How are inbound marketing and content marketing different?

Signe Bjørklund



7 min

The modern B2B buyer wants valuable content from your company. Content that is relevant, educational, and can help them solve their challenges.

That’s why you’ve probably already heard about content marketing and inbound marketing. These are two marketing strategies that both focus on creating valuable content.

But what exactly is the difference between the two? Aren't they really just synonyms for the same thing?

Inbound marketing and content marketing share many of the same goals when it comes to attracting, engaging and converting leads into customers.

But the two marketing strategies are based on two different concepts, which is why it is important to be able to separate them - especially if you have to implement them in your company.

In this article, we focus on how inbound marketing differs from content marketing and where the two strategies overlap. Let's start from the top and define the two concepts.

What is content marketing?

There are many different definitions of content marketing, but sticking to the leading experts from the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is defined as:

"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."


Content marketing is thus defined as a strategic approach to marketing that focuses on producing relevant content and distributing it across different channels. All the blog posts, e-books, newsletters, how-to guides, landing pages and videos you see on various websites and social media are all examples of content.

It’s content that companies produce to attract potential customers to their websites. Moreover, content can be used to generate traffic and create credibility around both the company and the brand.

In general, content marketing is used to attract traffic, create brand awareness and build a credible brand through content. Success is often measured by the amount of traffic, the bounce rate, newsletter subscribers, etc. - without having direct sales in mind.

Let's take a closer look at what inbound marketing is.

What is inbound marketing?

The concept of inbound marketing was invented by the software company HubSpot, which defines inbound marketing as follows:


"Inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. While outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they don’t always want, inbound marketing forms connections they are looking for and solves problems they already have."


This means that inbound marketing isn’t just a marketing strategy. It’s a business methodology. Inbound marketing is about attracting potential customers through relevant and helpful content in a non-disruptive way. And it sounds a bit like content marketing.

But inbound marketing isn’t just about generating traffic. It is also about converting traffic, for example, through CTAs or forms. It's about maturing leads through lead-nurturing flows. And it's about creating loyal and trusting customer relationships to make your customers your best ambassadors.

This also means that content is only part of the inbound marketing strategy. Inbound marketing consists of different tools and processes adapted to the modern B2B buyer that aims to create lead generation, lead nurturing, and sales.

Content is at the heart of both strategies

If you still think the two strategies are similar, then you are absolutely right.

The biggest similarity between the two strategies is, of course, content. It is difficult to avoid the fact that content is a central ingredient in both content marketing and inbound marketing. And it is important to emphasize that none of them can function without content.

Both strategies focus on producing valuable educational, informative, and relevant content for the recipient. There are some clear advantages to content that make it attractive for companies to work with:

  • Content primarily helps you capture your recipient's attention through a creative approach to knowledge sharing. Content can easily consist of more than text - try out other formats such as video, audio, images, gifs, infographics, interactive pdfs, etc.
  • High-quality content can support and establish trusting relationships with your B2B leads and customers by being relevant.
  • High-quality content has great potential to be shared on different channels and among networks (especially social), because it creates value for the recipient.

The most important thing when working with content is to focus on your recipient. How can you make your content relevant to your target audience? What do they prefer to interact with? Which channels are they present on?

What both inbound marketing and content marketing have in common is that they are customer-centric. This means that both strategies distance themselves from disruptive and noisy marketing content, as we know it from outbound marketing such as banner ads, commercials, cold calling, etc.

In contrast, both inbound marketing and content marketing focus on the buyer's needs. All content is tailored to the buyer and how the buyer thinks, feels - and researches. The customer is therefore in focus instead of the product or service you offer.

Inbound embraces both sales and marketing

While there are many similarities between the two strategies, there are also some significant differences.

Firstly, inbound is a systematic approach to working with sales and marketing - and already here the concept differs significantly from content marketing, which is exclusively a marketing effort.

Inbound is a methodology that embraces both your marketing and sales department. Therefore, inbound is also primarily focused on attracting leads through relevant content and converting them. This is what we call lead generation. But with inbound you also work with lead nurturing, which involves maturing the converted leads by slowly pushing them further down the sales funnel to eventually win them over.

In many cases, content marketing can also be used for lead generation. But it is often used in connection with building greater brand awareness or adopting a special brand positioning. This means that it is also used without direct sales in mind.

Marketing automation

Inbound marketing focuses both on lead generation and lead nurturing. This often requires a marketing automation system such as HubSpot that can automate your marketing efforts.

A marketing automation system talks to your CRM, and helps you to qualify and 'nurture' the right lead in the right way. It also gives you access to data that your sales team can use to optimize your closing rates.

You also get access to all measurable data on how your potential customers engage with your business. This means that you no longer have to depend on your gut feeling. You don't have to guess at different touchpoints and conversions, because you have data to rely on.

The data allows you to create automatic lead nurturing flows based on behavior. In addition, you can deliver personalized content to the individual lead or customer to support them on their buyer’s journey.

Content marketing is an important part of inbound marketing - but not the other way around

Content is the fuel that powers your inbound machine. This means that content is what drives results and helps you achieve your goals.

Inbound marketing creates results by using content to attract and convert potential customers into leads. The focus is on optimizing existing content so that it stays relevant, adapted to the buyer’s journey and the way people convert.

Content marketing is an essential part of inbound marketing and the two are undeniably linked. But where inbound marketing is a systematic approach to attracting and converting leads through content and context, content marketing is one of the tools to achieve this.

Inbound marketing works particularly well for B2B and for companies with long buyer's journeys. We often see this type of buyer’s journeys within SaaS, IT and complex industries, where it's crucial to create a trusting relationship with the buyer in order to be chosen as a supplier.

That's why inbound marketing is a powerful marketing methodology as it gives you an automated and scalable setup that produces sales-ready leads again and again.

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Should we help you build your own inbound machine that can generate and nurture leads in a scalable setup? Check out our inbound offerings.
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