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3 min read

What is Inbound Marketing?

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What is inbound marketing and how is inbound marketing different than content marketing?

HubSpot coined the phrase "inbound marketing" back in 2006 and while inbound marketing is better known today than it was 10 years ago, people often ask, "What is inbound marketing?" Once they hear the explanation, they next ask, "How is inbound marketing different than content marketing?" Turns out, they're not so dissimilar, it's just that content marketing is only part of the inbound marketing methodology. Let me explain.

First, let's start with inbound marketing. In a nutshell, inbound marketing operates under these general assumptions:

  • We use search engines (ie. Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) to find information.
  • We search online for information that will help us learn about specific topics and in many cases help in making a buying decision.
  • We are tired of being "sold" to in television commercials, print advertising and other types of "interruptive" marketing tactics.
  • We hate spam and tune it out, whether it's direct mail or mindless email.
  • Businesses want to measure the return on investment (ROI) of their marketing investment so they can maximize their budgets.

So, with that as a backdrop, here's a no B.S. answer to the question, "What is inbound marketing?"

There are 4 stages to the inbound marketing process:


Inbound marketing begins with creating web-based content (ie. blogs, videos, e-books, e-guides, etc.) that helps people and earns the trust of that person with quality information. Not marketing junk, but real information. 


Once trust has been earned from the website visitor, the next stage of inbound is focused on converting that visitor into a qualified lead. This is done when the person finds the information you're offering so compelling that they are willing to provide an email address in exchange for the information, or content.


Search is typically the first part of the buyer's journey. Oftentimes people are not quite ready to make a buying decision once they download content, and they frequently search for additional information. By staying in good contact with that prospect through emails that provide additional resources, that person can become better educated and informed on what they are searching for, while at the same time building more trust in your business. When that lead becomes a customer, the business can trace the history of that customer from the time they first visited the website (converted to a lead), to the day they become a customer. Businesses can "close the loop" (marketing phrase) on their marketing efforts, allowing them to analyze the ROI of your marketing activities .


Once the person becomes a valued customer, the final step is to ensure they're delighted. Through the use of surveys and social media monitoring, marketing automation allows you to easily stay in touch with your customers, and to continue to build your relationship and turn them into raving fans of your business.

So, how is inbound marketing different than content marketing?

Inbound marketing is the superset to which content marketing is the subset. In other words, inbound marketing relies heavily on the strategy of content marketing - create content that people find helpful and useful and will consequently share with others. Yet, content marketing alone lacks an element of conversion, email nurturing, tracking and ongoing relationship-building through social channels and custom web experiences. Both are excellent strategies to building a loyal fan base. However, inbound marketing focuses on moving (and measuring) those loyal fans to the point of becoming loyal customers and fans.

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