The terms “content marketing” and “inbound marketing” are often used interchangeably, but recent Aberdeen Group research on content in the lead-to-revenue cycle shows that lead nurturing, not lead generation, is the top goal of content marketing. While not the same thing, the connection between content marketing and inbound marketing is strong. The concept of inbound marketing—marketing that’s driven by the interests of and engagements with buyers—shapes the way many of us think about content.

Content marketing describes the practice of producing high-value content designed to educate and/or entertain your prospect or customer about a particular topic or issue. Trip Kucera, VP of Client Success and CMO-in-Residence at Aberdeen Group, says content marketing is the alchemy of intent; engagement with content converts interest into a marketable need, while also providing an opportunity for buyers to self-select.

LightbulbInbound marketing, on the other hand, is a lead-generation tactic expressly designed to draw people to your website or other digital property through “organic” means. According to Zak Pines, director of marketing at Ipswitch File Transfer, inbound marketing is something you do to acquire new leads organically versus traditional, disruptive marketing methods such as advertising or cold calling. The practice is designed to make your lead gen more effective by having leads come to you instead of going out and finding leads yourself.

Content is certainly used in inbound marketing — after all, what are search-optimized web pages but another form of content— but Pines is careful to denote the different methodologies between the two marketing practices. According to Pines, content marketers focus on creating content that is educational and useful to their buyers. Inbound marketers, he says, create content to publish or their website and other channels to acquire more leads.

“Content and inbound marketing are unique, but related concepts,” writes Kucera in recent content marketing research. “Inbound relies on content, but content marketing is not exclusive to inbound. The distinction is ultimately a bit artificial, since most companies are doing both inbound and outbound marketing, both driven by content.”

Pines agrees, noting that the distinction between content and inbound marketing “depends on the perspective you’re coming from.” Everyone uses content in various ways, such as in your demand gen programs, on your website copy, and in sales enablement materials, among other places. Nurture marketing is a particularly heavy user of content, as evidenced by the figure below.

for Matt Delman Content & Inbound

Source: Aberdeen Group, May 2013

Every marketing discipline uses content in some form or another. As a result, content marketing is a broad concept that’s leveraged in all sorts of inbound, outbound, and other marketing stages. “The broader the view you have of content,” Pines says, “the more effective you’ll be as a content marketer.

In many cases, marketers think about inbound marketing and content marketing as the same thing because of their day-to-day work. The goal of an inbound strategy to bring people into your website organically in many cases drives the thinking about what sort of content to generate. Thus while content marketing as a discipline is focused on lead nurturing through educational/entertaining messaging, the demand generation goals of inbound marketing colors your content marketing.

In what other ways can content marketing assist in the sales process? Explore the relationship between content and buyer relationships in our report, “Content Marketing Comes of Age.”