If you're confused between the two terms, don't be. We've all been there...
No one has ever accused marketers of not having enough acronyms, jargon, or nebulous concepts to keep up with. Some buzzwords are overused (à la “actionable analytics” and “disruptive”), others are plain nonsense (“110%,” anyone?!). But certain terms represent tangible concepts that are relevant to our success as marketers. Two overlapping terms that often trip people up are inbound marketing and content marketing. Let’s talk about how the tactics work together, and how they differ. In the spirit of summer, we will even include a potato salad metaphor.
Inbound marketing is a marketing strategy that brings visitors to your content. They willingly engage with your brand, as opposed to you forcing them to do so. Inbound marketing is the antithesis of interruptive advertising, tactics like television commercials or pop-up digital ads that interrupt a consumer experience. Both consumers and marketers have expressed frustration with poorly executed interruptive advertisements. People are even taking pains to avoid them. They can record their favorite program and fast-forward through commercials, or they can download ad-blockers to preserve their online experience. (The surge in ad-blocking has greater consequences than many realize. Read more about that here.)
Inbound marketers need quality content to draw people in. That’s where content marketing comes in. Content marketing is the process of creating the quality content necessary to feed your inbound marketing machine. They are related, but not synonymous, concepts, because content marketing includes other tactics, such as a company newsletter or a thought leadership article published in a relevant media outlet. Bottom line: your inbound strategy does not exist without it, but content marketing can be used in other ways and is channel-agnostic (while inbound marketing is a digital tactic).
The Role of Distribution
The most common example of inbound marketing is blogging. Business bloggers publish quality content that aligns with their audiences’ interests. This improves their SEO, showcases thought leadership, builds loyalty, and generates leads by attracting new prospects to their site. In fact, 79 percent of companies that have a blog report a positive ROI for inbound marketing, according to research from HubSpot. But with inbound marketing, you are relying on your own distribution channel – your website. Many marketers also invest in paid tactics to drive traffic, but what’s neat about content marketing is that you can really piggyback on the audiences of other media outlets. And because you are always sure to provide high quality content that interests your audience, you are not interrupting their experience – you are actually adding value to it.
For example, if you market a healthy food product, consider publishing a sponsored article that runs on a media outlet your customers already engage with, such as Mediaplanet’s Modern Wellness Guide. This makes it easier for them to find your content and learn about your brand. These days, many marketers are investing in a blog, paid tactics to drive people there, and other content marketing tactics that allow them to reach their readers somewhere other than their company page.
Let’s talk about Potato Salad
Let’s say you’re making potato salad. (The healthy kind—no mayo.) You buy two pounds of small red potatoes. You plan to use half for the salad and the rest to make hash browns for your best pal. Your potato salad does not exist without those small red potatoes. Your small red potatoes are used for the potato salad, but they have other purposes, too, like hash browns for your best pal! In this bootleg metaphor: