Content Marketing vs Inbound Marketing

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What You Need to Know

Many agencies and businesses are still asking just one person or one department to handle both content marketing and inbound marketing roles. Or they’re not treating the two distinctly.

Here at Impulse Creative, both are very distinct and necessary roles within the inbound methodology of delivering the right message to the right people at the right time.

While content marketing focuses on the creation of that message, inbound marketing is the broader work of targeting the right people, determining the kind of message they need, determining the best medium from pay per click ads to content offers and then distributing it at the right time.


While this understanding is a (strangely) debated issue, we’re not the only ones with this point of view. In fact, a HubSpot survey of 3500 marketers agreed that content marketing is a subset of inbound marketing.

Essentially, both inbound and content marketing rely on each other to be successful and drive results. However, in most cases, they can’t be done by the same people. Not only is it ineffective, but since they’re so drastically different, both content marketing and inbound marketing demand that two very different people perform them.

The Root of the Roles

Content marketing can be traced back to “6 ways a spear can save you from a wild boar” on cave walls in 4200 B.C. A little more recently, and a lot more relevant, John Deere began publishing their educational farming magazine, “The Furrow”, to more than 1.5 million people.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, has only been around since 2005 HubSpot co-founder Brian Halligan coined the phrase. Before then, there were different phrases used to describe the method, like permission-based marketing.

So naturally, there’s still a lot of confusion around it.

At Impulse Creative, we believe that inbound marketing is a methodology, not a service. The core of inbound marketing can be explained this way: Rather than interrupting people while they’re reading, watching TV or listening to the radio with traditional advertising, inbound marketing delivers the right helpful message to the right people, at the right time in the buyer’s journey.

The methodology is often summed up this way:

  • Attract: With blogs, keywords and social publishing
  • Convert: Using forms, calls to action and landing pages
  • Close: With customer relationship managers (CRMs), emails and workflows
  • Delight: Using surveys, smart content and social monitoring

Instead of being a methodology, content marketing is the action of creating the content that fuels inbound marketing and everything that involves. It’s the making of the valuable, relevant and consistent messages inbound marketers use to attract, convert, close and delight.

And as a much broader action than content marketing, inbound marketing is much more of a technical challenge. These data-driven professionals tame the math and technology it takes to convert strangers into customers with content.

Both Matter, in Different Ways

Inbound marketing, as a role, is a data-driven discipline of smart projections, results, tactical implementation and funnel strategy. For them, success is measured in metrics like conversions, engagement and ROI.

Content marketers have the same goals, for the same clients, and work together on the same projects. They just approach that work in a much different way. Our content marketers judge their own work by grammar, spelling, subject mastery, buyer persona targeting, organizational strategy, how well it delivers the inbound  message and entertainment or educational value. But their creative chops and success in what they do so well is what combines with the strategy of inbound marketers to fuel the metrics of success for clients: site visitors, leads, conversions, customers and ultimately, profits.

Two Teams, One United Front


At Impulse Creative, we’re always rethinking our processes and devising better methods to collaborate for client success. Still, there are consistent ways that our content marketers and inbound marketers almost always work together across the agency:

Any Given Inbound Client Campaign

  • Inbound marketers plan out campaigns for our clients based on real data, including outlines for longform content offers, how many blogs are needed, blog topics, landing pages, pay per click ads, etc.
  • Once a client approves, they provide that information, usually along with descriptive outlines, to content marketers who create the content.
  • For content marketers, that process almost always involves research, outlining, drafting, redrafting, editing, proofing, photo selection and collaboration with our video marketers to produce accompanying video content.  
  • If inbound marketers are creating content themselves, our content marketers are always available to consult, edit and advise. (Think of us as content quality control for anything our agency produces.)
  • Inbound marketers also perform the SEO research that give our content marketers the caliber of data-driven direction that leads to serious results.
  • Once the content is complete, our inbound marketers insert the calls to action and forms that convert site visitors into leads and leads into customers.
  • Inbound Marketers schedule content for distribution at ideal times, across social media channels, in emails, in ads and more. They also tie it into larger inbound campaigns that nurture prospects through the buyer’s journey and  work toward measurable goals within trackable metrics.
  • Finally, our inbound marketers track and test the performance of our content in order to make adjustments and provide the valuable feedback that helps to continuously improve our content strategy.

So even though content creation happens pretty autonomously here, our content marketing process still begins and ends with inbound marketing, because it’s more successful and targeted that way.

The Gray Area


Some crossover between the two departments is typical. For example, our inbound marketers write social media posts, content outlines and even some blogs. While they’re more than capable of crafting content themselves and still need to understand that process well, writing is not their focus and doesn’t have to be their specialty.

At the same time, our content marketers also need at least a base knowledge of inbound principals including the inbound methodology, buyer’s journey, buyer personas, SEO best practices, campaign strategy, social media message parameters, effective word counts, conversion tactics and the root purpose of inbound marketing mediums like landing pages.

If you’ve taken HubSpot’s content marketing certification course, you’ll discover an outline of a role that’s got a whole lot more inbound responsibilities in it. After all, their bread and butter is inbound marketing. That’s not to say it’s wrong, just different. And even in that much more inbound-centric role, HubSpot recognized that the two jobs are made stronger by being separate.

The important takeaway for your business is that you fully understand both and define the job responsibilities of your marketers in a the best possible way for your company and marketing. Of course, there’s always room to play to the strengths and capacity of your employees as well.

The Controversy and the Conclusion


Content marketing and inbound marketing are just two sides of the same coin.

Simple right? Not online it’s not.

This discussion has been sparking a well-known and extremely heated online debate for years now. People argue that one or the other is actually both, one is more important, or that one is part of the other.

It’s a pretty stupid debate when you come right down to it.

We all need both to successfully deliver the right message to the right people at the right time. And because of the volume and nature of the work, they work better when performed by different people.

Make sure you’re doing or planning on doing all of the above, then clearly define the roles in the way that makes the most sense for your organization. Whenever you find yourself unsure of who should be doing what, stop and ask your team.

No matter how hard you look, there really is no blog-equivalent to an honest, candid discussion with your marketing team.

PS: We’re hiring both inbound marketers & Content Marketers at our agency. Apply Here

digital marketing

Topics: Inbound Marketing, Content Marketing

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