matter. Because we clearly prefer “Content” over “Inbound” and there’s a good reason why.

Why “Inbound Marketing” is just plain weird

The key reason “Inbound” doesn’t work for us is that it implies that the direction of the customer’s interest is the salient feature. The customer seeks you out (vs you “hit the customer over the head” with your marketing message). And that is not good enough as a distinguishing factor. Consider these three cases – all are somehow “inbound” in that it’s the customer’s decision to engage with the brand at the critical moment:

  • Anne has seen 7 youtube ads and 15 banner ads for computer game League of Legends. Two days later, while mowing her lawn, she remembers the game for some reason. She googles it, reads a few reviews, visits the website, registers as a user and plays for a few minutes.
  • Brendan comes to a new city and finds a booklet with coupons lying on a bus seat. He finds a McDonald’s coupon and starts looking for a branch.
  • Chloe is looking for a gift for her mum. Not a customer herself, she has heard good things about Clinique. She googles the brand, clicks on a paid ad that leads her to Amazon where she buys a taster pack.

All these scenarios are vastly different – but all of them are kind of “inbound”, right? An “Inbound marketing agency” should then be proficient in video ads, display ads, search engine optimisation, offline coupons, branding, and search ads. Hardly a viable specialisation strategy.

Is “Content Marketing” the solution?

Well, Content Marketing isn’t perfect as a term either. It’s an area that includes activities like Email Marketing, Search Engine Optimisation, and Social Media Marketing, all of which are disciplines in their own right with specialists in each topic.

But, crucially, the term “Content Marketing” highlights what is at the center of its universe – the content. The blog post, the newsletter, the e-book, the whitepaper. All the other things like email or social media marketing are simply vehicles to promote the content. The content is the star, while Email and Social Media marketing are the planets orbiting the star. The term “Inbound Marketing” lacks this center of gravity.

Finally, it also helps that there’s about double the search traffic on “content marketing”:

And that’s why “Content Marketing” is the better term. Simple.

Cover photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash

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