How to Distinguish Content Marketing vs Inbound Marketing: Key Differences

Kelly Wilhelme
Posted by Kelly Wilhelme on June 17, 2021


Inbound marketing and content marketing: Are they the same thing? If not, what do they have in common?

Content creation requires a strategic framework, as does inbound marketing. Does that mean they’re the same? Is one easier to implement than the other? Most important, which provides the right strategy for complex B2B manufacturing companies?

Content Marketing vs Inbound Marketing: A Quick Comparison


In short, content marketing is essential to inbound marketing — but it’s not the only vital component. It can exist outside inbound-based strategies, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a successful inbound marketing program that doesn’t incorporate content strategy.

Under the umbrella of an inbound program, you’ll find content marketing working alongside website optimization, SEO, email marketing, lead nurturing, analytics, social media, and more to attract, qualify, nurture, close, and delight customers.

But before we dive deeper into the distinctions between inbound and content marketing, let’s start with an essential fact: quality content achieves these important goals:

  • It grabs the attention of targeted audiences (It’s creative)
  • It helps companies establish relationships with B2B buyers (It’s relevant)
  • It’s designed to be shared widely (It’s valuable)

Marketing content is a key source of fuel for your successful inbound marketing flywheel.

But on its own, even the most valuable content can’t keep your flywheel spinning.

Sure, consistently publishing content generates traffic. But content alone comes up short for capturing or qualifying leads, moving them along the buyer’s journey and converting them into loyal customers.

What is content marketing?

According to the experts at the Content Marketing Institute: “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

That content could be a web page optimized for SEO, a blog post targeted to a specific audience, a visually arresting infographic that’s easily shared (here’s how to build one), or a video. Even longer videos are preferred by most people over long-form, text-only whitepapers.

RELATED: Create & Promote Content for Results

In general, a content marketing strategy involves focusing on your brand stories, which can be intriguing and even entertaining. After all, who wants to consume boring, lifeless content? But it’s key to remember to use the same search terms as your industrial buyers.

Your best prospects, those who are active in the buying process, may want a “trusted manufacturing partner,” but they’re typing “paper converting machine” into search engines. Just make sure your content is relevant to a problem that your product, service, and/or team can solve.

Going back to the definition above, “profitable customer action” — the ultimate goal, of course — happens when you plug that relevant content into a strategy based on the inbound marketing methodology.

OK, so what is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing comprises a set of tools and processes that work together to match the way B2B companies market with the way people buy today. Inbound marketing leverages behavior so traffic is generated, relationships are formed, leads are gained, and customers are delighted. 

It works particularly well for complex industries like manufacturing where industrial buyers have a longer sales cycle and purchases are highly considered, because it allows you to use all the tools in the inbound framework to build relationships with your best prospects at scale.

So, while helpful content engages prospects looking for answers, inbound methodology provides a framework for everything in your marketing mix — from strategy to content production, distribution to promotion, SEO to lead nurturing, and marketing and sales alignment. 


Inbound marketing strategy improves on the traditional sales funnel, implementing a flywheel model that not only enhances the buyer’s journey, but also ignites business growth.

To make the most of inbound, you need the right systems in place, such as marketing automation that talks to your CRM to help you qualify and nurture the right leads at scale, and provide data your sales team can use to help improve your closing ratios. Currently, only 35% of manufacturing content marketers use marketing automation software. That’s a huge missed opportunity!

The right software not only provides every metric imaginable on how your potential customers are engaging with your business, it also takes the guessing game out of creating customer touchpoints by allowing you to create workflows to seamlessly deliver personalized, relevant content to your leads and customers based on their needs.

Content is critical, but it’s only part of the story

You want content to drive results and help you achieve your goals. Because inbound marketing is a data- and result-driven methodology, your content marketing is tightly integrated with your conversion strategy. Inbound produces results by using content to attract and convert prospects into leads, so the focus is on optimizing the content and the conversion experience.

When you use all the components of inbound marketing, it becomes THE powerful approach for complex B2B industries because it drives a repeatable and scalable engine that produces sales-ready leads month after month.

Learn more about content and inbound marketing

There’s lots more to discover when you review our inbound marketing resource page. It’s loaded with information to help you get started: Inbound Marketing for Industrials. The link below will take you there, and you can download a copy to take with you as a convenient, shareable guide.

Read the The Ultimate Guide to Inbound Marketing for Industrial Manufacturers

Topics: Inbound Marketing, Content Marketing

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