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Content Marketing vs Inbound Marketing: An Epic Bout?

By John McTigueSep 5, 2014

content marketing vs inbound marketing an epic bout

I love it when heavyweights in any industry do a little sparring. In this case HubSpot's CEO, Brian Halligan, and Joe Pullizi, Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, went toe-to-toe in Marcus Sheridan's recent interview post with Halligan. The subject, the differences (and similarities) between content marketing and inbound marketing. Don't get me wrong, I love both of these guys and have a ton of respect for them as well, but I think this argument is fluffy at best. Here's why.

Point - Counterpoint

The crux of the disagreement stemmed from Brian's answer to Marcus' question about content marketing vs. inbound marketing:

"If a tree falls in the woods, does anyone hear it? Same thing with content no one ever sees—it doesn’t move the needle with your audience. So I think content is the fuel for inbound marketing goodness, but when I think about what makes inbound tick, it’s truly rethinking the consumer experience to be more frictionless."

Joe pushed back in the comments pretty vigorously:

"I just wish Brian would have elaborated more on the difference between inbound marketing and content marketing. In this interview, Brian really talks about 'content.' Content is not content marketing."

Joe went on to say, "Inbound and content marketing are just two different ways to look at the customer. I applaud HubSpot for really creating the religion that is Inbound (I’ll be at the conference in a couple weeks to view this firsthand). Content marketing is a much different animal (including, among other things, it’s channel agnostic. Many of the best content marketing examples in the world are not digital…like HubSpot’s own event or John Deere’s infamous print magazine)."

The Real Distinction (If Any)—From An Agency's Point of View

I would love to hear rebuttals from both Brian and Joe, but my point is, who cares? We're not talking about two different industries here, or even two different methodologies. We're not talking about two different channels either. In inbound marketing, you publish and promote great stuff and people will find it helpful and share it with their friends and co-workers. You do that often enough and you can build up brand awareness, generate leads and even increase sales. That's really not much different from content marketing, is it? Both inbound marketing and content marketing have various degrees of owned, earned and paid media distribution options, so that's not much of a distinction either. Content marketing, done right, helps to drive qualified traffic from the search engines—that's a huge part of inbound marketing. Both forms of marketing leverage social media, when possible. Am I missing something?

Joe's point is content marketing really dives into buyer personas and the buyer journey and seeks alignment and context of content and distribution with those. Well, last time I checked, that's what we do with inbound marketing too, and even outbound nowadays.

For me, it's a rhetorical argument. We use all of these approaches in a combined way to attract, engage and delight, as HubSpot would say. We do this every day on every client account. It's not a choice of one versus the other. That makes no sense if you're trying to find the best way to reach customers and help them to become buyers. I think we're splitting hairs about the distinction between inbound and content marketing. They're just two important parts of the same equation, indivisible and far better in concert than in the boxing ring.

This is why I can't wait for the new version of Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah's new version of the ground breaking book, Inbound Marketing: Attract, Engage and Delight Customers, which is out this week! I'm hoping they will put some of these largely semantic fist fights to rest once and for all! If you want a sneak preview, there's a CTA below with your name on it. I think I heard a bell—or were my ears just ringing from the upper cut I just received from Brian and Joe?

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Additional Topics: Content and Design
The Author

John McTigue

With over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. You can connect with John via LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus.
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