Inbound Marketing vs. Content Marketing: Key Differences

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated July 25, 2022 | Published May 25, 2021

Updated July 25, 2022

Published May 25, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Companies may use inbound marketing and content marketing to engage their target audiences, but these two techniques are distinct and offer different advantages. Inbound marketing is essential for transforming leads into customers, while content marketing can enhance a brand's credibility. Understanding the benefits of each strategy can help you and the other members of your marketing team choose the one that best matches your business objectives. 

In this article, we define inbound and content marketing, review the key differences between these approaches, describe how to choose between these strategies and provide a list of tips to help you use them. 

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is a method that uses engaging content to capture and maintain consumers’ attention. When the customer becomes interested in a brand, inbound content provides the information the customer needs to make a purchase. Since the customer actively seeks details about a product themselves, then they may feel more inclined to buy the product. Another objective of inbound marketing is to help the consumer progress through the buying journey.

Read more: How To Utilize Inbound Marketing

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is a strategy that administers content with the aim to educate or entertain target audiences. Instead of encouraging consumers to take action, such as making a purchase, content marketing focuses on gradually building relationships with consumers. The more personal the relationship, the more likely consumers may want to buy the product or service.

Read more: What Is Content Marketing?

Inbound marketing vs. content marketing

Inbound marketing differs from content marketing in a variety of ways. Here’s a list of things to consider when you’re deciding whether to use inbound or content marketing:

Benefits

Inbound marketing and content marketing can both produce positive results for your business, but the outcomes they deliver contrast with one another. Here are the benefits of inbound marketing:

  • Optimizing brand website: Impactful inbound content can increase the rank of your brand's website on the pages of search engine results. The more visible your website, the more likely consumers may visit it, which can escalate the buyer's journey.

  • Gaining permission to distribute marketing materials: Consumers that are interested in your brand may consent to receive persuasive inbound content. Targeting the audience from your mailing list can increase the conversion rate, leading to more prospects who may ultimately make a purchase.

  • Focusing your marketing strategies: Inbound marketing can save your company time and resources. Rather than deploying promotions with little direction, you can refine your technique to engage your prospects effectively, focusing on the customers that are most likely to make an investment.

Here are the benefits of content marketing:

  • Enhancing customer service: Providing helpful information to website visitors is an action of customer service. Prospects that can easily find the guidance they're looking for may perceive your brand as one that values its customers.

  • Building brand loyalty: Enhanced customer service can boost brand loyalty, where customers feel inclined to support your brand after they make their initial purchases. For example, they can consistently engage with your company's social media content and open marketing emails. When your brand releases a new product, the loyal customer is already a prospect.

  • Receiving customer testimonials: Consumers who are loyal to your brand and satisfied with the helpful content you produce may choose to share their positive experiences with others. Testimonials can appear in the product review section on your website or in commentary on social media. Real-life stories from customers can help your brand establish trust with new customers.

Related: Content Marketing Basics: What Is Content Marketing and How To Do It

Examples

Inbound marketing and content marketing produce different content for consumers. Examples of inbound marketing include:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)

  • Search engine positioning

  • Email marketing

  • Pay-per-click advertising

Viewers can encounter content marketing publications on diverse channels, including:

  • Blog posts

  • Newsletters

  • Infographics

  • Videos

Related: Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing: Definitions and Differences

Stages and goals

When you’re comparing inbound and content marketing, it’s important to understand the stages these approaches include and the audiences they target. For example, the four phases of inbound marketing include:

  • Attract: To ultimately invest in your business, customers may need to learn your product exists. Content in the attraction phase piques the viewer's curiosity and encourages them to visit the organizational website or engage with social media posts.

  • Convert: Inbound marketers have website content that encourages prospects to subscribe to a mailing list to receive marketing emails and company newsletters.

  • Close You secure the business of the customer by publishing content that persuades them to buy the product.

  • Delight: Delighting the customers means engaging them consistently, so they become repeat customers. They can browse information about similar products, which may encourage them to make another investment. Brands also offer incentives, such as a discount when customers share the brand's webpage with their friends and family members.

Alternatively, content marketing only has three primary stages, which are to attract, convince and convert. The purpose of inbound marketing is to reach consumers that adhere to specific buyer personas and appeal to their unique priorities and preferences. Instead, content marketing aims to reach a broad target audience, and appeal to a greater number of potential clients. 

Related: Digital Marketing vs. Content Marketing: Key Differences


How to choose between inbound marketing and content marketing

To select the marketing technique that aligns with the needs of your brand, consider taking the following steps:


1. Contemplate your marketing goals

Inbound marketing and content marketing can produce different results, which is why it's important to think about the ideal outcomes you want to achieve at the end of your campaign. Your goals can impact the type of content you publish and the ways you interact with your target audiences. For example, if your goal is to convert the visitors to your websites into paying customers, then you might choose to create inbound content. If your goal is to maximize engagement on social media and establish consumer trust with your brand, you might focus on content marketing methods.

Related: 15 Job Options in Content Marketing


2. Assess your available resources

The marketing technique of your choice may depend on your organizational resources. For instance, to convert website visitors, you may need an employee who specializes in search engine optimization and website analytics to retrieve the data you need for inbound content. Content marketing may require the skill set of graphic designers, videographers or blog writers. Consider the technical abilities of members of your team to help you choose a strategy that aligns best with your available resources.

Related: A Guide to the Inbound Methodology


3. Consider using both content and inbound marketing

A combination of content and inbound marketing can be especially beneficial for your brand. You can use the same keywords from SEO research into blog posts and video descriptions, for example. Another helpful practice might be to develop content marketing on your website to increase your brand's visibility. Perhaps your marketing objectives require data from both techniques. Consult with inbound marketers and content marketers to forge ways to convert and retain customers.

Related: Content Marketing KPI Master List: 15 Metrics to Track


Tips for using inbound marketing and content marketing

Review the following tips for additional guidance on using inbound marketing and content marketing:


Using inbound marketing

Tips for creating and distributing inbound marketing content include:

  • Know your audience: Your inbound content can be successful if you publish it on platforms your consumers typically use. Research the online consumption habits of the customers you would like to target and design content for websites they visit often. For example, if your website visitors also use social media, then it may be helpful to have a pop-up advertisement on those platforms.

  • Prioritize your audience's needs: Remember that effective inbound marketing manifests when consumers make the purchasing decisions for themselves, not when they're experiencing pressure from intrusive methods, such as cold calling or frequent emailing. Find a balance between making your content accessible to the consumer without overwhelming them.

  • Use strategic keywords: Channel the perspective of the consumer to unveil the terms they type in a search engine. Consider the abbreviations or jargon that may represent your product or service and the region where your brand services customers. Using those keywords on your website can improve its rank on search engine results.

  • Track the performance of your content: Evaluating how prospects responded to your inbound marketing can help you improve your strategies for future projects. Determine if the content was successful at converting a website visitor into a lead. You can also review the number of new subscribers to your mailing list and your sales numbers as indications of your success.

Related: How To Transition from Outbound Marketing to Inbound Marketing


Using content marketing

To assist your content marketing endeavors, consider using these tips:

  • Select the right format: Knowledge about your audience can dictate the way you format your content. Consider your target demographics' attention spans and the language that appeals to them. For instance, developing a colorful infographic may be more impactful on a younger age group than posting a blog post with 2,000 words.

  • Use relevant information: The information you provide to your audience may also depend on its characteristics. For example, for promoting a new cell phone, younger consumers may be more concerned about the quality of the phone's camera and its storage capabilities, while older consumers may be more concerned about the phone's convenience. Content marketing can build strong relationships when customers perceive a brand as caring about the same things the consumers do.

  • Conduct research: Research can guide you through the content development process. Examine the frequent terms consumers search for a product your business offers. Next, incorporate the information that answers the consumers' questions into appealing content, and remember to aim to maintain their attention throughout the buying journey.

  • Request customer feedback: Feedback from your customers can offer insight into how helpful they find your content marketing. Once the buying process finishes, consider asking your customers to complete a survey about their experience with your brand. You can pose questions about customer service and the ease of access to information about your product.


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