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Is Content Marketing the Same Thing as Inbound Marketing?

Yes. No. Well not exactly. Sort of. Let me explain…

Content marketing and inbound marketing are not mutually exclusive; they can and should exist together. And when done properly, I would go as far as to say they rely on each other. Conceptually, inbound marketing is designed to draw prospective clients to your brand rather than pushing your message onto your prospects. The simplest way to think of it is as a blog post versus a TV ad. How is it different from content marketing? You can define content marketing as a strategic effort to create a regular cadence of valuable digital content that is specifically targeted to your audience. So my cynical question is, “how exactly would I draw anyone in without having regularly scheduled valuable digital content?” They go together like peas and carrots.

The Modern Marketing Landscape

If you’re in marketing I have a question for you: How many times have you heard, or said, the word data in normal business conversation in the last 5 days? I’d venture to guess it’s been a lot. Data this, data that…it’s one of the most overbearing business buzzwords. But…it’s important. Effective digital marketers leverage mountains of data to guide marketing tactics and drive results. This data also happens to lie at the heart of proper inbound and content marketing. If we create content that’s designed to draw in prospects that’s based on guesses…well, 1985 called and it wants its marketing strategy back. The modern marketing landscape makes it possible for us to use real information to make better-informed decisions about our efforts. No more guesses.

Inbound Marketing Properly Explained

We’ll discuss content marketing more in the next section, but let’s start with the one that still seems to confuse people – Inbound. I have had the great pleasure of working with some absolutely brilliant inbound marketers and have attended the preeminent annual inbound conference more than once (https://www.inbound.com/). Those people have continuously drilled it into my head that for inbound marketing to work, you really have to help your prospects. This isn’t about selling. It’s about providing them with the information that they are seeking that solves a problem. How do we know what they are seeking? Data.

Our job as inbound marketers is to build a digital experience that is carefully curated to convert them. We have to understand how they search, and anticipate how to properly serve them the information. And while we are in fact “selling” them the entire time, it shouldn’t feel like it. Whether it’s a product, service, or problem, the goal is to get your prospect to think, ”Hey these guys gave me everything I was looking for to make a better decision about what I was researching. I trust them.”

That’s the theory. But how exactly does inbound marketing work?

I’m glad you asked. It boils down to something called Martech. Which is, as you probably could guess, short for “marketing technology.” This has improved dramatically over the course of the last decade and the tools that have emerged are scary good. Here’s the general flow of inbound as I see it.

  1. Develop customer personas: This takes some old school Q&A with an internal team. And caveat – there are usually multiple personas for any business.
  2. Build a content creation strategy: We use some fancy tools to help, like SEM Rush, Moz, Google Analytics, HubSpot– the list goes on and on. Building a Content Strategy
  3. Create regularly scheduled optimized content: This should be based on keyword research that answers the real questions that our prospects are asking the internet – not the ones we think they are asking. This content is largely blogs but could also be video, infographics, podcasts…anything that could be meta tagged and easily searchable.
  4. Analyze the traffic on your site: We use the same software I mentioned earlier (along with a few others) to analyze the traffic on your site, learn from the patterns that are developed, and look for commonalities. Ultimately, your goal is to assign attribution to the conversions that occur.
  5. Optimize, optimize, optimize: Based on what you see, make improvements. Iterate everything – the content, the site itself, your CTAs…whatever it takes to get the best outcome.

If done properly, your blog (and all the related content that you create) will have become the largest source of “leads” for your organization. What you want to do is make the website the salesperson who never sleeps. I’m leaving out a TON of the difficult stuff and those inbound marketers I mentioned earlier would probably knock me out for doing so. But I’m just trying to simplify.

I Smell a Segue to Content Marketing

As we were saying, the goal of inbound marketing is compelling content that drives leads! Let’s just call it like it is, there is no marketing without content. Content delivers your message, brings your prospects through the sales funnel, and differentiates your business. That last point is of particular importance. While the internet has made the world a smaller place, it also made it harder for a business to stand out. Anyone with a couple of Benjamins can build a respectable website and get in the game! Which leads us to content marketing…

Proper content marketing, just like inbound marketing, is rooted in a deep understanding of your personas. The better you understand the person you are trying to target, the more effective your content will become. People absorb information differently. Perhaps your audience is younger and more inclined to watch a video. Or maybe they’re a visual and analytical bunch, so a solid infographic is what works. Factors such as these need to be considered and this information comes from all the tools that we now have available in the digital space. Here’s a quick roadmap:

  1. Develop your personas: Take advantage of the great tools out there on the old interwebs – HubSpot Personas, Xtensio templates.
  2. Do your keyword research: Identify the solutions they’re searching for. Answer them, directly.
  3. Develop the proper cadence: Google is smart, and the algorithm gets more and more complex with each day that passes. Learn how often you need to create content, and follow it closely.
  4. Then optimize some more: Use your software to determine which content is performing, vs those that aren’t. Don’t push a dead issue, if there’s a particular topic that isn’t performing than try something else!
  5. Iterate:……..wait a minute, this is mapping out VERY similarly to the flow that I wrote up earlier!!!

See! This sounds a lot like…inbound marketing. That’s because they are directly linked. The S3 Agency can help with this, so reach out if you have questions about anything I wrote or if you need help executing a proper marketing program.

About Leon:

“I’m the VP of Sales & Marketing at The S3 Agency and a gearhead in my exceedingly rare spare time. On the off chance I’m not talking about marketing stuff I’m probably tinkering in my garage or driving my kids back and forth to soccer tournaments! Read more articles about advertising, social media, and PR at theS3agency.com.”



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