B2B companies face a myriad of choices as they formulate a marketing strategy that will position them for maximum impact. One of the most pivotal questions surrounds how to best leverage inbound marketing and content marketing—a question made all the more complex by two commonly held misconceptions.The first misconception is that inbound marketing and content marketing are the same thing. Some B2B companies will even use the terms interchangeably, which can lead to missed opportunities as the specific nuances and goals of each are muddied. The second misconception is that organizations need to choose one over the other, casting their lot either entirely with content marketing or with inbound marketing, or possibly utilizing them both but as siloed strategies operating separately from each other.
In this article, we’ll address both misconceptions, and spell out the advantages of developing a marketing strategy that integrates inbound and content marketing for a comprehensive and impactful approach.
What is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing is an umbrella term used to describe a broad suite of marketing strategies geared towards attracting prospects, converting them into paying clients, and delighting them so that they remain loyal customers—and repeat buyers who recommend your brand to others.
This “flywheel” model derives momentum from a wide range of strategies that encompass the entire customer journey. It starts with attracting clients by leveraging strategies like lead generation, SEO-savvy web sites or blog posts, social media posts, special offers, and content that catches the attention of your ideal audience and positions your product or service as the solution to a problem or need they are experiencing.
The next phase of the model is to engage the clients you’ve attracted. Strategies employed in this phase include lead nurturing, marketing automation, and a focus on a consultative sales approach that prioritizes listening to your clients and matching them with solutions that best fit their needs rather than just trying to push the sale of one particular product. Analytics is also key here, as analytical tools provide insight into customer behavior and help B2B companies understand how their customers are interacting with their brand and with various components of their marketing strategy.
Once clients have been attracted to and have engaged with your brand, the goal is to delight them with continued and genuine support. This phase can involve follow-up strategies like satisfaction surveys, customer support that includes access to expert advice on implementation and use of your product, periodic check-ins with clients to assess their happiness with your product or service, and the creation of a rewards or customer loyalty program to nurture the on-going relationship.
The cycle comes full circle when delighted clients become brand promoters, helping you attract new customers, continually feeding the cycle and propelling it forward.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing is the creation and promotion of content designed to provide value to your ideal audience. It is not explicitly geared towards selling a product or service, but rather is focused on meeting your audience where they are and engaging them with articles, emails, webinars, and other tools that inform, support, and engage.
At its core, content marketing is about telling stories—telling your brand story and inviting your ideal audience to see themselves in it. It’s creating content that is highly relevant and meaningful to your audience, not with the express goal of making a sale as a direct result of that particular post or blog, but with the goal of fostering a value-based relationship that will be productive far beyond the quick win of a single transaction.
The relationship between inbound marketing and content marketing
It’s clear then that while inbound marketing may rightly be called a subset of the larger umbrella of content marketing and vice-versa, these two terms are not synonymous. Inbound marketing refers to the data-driven and results-driven framework that attracts, engages, and delights customers; content marketing refers to the creation and deployment of content designed to provide value to your ideal audience by leveraging your expertise as a leader in your field to answer their questions, educate, and support them.
The case for an integrated approach
Content marketing and inbound marketing are not interchangeable, but they can and should work in tandem to drive the growth of your B2B business. Take a CPA firm, for example. The firm’s inbound marketing strategy may include among other initiatives the development of SEO-rich blogs and key-word optimized website content that is highly successful at attracting new prospects.
However, the firm could and should also create content that is informative and engaging in a broader sense—a video explaining the impact of recent changes in tax law, a blog post on how to maximize business deductions, or an article on how to prep for a meeting with your CPA, for example. This type of content does not necessarily lead directly to a prospective client making an immediate purchase of services, but what it does accomplish is the fostering of a relationship with your ideal audience that positions the firm as their trusted expert.
When strategically integrated, content marketing and inbound marketing achieve what neither could quite so effectively accomplish alone: providing value to your ideal audience as a vital part of their customer journey with you, strengthening your ability to attract, engage, and delight.
B2B business owners ready to move to the next level are best served working with a growth consultant who not only understands inbound and content marketing, but who knows how to integrate them into a comprehensive, dynamic, and powerful marketing strategy that drives growth and market impact.
Image credit: 1Day Review @ Flickr (Creative Commons).