By Michele Linn published November 8, 2016

9 Definitions: How Content Marketing Works Within Marketing

9-content-definitionsOne topic that generates a lot of interest on our blog is how content marketing relates to other disciplines. Readers want to understand how content marketing fits within their overall marketing plan, and we have written about this topic over time.

Next time you are asked – or simply wonder – how content marketing is related to insert your approach of choice, come back to this post for a quick explanation.

I am including screenshots from Google Trends so you can see the popularity of the terms over the past five years.

Content marketing vs. content

Definitive post: What is the Difference Between Content and Content Marketing?

This first definition looks at content in general. Michael Brenner’s post is one of the top-shared posts on our website in the past year, and the premise is simple yet important. Marketing content does not equal content marketing. He explains:

Content marketing is about attracting an audience to an experience (or ‘destination’) that you own, build, and optimize to achieve your marketing objectives.

Content is everywhere. There’s product content, sales content, customer-service content, event content, employee-generated content, marketing and campaign content. Even advertising is content.

With content marketing you are attracting an audience to a brand-owned destination versus interrupting or buying an audience on someone else’s platform.

#Marketing content does not equal #content marketing says @BrennerMichael. Click To Tweet

Related approaches to content marketing

The next definition categories are approaches related to – and can be used in tandem with – content marketing.

Content marketing strategy vs. content strategy

Definitive post: A Take on 3 Confusing Terms: Content Marketing, Content Strategy, and Content Marketing Strategy

Melanie Seibert helps clarify the difference between content strategy and content marketing strategy:

I see content marketing strategy as a sub-discipline of content strategy. Let’s start by clarifying the difference between these two terms:

  • Content strategy is a sub-discipline of user experience (UX). A person in that role considers an organization’s content holistically and shapes the way that body of content influences people’s experiences with the brand. Content strategists think about how all the organization’s content fits together. As Rahel Anne Bailie puts it, ‘content strategy’ equates to an ‘umbrella strategy.’
  • Content marketing strategy deals specifically with content marketing. Content marketing strategists determine what content will build the customer base by helping people make decisions or solve problems at various points in their experience with the brand.
#Contentmarketing strategists determine what content will build the customer base says @melanie_seibert. Click To Tweet

Melanie’s post also breaks down how content marketing fits in with the work of web analysts, content strategists, web editors, and web writers.


Content marketing vs. product marketing

Definitive post: How to Make the Leap from Product Marketing to Content Marketing

One common question is similar to one posted to me on Bruce McDuffie’s podcast, Manufacturing Marketing Matters:

We are working on our audience-facing mission statement, but we’re having a hard time understanding (lots of heated discussions with sales and product) how educating the audience without pitching the product will help us grow the business. Could you elaborate on that concept?”

My background is in product marketing, so I understand first-hand what a challenge it can be to transition from product marketing to content marketing. While product-marketing groups are evolving to be audience-focused, some of them are stuck in “product-pitch” mode (not all product marketers, but it is a challenge faced by many).

Here are the big differences when someone wants to simply pitch a product:

  • Content marketing creates a more knowledgeable customer. Product pitches often focus on sales.
  • Content marketing builds relationships. Product pitches answer questions at one moment in time.
  • Content marketing helps people feel smart. Product pitches check a box on their to-do lists.
  • Content marketing is an investment that reaps long-term rewards. Product pitches are short-lived.
#Contentmarketing is an investment that reaps long-term rewards says @michelelinn. Click To Tweet

Content marketing vs branded content

Definitive post: Can We Please Stop Using Branded Content?

Joe Pulizzi loathes the term branded content as people continually confuse it with content marketing. But, the two are different. “Simply put, branded content looks and feels like advertising,” Joe says.

Branded content looks and feels like advertising says @joepulizzi. Click To Tweet

He goes on to explain some characteristics of branded content in an unscientific review of examples in the category, concluding:

  • Most of the entries are campaign-based. They are not ongoing editorial products serving an audience.
  • There is heavy usage of product placement. It’s amazing how often the product becomes the central character of the story.


BONUS TIP: What’s much better than branded content? Content brands. These are the brands we hold in high esteem, such as John Deere, Blendtec, and the others we talk about in the documentary, The Story of Content.


Content marketing vs. inbound marketing

Definitive post: Why Inbound Marketing Should Take a Back Seat to Current Customers

Over the years, a lot of comparisons have been made between content marketing and inbound marketing. While the tides are gradually shifting, inbound marketing has traditionally been associated with top-of-the funnel activities, while content marketing approaches customer pain points from brand awareness to consideration, to sales to retention, upsell, and advocacy. In short, the big difference between content marketing and inbound marketing is that content marketing focuses on – or should focus on – customer retention and loyalty.

#Contentmarketing should focus on customer retention and loyalty says @michelelinn. Click To Tweet


Methods to distribute content

The remaining comparisons on our list all have something in common: They are ways to distribute content and they all require audience-focused content. Said another way: if you don’t have great content, none of these approaches will work well.

Content marketing vs. native advertising

Definitive post: Native Advertising is Not Content Marketing

As Joe talks about in his post, many people think native advertising equals content marketing, but this isn’t the case. Native advertising is simply a way for brands to distribute their content on another publisher’s platform as a way to attract a new audience. Joe explains:

If you pay for placement, it’s advertising.

If you pay for placement of valuable, relevant content in a format similar to the third-party site, it’s native advertising.

If you don’t pay for placement, the content is not advertising.

If that content is valuable and relevant, designed to attract a clearly defined audience, and posted on your own or other unpaid platform, it’s content marketing. Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay to promote your content as part of your content marketing strategy. If you don’t have an audience that is subscribed to receive your content, you should look into paid media as a way to reach a targeted audience.

#Native advertising is a way for brands to distribute their content says @JoePulizzi. Click To Tweet


Content marketing vs. PR

Definitive post: 8 Ways Public Relations Can Fuel Successful Content Marketing

As Paul Roetzer discusses in this post, PR is a way to amplify your content marketing, and he offers eight ways PR can accelerate your content marketing success:

  1. Build a media list. (Amanda Subler recently provided a template to do this.)
  2. Research editorial calendars from your target media publications so you can best pitch story ideas.
  3. Pitch story ideas to relevant media contacts.
  4. Identify bylined article and post opportunities.
  5. Conduct influencer outreach (check out our recently updated guide on creating your influencer marketing program).
  6. Consider partnerships with associations and organizations.
  7. Pursue speaking opportunities.
  8. Submit your content for industry awards (shameless plug: such as the Content Marketing Awards).
Public relations can accelerate your #contentmarketing success says @paulroetzer. Click To Tweet


Content marketing vs. social media

Definitive post: Content Marketing vs. Social Media: What’s the Difference?

As Toby Murdock explained in 2012 – and is still as relevant today – social media fulfills two primary objectives:

  • It generates awareness for the brand by providing a platform with a built-in audience.
  • It helps brands stay connected to current and potential customers.
#Socialmedia helps brands stay connected to current & potential customers says @tobymurdock. Click To Tweet

When it comes to generating awareness for your brand on social media, you need content to feed that engine, and, of course, audiences only care about what is relevant, useful, or entertaining to them. Sales-oriented content focused on your product or service simply won’t cut it – and it can turn away your audience.


Content marketing vs. SEO

Definitive post: Excel at SEO With This 15-Point Plan

Quite simply, you won’t be found in search without great content. And, as Google continually updates its algorithms, it’s even more imperative that what you publish is focused on what your audience wants as Google considers quality back links, social shares, and more.

You won’t be found in search without great content says @michelelinn. #SEO Click To Tweet


I’d love to hear from you: What questions do you have about content marketing and how it fits in with your marketing? Do these explanations help clarify or do you see things in another way?

Want to continue your content marketing learning every day? Subscribe to the free CMI newsletter.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Michele Linn

Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research, a consultancy focused on helping brands create and amplify original research they can use in their marketing. Before starting Mantis, Michele was head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute, where she led the company's strategic editorial direction, co-developed its annual research studies, wrote hundreds of articles, spoke at industry events and was instrumental in building the platform to 200,000 subscribers. In 2015, she was named one of Folio's Top Women in Media (Corporate Visionary). You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

Other posts by Michele Linn

  • Mike Myers

    Interesting post, Michele. Love the screen shots, puts everything into perspective. Thanks for sharing!

    • Michele Linn

      Thanks, Mike. It was interesting to look at how these terms are trending in Google Analytics.

  • Josh Rector

    I’m still confused on Inbound vs. Content Marketing. They seem interchangeable.

    • Daniel Taibleson

      Josh, I massively disagree with the hard line drawn in the sand describing the differences between content marketing and inbound marketing. I cannot believe they would publish something that says content marketing isn’t about attracting new prospects. We don’t do keyword research for the fun of it, we do it to understand people’s search intent and then create content that draws them in organically (a lot of the time they are customers, but c’mon! we want those net new prospects!). Don’t tell me I do half inbound marketing and half content marketing. That’s just getting ridiculous.

      • Daniel Taibleson

        That being said, I loved the differentiation between product marketing and content marketing. I think the 3/4 bullet were redundant and said exactly the same thing as bullets 1/2 in a different way…but loved 1/2

      • Michele Linn

        Hi Josh and Daniel,
        We typically consider the difference between inbound and content marketing in this way. Both are focused on brand awareness and attracting new customers. Where things have traditionally (ans, as mentioned, we are seeing a shift) is that the goal of inbound is getting customers while content marketing works well not only is used to attract but to retain them as well.

        Of course, the ultimate goal is helping customers anywhere from brand awareness through sales and retention — and customers don’t care what you call it. But, we get a lot of questions about these differences.

        Hope that clarification helps.

        • Daniel Taibleson

          Michele — I understand, thank you for your response. I’ll be the first to admit I love it when things are black and white. Inbound vs. Content marketing etc etc. I think we crave these definitions and that’s okay; but I’ve also realized over the last year that being a marketer consists of living in an ever increasing world of ambiguity. What’s the saying? Happiness is your ability to live with uncertainty?

          Would love to know if you, in your role as VP, engage CMI in both inbound and content marketing tactics…I’d bet it’s a mix of both, right 😉

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  • Ameer Ahmad

    Great post! This blog made me understand more about content marketing. Making a comparison to related approach defined content marketing well. Keep up the good work.

    • Michele Linn

      Thanks, Ameer. So glad that was helpful.