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If your boss were to ask you to explain the difference between inbound marketing and content marketing, would you be able to?

If you’re unclear on the difference between inbound marketing and content marketing, you’re not alone. Although the two terms are similar and commonly used interchangeably, they are two separate strategies with distinctive differences. It’s important to understand the distinction between the two and how they coexist, so you can determine which marketing approach will best help you reach your business goals.

Let’s go over the basics.

The definitions are nearly identical.

With content marketing and inbound marketing having similar definitions, it’s easy to assume they are the same. Let’s review the industry definitions first, and then we’ll get into the finer details.

  • HubSpot describes inbound marketing as a holistic, data-driven approach to marketing that focuses on creating quality content that attracts individuals to your brand and converts them into lasting customers.
  • The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, drive profitable customer action.

Some marketers believe one strategy is a subset of the other. Some believe the two strategies are one and the same. There are also those who believe one strategy is better than the other. The truth is, the two are not the same and it’s more important to understand how they work together. The approach you use is dependent on your business goals—and the truth is, they work better together.

Content marketing focuses on creating value.

Content marketing is about the creation and distribution of quality content to a well-researched, defined audience. The content should be educational, provide value, and offer a solution to the reader’s problem without containing any sales-focused language. It’s about attracting and educating your readers, building trust, and getting your customers to think about your company as a solution to their problem. Content can be digital or non-digital; the most important factor is it’s helpful to your audience (not salesy). Content marketing creates value, elevates perception, drives awareness, and builds trust.  

Inbound marketing needs content to produce results.

Content is the fuel of an inbound campaign. Without content, an inbound campaign would be difficult to execute. From a steady, consistent stream of blog posts and the messages on your website, to downloadable ebooks and online videos, content generation is essential to every inbound marketing campaign.

Inbound marketing is a philosophy backed by a methodology.

Inbound marketing can be understood in three ways: as a philosophy (why), a methodology (how), and as a tool set (the game plan). It’s about creating content that attracts individuals to your brand that you can then convert, close, and delight over time. This philosophy is backed by a methodology for creating content designed to help a business attract, convert, close, and delight visitors, leads, and customers through various tools and channels. The inbound methodology aligns tools and content with the buyer’s journey and the sales funnel. It also focuses on measurement and data—and how to “nurture” your prospects, once they’ve interacted with your content, into becoming customers. It’s themethodology that empowers marketers to create content that their prospects want, publish the content at the right time in the buyer’s journey, and share it in the right place.

In simple terms, content marketing and inbound marketing both focus on creating valuable, educational content for your target audience. Content marketing will help you build credibility and trust with your audience. It may also help you increase your website traffic and leads. If you’re looking to increase your revenue and hit sales goals, a comprehensive inbound marketing program and strong content strategy together will help you to align your marketing and sales initiatives and hit those goals, following the inbound methodology. 

This is a complex topic, but hopefully this rundown will help you to determine which strategy is best for your business in 2016. Our recommendation is a combination of BOTH—because the two together are a force to be reckoned with.

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