The challenging field of digital Marketing is often made more difficult by a vocabulary that is sometimes misused and misunderstood.
Two terms that are commonly used interchangeably are content marketing and inbound marketing. While there is a close relationship and overlap between these two concepts, they are not merely two expressions of the same thing. Understanding the difference can help us do a better job in both areas and support our teams to focus on the right metrics and output.
What is Inbound Marketing?
We are starting with inbound marketing because it is a broader umbrella term. The term inbound marketing is often thought of as a set of tools and tactics, but inbound marketing is actually a paradigm shift in the way markets approach potential customers. This shift in marketing methodologies has dramatically risen in the past 5-years as buying patterns have shifted and markers found they can get more by putting out content that resonates with ideal customers, which helps them obtain pertinent information throughout each stage of their buyer’s journey. Once we understand this concept, we can better understand content marketing and inbound marketing are deeply integrated when it comes to broader marketing objectives.
In the simplest of terms, inbound marketing helps to attract ideal customers and future them into happy customers. When traditional marketers start looking into the effectiveness of inbound marketing, they are seeing shift in methodologies focused on helping potential customers obtain helpful and relevant information without asking for anything in return. This not only postures the company as a thought leader to potential customers, but more importantly gives marketing and sales professionals visibility into how effective content marketing that is spread across the buyer’s journey.
The way companies buy has changed. As a result, marketers need to adapt as well in order to be effective in an age where buyers are most often over half way through their buyer’s journey before contacting sales reps. By the time the user contacts your company, they have already researched you and your competitors. This is where inbound inbound marketing really improves your overall marketing ROI, as it relies heavily on persona-driven content that speaks to the pain points of potential customers.
Let’s take SaaS Marketing for example. This deeply rooted relationship between inbound marketing and content marketing is even more prevalent with SaaS platforms. Most companies focus marketing budgets more heavily towards lead generation. These days, best practices when it comes to SaaS companies achieving high growth rates, they embrace healthy balance of content marketing resources evenly between not just lead generation, but also for client engagement. This is where the rise of niche SaaS marketing agencies has dramatically risen from being obsessed with understanding SaaS business models and what is necessary to align sales and marketing teams to scale monthly recurring revenues.
This agile balance is vital to a SaaS platform staying in business given that SaaS customer churn can erode monthly recurring revenue takes a front seat to lead generation. Which makes sense if you think about it, what is the point to spend money to acquire users if you cannot keep them happy customers. This has heightened the attention towards proactive client engagement. People no longer want to be interrupted by marketing pitches. They wish to seek out information for themselves. Inbound marketers attempt to be ready with answers when people look, build relationships with those people, and generate leads.
It may be easier to understand by looking at how it is different from outbound marketing. Outbound marketing is the methodology of going out to find people through mass emails, advertising, phone calls, and other means. Inbound marketing, however, is about helping people find you.
What is Content Marketing?
While inbound marketing is an umbrella term, content marketing is the more specific strategy of creating and offering valuable, relevant content that potential customers will find useful. This content can include blogs, white papers, videos, guides, apps, anything that potential customers may find helpful.
Content marketing is one facet of inbound marketing. As we will see, it is an essential aspect and one that is the heart of most inbound marketing plans. However, because inbound marketing can have other elements, content marketing and inbound marketing are not interchangeable terms.
Content Marketing & Inbound Marketing
While there are other aspects of a comprehensive inbound marketing plan, content is always central. It is virtually impossible to execute inbound marketing without a content strategy. If we want to attract people who are already searching, there must be something to draw them in. On the flip side, a content marketing strategy won’t be effective if it is not part of a greater inbound vision.
Content marketing and inbound marketing actually compliment each other, just like peanut butter and jelly. Inbound marketing focuses on getting your content in front of the right eye balls, at the right time. To that point, churning our persona-driven blog posts tailored for towards the middle or bottom of your funnel can assist in support of your lead nurturing efforts.
This is where search engine marketing strategies can pay huge dividends. Without great SEO, that content may never be found. With that said, some overzealous markets still get greedy and overoptimism and write for search engine robots instead of humans to their blog posts to reach higher rankings.
This is a huge mistake and more often than not SEO mistakes can destroy your content marketing efforts if Google penalizes your domain name. Also, content marketing will only go so far if there isn’t a strategy for nurturing potential customers into and through a sales funnel. This may include integration with CRM and a process for nurturing high-value leads into customers.
These two are always intertwined, and there is never a choice between content and inbound.
Why Does it Matter?
When content marketers are aligned with inbound marketing strategies, the marketing operations team can collective and effectively layer persona-driven content across each stage of the buyer’s journey. Whether you are charged with refining your content strategy, inbound marketing, or both, it is essential to keep the differences in mind. It is also crucial to understand how closely they are related. In most B2B organizations where these both fall under one department, it is important to delineate between the two to ensure you are giving the proper attention to each one. When blended into one function, there is the potential that essential components of one or the other could be neglected.
Too little focus on content, and it will be challenging to catch the interest of potential customers. Not enough effort in the general sense of inbound marketing, and your great content may never be found because it it not tailored to a specific buyer persona and associated pain points. As a result, those visitors are less likely to convert into leads or customers.
In cases where content marketing strategy is handled by a different individual than content creators, it is vital to highlight the interdependence with critical need to align on content strategy goals. If the two are not clear about how they work together, it may be challenging to implement an effective strategy. Each team has a role to play. Those focused on content marketing strategy are tasked with creating compelling and high-converting content clearly targeted to pain points of the appropriate audience or buyer persona. That buyer personas may be clarified and developed in partnership with those dealing with the overall inbound marketing strategy.
These days inbound marketing professionals need to shift away from the traditional sales funnel tactics and focus on helping ideal customers discover your niche blog posts addressing their specific pain points and then implement a plan to nurture those visitors into leads and ultimately into paying customers.
While inbound marketing strategies and content marketing strategies may have different KPI’s, the are vital to each others success. This is where speaking with B2B marketing agencies that specialize in inbound marketing will give you a unique and candid insight and assessment into how your content marketers and inbound marketing strategists can further align to reduce lead generation costs, increase conversion rates and reduce sale cycles. An inbound marketer is nothing without effective content writers, so the complimentary nature of is what inbound marketing so effective and turning strangers into customers.