Inbound Marketing: Inbound marketing vs. content marketing: what's the difference?

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing vs. content marketing: what's the difference?

By Lucille Moreton December 7, 2018 • 6 minutes to read

Before I started working in inbound marketing, I would have been quick to assume that content marketing and inbound marketing were basically the same thing. After a few years in the industry, and through completing a number of HubSpot Certifications (subtle humble-brag), I can assure you that inbound marketing and content marketing are not the same thing. 

While inbound marketing and content marketing share very similar philosophies, the two terms can't really be used interchangeably. While both focus on sharing helpful and useful content, inbound marketing is a whole methodology that uses content marketing to achieve its goals. Content marketing is the first step to attracting leads. Inbound marketing is the key to closing them. In both cases, people are reading your content, but inbound marketing strategises for what happens next.

I'm going to break down some of what I've learned about the differences between inbound marketing and content marketing.

Inbound marketing is not the same as content marketing

While they're quite similar, think of content marketing as a stepping stone of inbound marketing. Both rely on creating high-quality content and distributing it online, but inbound marketing is an entire methodology that uses content in everything: from your marketing strategy, through to how you close deals, and provide service to customers.

what is inbound

AN OUTLINE OF content marketing

Definition: Content marketing focuses on creating high-quality content that helps leads identify or solve their problems, which then gets spread online through social media, blogs, websites and email.

An inbound marketing definition

Definition: Inbound marketing is essentially a better, more evolved version of content marketing. While content marketing stops at attracting leads, inbound marketing solves the problem of closing leads.

Because nobody defines it better than HubSpot (the world's leading inbound marketing platform) this is what they say: “Inbound marketing is about creating valuable experiences that have a positive impact on people and your business. Attract prospects and customers to your website and blog through relevant and helpful content. Once they arrive, you engage with them using conversational tools like email and chat and by promising continued value. And finally, you delight them by continuing to act as an empathetic advisor and expert."

Channels: Blogs, Podcasts, Websites, Social Media, Emails, Video Marketing

What makes Inbound Marketing different to content marketing is that it's a purely online medium. Because so much of Inbound Marketing depends on the data and metric-tracking, inbound marketing is only on digital platforms, where tracking is possible.

Inbound marketing isn't more difficult than content marketing

It's not necessarily more difficult, but it definitely involves more strategic thinking and data analysis. Inbound marketing is all about using data to see the performance of your content, the efficacy of your sales process, and the missing gaps in your marketing strategy.

Inbound marketing does take a certain level of knowledge and understanding to pull off, which is why a lot of companies choose to hire an inbound marketing agency to run their inbound marketing for them. 


Often, businesses with a content marketing strategy eventually find that their marketing efforts aren't paying off as well as they'd hoped, and that their marketing isn't translating into better sales. This is usually when they do one of three things:

  1. Give up and go back to traditional marketing methods, because it's easier (despite providing no real insight into ROI).
  2. Carry on with their content marketing and hope something changes. In the wise words of Albert Einstein, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." It's an over-used phrase, but it's true.
  3. Find inbound marketing, and evolve.

We know that a lot of companies want to make the move to inbound marketing, but don't know where to start. To help you on your journey we've put together this guide to help you get the resources you need to pull off a successful inbound strategy.

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Photo Credit: unsplash-logoDeva Darshan