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Contenty Inbound or Inboundy Content?

Is inbound marketing part of content marketing or content marketing part of inbound marketing?

Is inbound marketing part of content marketing or content marketing part of inbound marketing? This is the question that has emerged recently after Content Marketing World and INBOUND both made competing claims for supremacy.

The argument has been made by Inbound devotees that content marketing is really just another form of inbound marketing. Yet content marketers are quick to suggest that content marketing takes a wider perspective of the customer engagement and retention process and therefore inbound marketing is simply one of the principals of content marketing.

Joe Chernov of Hubspot took the initial shot across the bows when he published Hubspot’s latest ‘The State of inbound 2014’ research  claiming that marketers are twice as likely to think content marketing is a subset of inbound marketing than vice versa.

This prompted  Jay Aczuno of NextView Ventures, on his LinkedIn blog  ‘A Message to Inbound & Content Marketing Execs From the Trenches: We Don’t Care What We Call It’  to suggest a new name ‘Marketing Wherein You Create Content and Other Things People Volunteer to Consume Instead of Spamming Them with Me-First Messages (or MWYCCAOTPVTCIOSTWMFM)’.

Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose also took issue with the Hubspot claim on their This Old Marketing podcast and speculated on what had prompted Hubspot to try and redefine content marketing in this way.

The issue has arisen because there is an emerging land grab going on for the heart and soul of content-driven marketing. Content marketing as a term has been around since the mid-1990s though using useful, informative, non-selling content to promote brands has been around for decades, if not hundreds of years. The notion of helping customers to make a better buying decision by giving them useful information at the right time in their consideration has been accepted for a long time. The US software company Hubspot,  first used the term ‘inbound’ in 2006 to describe their automated marketing platform which ‘helps companies attract visitors, convert leads and close customers’.

When two principals overlap so much it’s easy to get confused. Even Hubspot themselves got a bit  confused at their own INBOUND 14 conference where two key sessions were titled ‘The art and science of content promotion’ and ‘Inboundy Outbound how to do traditional marketing the Inbound Way’. I attended both INBOUND 14 and Content Marketing World 2014 conferences and from my view over 50% of the sessions at INBOUND 14 were dedicated to Hubspot related issues – making it more of a Hubspot user group than a marketing conference. Whereas Content Marketing World was virtually technology agnostic.

The Content Marketing Institute, purveyors of all things Content Marketing, and owners of Content Marketing World, on the other hand, do not have a technology to sell. They have no particular vested interest in any one technology dominating another. Whilst they are also probably hoping to cash out at some point in the future, their mission is to bring the content marketing message to the widest possible audience.

In the febrile marketing automation software world every emerging player is pumping iron and doing their hair nicely, hoping to get noticed by the big players. Hubspot are no different and, in fact, have been a bit more open about this. It’s in their interests to be seen to be owning the space and locking in existing and new users of their technology. The Content Marketing Institute, in this context, could be seen as a threat to Hubspot’s plans for world domination.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe Hubspot is a truly great product. I buy what they are trying to do. Thousands of satisfied users are gaining great value from it and given the relevant opportunity I always recommend clients to have a look at it.  The latest new Hubspot Sales additions to the portfolio have brought it to a point where it covers the entire end-to-end customer acquisition and retention process. It really is an excellent product. However, like any software or platform you need to adjust your behaviour to fit in with it. Inbound is more of a defined platform-driven process that you either buy into, or you don’t.

Content marketing, on the other hand, is an approach, a culture, a methodology, an attitude – not dependent on particular a technology or software. You could do great content marketing without ever going near a computer. Note, I am referring here to content marketing not just content.

I believe that whilst Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing are broadly very similar and overlap in many, many ways, Content Marketing has a wider, non-platform dependent scope and probably is more applicable to more businesses seeking to attract customers using inbound and outbound techniques. I prefer to describe it as ‘Content Marketing using inbound and outbound marketing techniques’ to ensure that outbound marketing is not forgotten.

Why do I think this? Because customers have not yet completely given up on receiving outbound messages. They’re busy, they’ve got lots to do but if they trust a brand then they WILL subscribe and allow that brand to send them stuff. I myself have a small number of trusted brands that I subscribe to and expect them to alert me to useful and interesting content as they make it available. I am not CONTINUALLY searching, sometimes I can be prompted to take interest in a content piece that I was specifically looking for.

Fundamentally, so long as you are using ‘useful’ content which answers customers’ unanswered questions to drive more inbound leads then call it what you will. Call it Contenty inbound or Inboundy content, I don’t mind.  You’re probably all correct.

We discussed this issue in more depth at our recent DirectionGroup EDGE Marketing Best Practice event ‘Inbound marketing: the convergence of content, search and social’.  See our slideshare summary here.

This article appeared first here.

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