Inbound Marketing vs. Content Marketing: What’s the Difference?

Modern marketing strategies are virtually unrecognizable when compared with the traditional marketing methods used by door-to-door salesmen of the mid-century. 

Flashy posters, blaring commercials, bold product pitches, and dapper haircuts were all part of the full-court-press marketing and sales strategies of the past. 

Of course, these methods still have their place for many businesses, but it’s becoming crystal clear that the modern buyer’s journey looks a lot different than it did even just a decade ago, let alone six. 

Today, capturing the attention of potential customers relies heavily, if not exclusively, on digital marketing. 

Still, companies trying to map out a logical marketing program can quickly feel lost in the murky waters of modern marketing lingo. 

Arguably, two of the most ambiguous phrases in digital marketing are content marketing and inbound marketing. Are these terms synonymous, or what’s the difference between inbound and content marketing? 

Let’s demystify these terms with a bit of help from industry-leading experts and sort out how both play into converting leads

What is Inbound Marketing?

In comparison to traditional marketing methods, inbound marketing is more subtle and relationship-based. Instead of trying to cut to the chase ASAP to make a sale, inbound marketing works to build a rapport with leads. 

The conversion process may take longer and cost a bit more upfront, but “The average cost per lead drops 80% after 5 months with the use of inbound marketing,” says


Inbound marketing is about:

  • Establishing your company as a credible source of helpful information for your audience. 
  • Communicating your brand identity and raising brand awareness. 
  • Motivating people to become your customer and tell other people about your company because they like what you stand for as a company and what you offer.


“Compelling content and useful information allow people to connect with your company and take an interest in developing a relationship with your brand. It draws people in, rather than getting in their faces,” explains SEMrush, the popular content marketing software. “Inbound marketing opens the door for businesses to engage and have a conversation with customers.”

To accomplish this, brands need a strong identity and must have clear insights into their target audience. A company must know itself and define its demographic by creating consistently branded content and mapping out buyer personas. When the audience feels it can trust and identify with the brand, they’ll often be more likely to respond to a call to action, such as signing up for a mailing list. 


Inbound marketing strategy includes:

  • Content marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Email marketing
  • Events
  • Case studies
  • Lead nurturing and management
  • Website design and management
  • Paid advertising
  • Analytics


Some components of inbound marketing are done behind the scenes, like SEO, analytics, and web design. These are fundamental ‘to dos’ on the modern marketing team’s list but do not necessarily involve direct communication with leads. Still, these back-end tasks are all part of a complete inbound marketing strategy meant to build a long-term relationship with leads.

What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing centers on — you guessed it — content. Content is the vehicle for delivering your message to your target audience. It not only shows them who you are as a company and what you offer but reaches out to invite them on a journey. 

Content marketing strategy includes:

  • Videos
  • Blog posts
  • Podcasts
  • Guides
  • Infographics
  • Newsletters
  • Social media posts


Some marketers even interpret content to mean anything that a business communicates to their audience. Whatever methods your business uses to establish and nurture relationships with leads can be labeled as content marketing. 

Instead of focussing on pushing products, content such as blog posts may simply provide useful tips, helpful ‘how-tos,’ or other information related to your company’s niche. Such relevant content can help establish your brand as a trusted resource instead of an unfeeling big business looking to make a quick buck. 

Of course, businesses have to make money, and making sales is the entire point of marketing. Still, people are usually happier to give their business to a company that cares and likes to offer free resources over a company that lacks a personal touch and pushes non-stop promos. 

The Key Difference Between Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing

The main differentiator between content marketing and inbound marketing is in the methods used to convert leads.

  • Content marketing falls under the inbound marketing umbrella and is focused on creating content that will be communicated to the target audience. 
  • Inbound marketing includes content marketing but also incorporates other strategies, some of which are not directly communicated with the audience or the entire audience. 


Still, these terms can sound a bit similar, especially since there’s some significant overlap. So, is content marketing and inbound marketing the same thing? 

Can You Use The Terms “Content Marketing” and “Inbound Marketing” Interchangeably?

In short, no. But, kind of; hear us out.

Remember in math class trying to wrap your mind around how a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square? 

Well, that’s precisely the scenario we have with “content marketing” and “inbound marketing.” In the simplest terms, content marketing IS inbound marketing, but inbound marketing is not necessarily content marketing. Confused yet? 

Think of your entire inbound marketing strategy as a restaurant menu, and think of content marketing as the ‘main course’ section of the menu. There are other things besides content marketing on the inbound marketing menu, but the content is your meat and potatoes. 

That being said, who doesn’t love appetizers, desserts, and drinks? Yes, there are more parts to a complete inbound marketing strategy than content creation.

“Marketers should think in terms of ‘and’ not ‘or’ when it comes to the content/inbound relationship. Success relies on both. Content may help fuel your inbound engine, but there are similarly valuable inbound projects — like technical SEO, freemium trials, interactive tools — that may exist outside of the content marketer’s scope,” advises Hubspot, a leading inbound marketing software company.

Basically, content marketing is one crucial ingredient to modern marketing success, but companies should not strictly limit inbound marketing to content marketing alone. 

Content Marketing: Arguably The Biggest Part of Inbound Marketing

That being said, as the ‘meat and potatoes,’ content is arguably the most significant part of inbound marketing. Companies that regularly create content that is engaging and useful to their audience are off to a great start. 

The other components of inbound marketing, such as SEO and advertising, will help that golden content get discovered by the target audience, so they can get on board with your company and start telling others about it too. 


How Can I Use or Improve Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing? — Marketing Made Easy With Responsify

The nuances of inbound marketing and content marketing can be tough to define, let alone implement, and industry best practices are ever-changing. 

For many companies, the most practical solution is to enlist the help of an inbound marketing team. With a little extra marketing muscle on your side, your company can more easily connect with your audience on new levels and fuel growth. 

At Responsify, we offer three tiers of inbound and content marketing programs to help organizations of all shapes and sizes attract, convert, and nurture leads.

Get started with a free assessment, and let’s talk about how we can innovate together to maximize your company’s inbound marketing strategy. 

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