In his opening address to the marketing conference MozCon 2014, Rand Fishkin suggested that inbound marketing is losing out to content marketing because the two terms have become interchangeable. Rand is the co-founder of Moz, the US agency that puts on the conference and just happens to specialise in SEO and inbound marketing, so it’s understandable that he may be a tad concerned about the ongoing rise of content marketing at the expense of inbound.
If it’s a simple case of semantics – if people are searching for content marketing because it’s a buzz term they’ve heard and think they should be doing, when actually what they want is inbound marketing, does it matter?
For anyone new to both concepts it’s a good idea to establish what they are. Inbound marketing and content marketing are in fact different things, albeit similar. Rand describes them thus:
“Inbound marketing is based on earning attention rather than interrupting”, while “content marketing is about producing and promoting content to earn customers”.
Prior to either gaining ground with marketers, brands used outbound marketing or old-school ‘interruption’ techniques such as cold calling; email communication to purchased lists; or above-the-line advertising to generate leads.
Content marketing for on and offline
As consumers migrated to the internet to do their own research prior to making a purchase decision, B2B and B2C brands embraced inbound marketing to get ‘found’ by this new breed of customer. Their website was the destination or ‘hub’ of information that people would arrive at after following a breadcrumb trail of blogs, social media and search engine activity.
In this respect, inbound marketing is online specific, whereas content marketing can be used across a number of channels both on and offline. A good content marketing strategy will target communication at a defined set of customer personas, taking some of the ‘randomness’ out of the process. It will take inbound marketing practices into account, such as good SEO practice, but the overall approach is more holistic. It also goes beyond lead generation to addressing the customer journey across the entire buying process from brand awareness to brand advocacy.
Another problem with focusing on inbound marketing exclusively is the ever-evolving beast that is Google. Noticed how these days you can often get the answer to whatever question you’ve tapped into Google without needing to click through to a relevant website? The search engine now offers up results that include more detail than meta descriptions or in some cases will include descriptions from Wikipedia in search results, meaning a click through to that site is only necessary if you want a more detailed answer.
Instant answers mean fewer people are clicking or submitting queries, which suggests that consumers need to have an inkling of the value of your brand or offering before they even begin to search. Which is where content marketing comes in. So while the basic principles of inbound marketing are still a valuable asset, I believe it takes a content marketing strategy to not only attract new customers but to keep them coming back for more.