As this Google trends graph shows, both terms started to become popular around 2011 and have rapidly increased in popularity ever since.
Content marketing is by far the more popular of the two, and probably the one most people have heard of. However, inbound marketing is still a popular marketing term, and there’s now books, websites and whole companies dedicated to ‘inbound’ techniques. The actual definitions of both content marketing and inbound marketing are hotly debated online, with many different groups believing they mean slightly different things.
What is inbound marketing?
The term inbound marketing first came into use when marketers began to look for alternatives to outbound ‘interruption’ marketing (like TV adverts, billboards and direct mail) which were gradually becoming less effective.
People were getting tired of being bombarded with advertising, so the concept behind inbound marketing is that instead of pushing marketing messages out, you use tactics to engage people and pull them in.
Instead of interrupting people’s day, marketers earn attention organically and provide value by using inbound tactics. The exact mechanisms behind how you do this are varied, but generally they involve the creation of content, hence the confusion with content marketing. There’s a lot of crossover between content marketing and inbound marketing, but the most common opinion is that content marketing is an inbound marketing tactic. Other tactics include SEO, events, PR and social media marketing.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing is the creation of content that will attract, engage and retain a clearly-defined audience – your customers and prospects. Content marketers create useful or entertaining content that’s valuable to this audience. This could take the form of blogs, emails, infographics, videos, white papers and more.
As a part of inbound marketing, the idea behind content marketing is to pull people in, instead of sending messages out to them. People will find the content themselves via social media or search engines, rather than it being forced upon them. What’s more, if the content is genuinely useful, other people are likely to distribute it on your behalf. This helps increase the number of people who discover your company and can also improve your search engine rankings at the same time.
Which should my business be doing?
There’s a reason that both inbound marketing and content marketing are growing in popularity. Creating useful content that actively attracts potential customers has been proven to be more effective and less expensive than the interruption techniques of old. It doesn’t matter what you call it: investing in high quality, valuable content will be beneficial to your business. It will help improve your search rankings, give you something interesting to say on social media which will enhance your brand recognition, and help more people discover your company organically.