By Joe Pulizzi published November 4, 2010

Content Strategy vs. Content Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing

I had the opportunity to present at Hubspot this week for the New England Content Strategy meetup. During the presentation (slideshare below), the group of content strategists and marketers spent over 30 minutes discussing the differences and similarities between content strategy, content marketing and inbound marketing.

You’ll see how I define each of them in the presentation, but this was offered by Kyle James at Hubspot:

“There is a TON of overlap, but each has a slightly specific mandate. Coming from a long line of southern Methodist ministers you could also probably say that Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians make a pretty good analogy. They are all Christians who follow and believe in what the Bible says, but they all ‘interpret’ the exact doctrine a little differently. The biggest difference here is that Christianity is thousands of years old. Content strategy/content marketing/inbound marketing is all of about what 5% that age.”

By the end of the conversation, here was the consensus:

“Content strategy / Content marketing / Inbound marketing…let’s all get over ourselves.  It’s pretty much all the same s**t.”

Personally, I use content strategy when I’m talking to journalists and content strategists.

I use content marketing when I’m talking to sales and marketing professionals.

I use inbound marketing when I’m talking to small businesses.

There are another 30 names for this including branded content, customer media, custom publishing and the list goes on. Frankly, we should use whatever name that resonates with a company enough that they motivated to do something about it.

Here’s my stab at what content marketing inbound strategy would look like as combination soup:

How a brand creates, delivers and governs original or curated content to attract and retain customers, positioning the brand as a credible expert and, ultimately, motivating a change in behavior.

We are indeed all media companies today and it really doesn’t matter what you call it.


Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Jim Pennypacker

    It’s easy for folks to say all these terms mean the same thing (or almost the same thing), but I’m happier when we don’t jumble meanings and create confusion and/or miscommunication. I prefer to differentiate content strategy (thinking about goals, plans, measures of success) from content execution (research, writing, editing, design, production).
    Also, I think you narrowed your definition of content marketing inbound strategy a bit too much with the phrase “positioning the brand as a credible expert.” I consider that to be thought leadership marketing, a subset of content marketing. If you simply removed that phrase from your definition I think you’re on the mark.

  • Greg Taylor

    I agree with you – Content Marketing seems to be the big buzzword of 2010. When speaking to clients about interactive marketing, rather than losing them with the jargon “content marketing,” I stress that we are creating marketing content and broadcasting it through multiple channels as dictated by their audience.
    Thanks for the blog, I enjoy your blog.

  • Roy Russo

    Hi Joe,
    What I feel is important for marketers to understand is how “content marketing” is employed across channels.
    I wrote a few articles recently that discuss the interrelation of Content, Channel, and Customer.
    This one has a pretty picture: 😉

  • Joe Pulizzi

    @Jim…thanks. Interesting your position on thought leadership marketing. I guess my take on content marketing is that, if done right, it’s inherently thought leadership. You’ve given me something to think about.
    Thanks Greg and Roy…I’ll check out the articles.

  • Lee Odden

    As always, great discussion Joe.
    I like to keep it simple: “Aligning customer & brand objectives through content.”

  • @redlincook

    I agree that these three terms are related and often have overlap. I think that your slideshare presentation was on the mark, but going as far as stating that the three are all essentially the same is one step too far into oversimplification. Additionally, stating that using different terms depending on whom you are speaking with and what resonates with them, should be a given. You should do this, regardless of what you are talking about. Don’t we all do that? It shouldn’t make that person’s individual lack of understanding of terms or vocabulary the new standard.

  • Joe Pulizzi

    @Redlin…I actually do agree with you, but I think it’s more important that customers start thinking this way than worrying about what to call it. Some of this is just inside baseball, and gets in the way of helping customers in my opinion.

  • @redlincook

    I have to agree there– for the customer it doesn’t matter a bit and thanks for the clarification.

  • Sarah Z. Cordell

    Content strategy, content marketing and inbound marketing — they’re all different phases of the same s**t. Your strategy, which was created to support your inbound marketing (and, typically, a bunch of additional) goals, drives the creation and publication of your content. Thanks for the presentation and post. Good stuff to chew on!

  • Corey Eridon

    This is an interesting post to read in conjunction with your Feb. 22 post on Inbound vs. Content Marketing (and the ensuing debate in the comments section).
    I appreciate the humor in saying these three things are all the same s**t, and also agree that for many of our clients, they very well may be. I’m on the side that says content marketing is a subset of inbound marketing, but I also believe inbound marketing is rendered mostly ineffective without content marketing backed up by a good content marketing strategy (Jim P., I agree with your differentiation of content strategy and content marketing).
    In a marketing forum, I think lumping the three terms together is a bit too general, but I think I see the spirit behind doing so; who cares what we call it as long as it works?

  • Alex

    All those concepts and terminologies are so new that at this point there are just nuances but mean pretty much the same thing. It’s like the same goods using difference packages but each with a little surprise added in the box. As everything else in marketing, it’s all about public perception.

  • Scott Paley

    Funny. I just had this exact conversation with a colleague and we had trouble figuring out any difference.

    Perhaps content marketing strays from purely online moreso than inbound?

  • Scott Paley

    Also, your slidedeck indicates that lead nurturing isn’t part of inbound marketing, yet HubSpot makes a huge deal out of lead nurturing. I am certain they would not agree with that assertion.

    Perhaps that’s why at the end of the conversation you had concluded these were all one and the same?

  • Joe Pulizzi

    Thanks for commenting Scott. The original definition that I pulled off of Hubspot’s site did not include lead nurturing, nor did it include things like print magazines or in-person events. Then, after talking to some Hubspot folks, they said it does. If that’s the case, inbound marketing and content marketing are nearly identical. I never considered inbound marketing to encompass all channels.

  • Marc Pickren

    As with everyone else, I agree that the term you use depends on who you are talking to. I really like Alex’s comment about the same company using different packaging and each has a little surprise in the box. Though content strategy, content marketing, and inbound marketing do fall under the same giant cloud of “Using Content to Market”, they each have their own little quirks and perks to differentiate them from each other. Kind of like a set of triplets, over all they look alike, but inside they all offer something special and unique.

    -Marc Pickren

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