Why the Inbound vs. Content Marketing Debate is Stupid…and What Gives Hubspot??

by Marcus Sheridan

I’m really not up for mincing words on this subject today so let me just be blunt: About a week ago, Hubspot posted the worst article I’ve ever seen on the subject of content marketing.

Feel free to read the entire article if you’d like, but here are its 5 main points, verbatim:

1.) Content marketers care too much about traffic.

2.) Content marketers think great content will naturally rise to the top of search engines

3.) Content marketers think great content will go viral.

4.) Content marketers can’t get butts in the seats.

5.) Content marketers are missing the big picture.

A Train Wreck of Gross Inaccuracy

If there is one thing in this world that drives me nuts is ignorant blanket statements.

Not only did this article have 1 blanket statement, but it had 5.

Even worse, the 5 were terrible. A literal train wreck of gross inaccuracy.

Some of you right now may be very surprised to hear me say these things. Over the last two years, few have supported the Hubspot and inbound marketing movement as much as I have.

In fact, I usually answer at least 1-5 Hubspot related emails and phone calls every single day from folks who are considering the product, the large majority of which just need an extra ‘push’.

So that’s what I do, I help them understand and catch the vision, with no thought of reward. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s a true labor of love for me.

Where’s the Response?

But this is also exactly why I’m so unhappy about seeing such a negative post about a positive subject. Heck, not only was it poorly written but at last check the person that wrote it didn’t even answer comments at the bottom.

Seriously? Are you kidding me Hubspot? You write a post that goes after an entire wing of your own industry (that’s right, we’re all in the same boat) and you (the post author) don’t even join the conversation?

Talk about poor blogging practices, c’mon fellas!

For those of you unaware of their history, the phrases ‘inbound marketing’ and ‘content marketing’ are less than 10 years old each. The founders of Hubspot were the first to use IM, and the good people of Junta 42 and the Content Marketing Institute were the first to commonly use the phrase ‘content marketing’.

Up until this point, no stone has really been cast from one side to the other, as the two groups have worked incredibly well together to promote two movements that are very, very similar—sharing just about all major core principles (at least how I see it).

The Debate Ensues

This is why, when the Hubspot post was published, the folks at CMI responded accordingly and with passion.

In the comments section of the post, Robert Rose from CMI said:

…… let me retitle your post for you… It should read “Confessions of a *Bad* Content Marketer”. Because, if this is really what you think content marketing is – then it’s clear that you don’t really understand the scope and purpose of content marketing as a practice.

Certainly there are overlaps at the top of the funnel between IM and CM – but CM goes well beyond lead generation, and into lead nurturing, customer retention, upsell, customer service and areas that Inbound Marketing just doesn’t cover. To draw it into your metaphor – it sounds to me like you were a “sunday content marketer” only going to church on holidays and barely mouthing the words of the hymnal. You should spend the time to learn the depths of CM – you may be surprised at how much salvation there actually is. I’d suggest a couple of “good books” (sorry couldn’t resist that one) on the topic – but that would be self-serving.

Kip Bodnar of Hubspot then responded with this:

Robert,

I would argue that we shouldn’t be arguing. What you described in your comment is inbound marketing. Inbound marketing DOES include lead nurturing, customer retention, upsell, customer service as well as marketing analytics and sales and marketing alignment that is often forgotten in content marketing.

What you are telling me is that you are an inbound marketer, not a content marketer.

To which Rose fired off:

@Kipp…

Wait what? Is then Corey is a failed inbound marketer? Because if the two are equal then… Okay, now you have me really confused…

No… In the post Corey describes content marketing as a “subset of inbound marketing”… And inbound marketing working toward customer retention and service is a new one for me… Hubspot’s own vision says it is focused on: “get found by more prospects shopping in their niche, convert a higher percentage of prospects into customers and analyze the results to figure out what works for their target audience.”

Maybe I’m wrong – and maybe in your opinion inbound marketing ALSO covers these areas – but I certainly don’t see it…

But, really to draw a distinction between the two and imply that one is “more comprehensive” than another – and then to say that both are synonymous is just confusing.

A day later, Joe Pulizzi of Junta42 and CMI responded with an incredible piece as well, maybe the best pillar article I’ve ever seen on the subject of Content Marketing, and the rest of his thoughts on this inbound vs. content marketing debate.

Semantics are Stupid

But even still, I don’t like what I’m seeing. Why?

I don’t believe our problem in the world of business and marketing is silly semantics. I also don’t believe the debate of ‘which is a subset of the other’ (inbound or content) means squat either.

The only thing I care about is that the 99% of the world who are NOT currently embracing inbound, content, social media, new age, education-based, call-it-what-you-want marketing eventually get on board with the greatest business movement that we’ve seen on this planet for decades.

Does anyone here actually think Joe Business Owner, who’s currently struggling to pay his employees and keep the lights on cares about semantic subsets and frivolous definitions of a couple of terms that are already very, very foreign??

We Don’t Own Any of this Stuff

And while I’m at it, let me also point out that Hubspot doesn’t own the phrase inbound marketing. CMI doesn’t own the phrase content marketing.

I don’t own the phrase ‘content tipping points‘.

Or ‘assignment selling‘.

Or ‘The Law of Compound Information’.

Or any other phrase that I’ve dubbed since attempting to contribute to this wonderful movement.

If you think content marketing falls under inbound, then fine, run with it.

If you think inbound marketing falls under content, then fine, run with it.

I don’t care what you believe just as long as your goal is to embrace the mountain of new principles we’ve all been hearing, learning about, and experimenting with over the past few years.

Why Does Man Screw Up Great Stuff??

It’s a sad thing to me that man has always found a way to divide truth and principles and thus form different groups that really should have the same goal. (Reformation ring a bell anyone?)

Is debate healthy at times? Yes, of course it is. Passion is wonderful too, which is why I completely empathize with Robert and Joe for defending the content marketing position. I likely would have done the same.

But the fact is both types of marketing are going to be ‘under development’ for the rest of time. Certain parts and practices will be added while others will be deemed obsolete or ineffective.

This is why definitions, classifications, and the rest of this debate won’t ultimately serve the masses.

Will it gives guys like me, Robert Rose, Joe Pulizzi, David Meerman Scott, Ann Handley, CC Chapman, Mike Volpe, Brian Halligan and many others something to talk and write about?

Yeah, maybe so, but I say we instead turn the tide. I say why not focus all our efforts into building the two movements up, thus benefiting all parties involved.

And finally, just for the record, I deeply care about both of the organizations in this post. Hubspot and inbound marketing have changed my life. The folks at CMI are utterly amazing and visionary. I plan on working with them both for years to come. And that’s exactly why it’s my hope that this was an anomaly, and not a preview of things to come.

Your Turn

A ton of potential conversation here with this subject and although you’re more than welcome to leave your thoughts on anything that has been said here, I’d also ask you this: Is this subject of inbound vs. content marketing an important debate, or should we have our focus elsewhere? Also, do you feel it’s important that the two parties work together or do you feel this is a division that will only grow with time?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and invite you to speak your mind below whether you agree or disagree.

Oh, and speaking of all this IM vs CM stuff, if you haven’t downloaded my FREE, 230 page Inbound and Content Marketing Made Easy eBook yet, now is the time!!

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{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

Randy Cantrell November 14, 2011 at 9:04 am

Small business owners who don’t currently understand the new pull model of marketing are suffering across all sectors. Many (I know from firsthand experience) have no comprehension of new media. Call it whatever you want, the names don’t matter when the concepts aren’t understood or practiced. Old habits die hard.

Frankly, I could care less what it’s called. The fact is, small businesses (and large) have to stop yelling, “Buy my stuff!” because it doesn’t work as it once did. I see some marketing consultancy outfits urging small business owners to write an essay when we’ve not yet taught them the alphabet.

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Patrick Allmond November 14, 2011 at 9:17 am

Randy,

Marketing has not changed – that is the biggest beef I have. There is a certain amount of people that yelling “buy my stuff” to works. Just like it has always been. There is group of people who don’t like that so they prefere the longer term relationship marketing (i.e. get something free, here is my email/physical address). That has changed either. Both types worked 50 years ago, and they still work now. When you go into Walmart they don’t want to get all warm and fuzzy with you. They want you to buy as much as possible before you walk out the door.

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Marcus Sheridan-The Sales Lion November 15, 2011 at 7:49 am

Hey Patrick, I’ve really enjoyed what you’ve added to the discussion here so thanks for jumping in.

I agree that the principle of marketing, or getting people to buy stuff, has not changed. But what has is the way people buy. In other words, it’s not so much go to the store anymore, it’s go online. Thus, this online marketing deserves its own subset in my opinion, I’m just not a fan of the overkill, if that makes sense.

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Marcus Sheridan November 14, 2011 at 9:41 am

‘Write an essay when they’ve not yet been taught the alphabet.’

Love that Randy. We’re on the same page. It shouldn’t matter what it’s called. What matters is our ability to help others catch the vision.

Thanks for dropping by bud,

Marcus

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Patrick Allmond November 14, 2011 at 9:05 am

I think you are spot on. And what you are talking about can be used about most crap coming out of blogs today in general. There is nothing new. Taking an existing technology or process that has been around for year and renaming it seems to be the norm. And don’t even get me started on (anti)-social media. And what is inbound marketing anyways? Isn’t that just marketing that gets people in the door? Which is what all marketing is. I just went and read the wiki article on inbound marketing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inbound_marketing – which has Hubspot’s name on it) and I still don’t see the difference between inbound marketing and just plain marketing.

But you also have to remember: These companies are not marketing to smart people like you and I. They are marketing to people that have no clue what is going on. They are marketing to brand new marketing people who are going to be amazed by what they say. And they are going to make a lot of money doing it.

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Joakim Ditlev November 14, 2011 at 9:11 am

Tomato? Tomatoe? This is really an unnecessary debate. I wonder why Hubspot wants to start this fight in the first place… Perhaps they found that books about content marketing sells better than those talking about inbound marketing?!?!?! Come on, guys!

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Patrick Allmond November 14, 2011 at 9:19 am

It could be that as long as you are talking about the debate you are talking about Hubspot. And that is all that matters to Hubspot :)

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Matt Mansfield November 14, 2011 at 9:31 am

Ha! Patrick – that observation is SO right on! :)

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Marcus Sheridan November 14, 2011 at 9:43 am

Yep, semantics Joakim. The behavior of HS in this case was out of character in my opinion, and I’m hoping we see a change very soon….or maybe they just nuke the article?? ;-)

Thanks for dropping by,

Marcus

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paul wolfe November 14, 2011 at 9:18 am

Marcus

Interesting post.

I’ve not read the articles you’ve referenced…yet. I’m just making a teaching video, when I’ve done that I’ll be reading up on my homework!

The thoughts that immediately strike me are these: to me, content marketing and inbound marketing are essentially the same. I tend to use the phrase ‘content marketing’ when I’m talking about it – as it’s a little bit more descriptive than inbound marketing.

I hear ya that irrespective of the name, this is revolutionary – and I agree. I think content marketing is on the start of an upward curve and in 5 to 10 years time every small business will be doing it. At the moment few are.

Given that this is the case is it possible that ‘one side’ of the IM v CM debate is trying to position THEIR take on the topic as the lead take. So that when it blows up and goes mainstream they stand to profit the most because they become the de facto experts that people go to? (this btw would be a sad but predictably human reaction to this situation).

To use an analogy it’s like back in the day when VHS went up against Betamax to see which would become the industry standard of video. Only the difference here is that while VHS was faster to record but poorer quality than Betamax – content marketing and inbound marketing are essentially the same thing.

Without reading the articles for a fuller picture this is what it sounds like to me – someone trying to stake a claim for industry pre-eminence in the hope that this will pay off down the line when Content Marketing/INbound Marketing goes mainstream and blows up.

That make sense?

Paul

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Marcus Sheridan November 16, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Your analogy makes a ton of sense Paul. We are at the beginnings of something truly profound and the leaders of this early movement will be striking gold when the dust settles.

I’d like to think though that this wasn’t Hubspot’s first move in that need to jockey for position.

Rest assured though, I’ll be watching close.

Thanks for all the thought value you bring with everything you write Paul.

Marcus

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Matt Mansfield November 14, 2011 at 9:29 am

Marcus,

The thing that bothers me most about this whole argument is that there really should be no argument. Why?

Because no matter what you call it, it’s all still marketing.

The goal of marketing is to capture the attention of your potential customers and to get them to take action. That action can be anything such as making a purchase, contacting you, signing up for a newsletter, etc. Having customers take that action needs to support your business’ goals and strategies so, as a business, your marketing needs to make drive the actions you want consumers to take.

It doesn’t matter if that action is driven by inbound marketing, outbound marketing, content marketing, PPC ads or whatever – the goal is to drive that action in a cost-effective manner.

Cost effective? Yes, you want the price of each action to be as low as possible (i.e. how much you have to spend to get 1 consumer to take 1 action). The lower the cost per action, the more effective your marketing campaigns are.

The key to success is to market in the spots where your target customers hang out. Not all spots, just the ones where the cost per action is low enough to support your business goals. Determining which spots (e.g. social media sites, search engines ads, natural search engines results, social media ads, banner ads, guest post content, blog content, etc.) work best takes testing and, if you only focus on one end of the marketing equation (e.g. inbound vs. outbound) you can be missing a whole world of opportunity.

Bottom-line: a marketer needs to keep their options open. They cannot turn away from any approach which can drive consumer action in a cost-effective manner. If they do, they are only erecting barriers to success in their path.

-Matt

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Marcus Sheridan November 15, 2011 at 10:07 am

Matt, I’ve got to thank you for such a well thought-out comment. You’ve really made some excellent points, and it appears there are many that agree with you.

And yes, barriers are a bad thing. That’s my same beef with blanket statements. Saying (especially in this fast-changing world) that something is ‘this way’, and this way only, often times prevents future growth and learning…which is dang bad.

Thanks again for this Matt,

Marcus

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Joe Pulizzi November 14, 2011 at 10:01 am

Marcus…first of all, I can’t thank you enough for your kind words AND the amount of passion you put into your posts. You are a visionary and leader, and one of the very best speakers I have EVER seen. Truth.

Okay, here are some of my thoughts that I think are important to put in the context of your post…

1. Content marketing and inbound marketing, although serving many of the same goals, are very different. I did not used to think that was the case, but now that I understand what inbound is a bit better, they are different. For one big example, content marketing can be an important part of outbound marketing (gasp!).
2. Why does it matter that they are different? Here’s why. If we marketers (the ones that are actually doing this thing) don’t understand the difference, how the heck are we supposed to convince businesses to do it? One of the biggest reasons (IMO) that content marketing, as a phrase and practice, has taken off is because we are all starting to use the same terminology. Historically, content marketing has been called branded content, custom content, custom publishing, custom media and the list goes on. How are we supposed to communicate when we are all speaking in different tongues? So, while I truly respect those people who say they are the same thing, it just adds to more confusion…the same confusion we’ve been trying to battle for a decade or more. Content marketing and inbound marketing, both incredibly important, need to be used in different ways.
3. I want to agree with everyone that fighting over the terms does indeed hit me as a bit petty. That said, we need more people to stand up (like you Marcus) and call bad marketing out. I believe it’s our responsibility. In a few years, this thing we are doing won’t be new anymore, and what we do RIGHT NOW will make all the difference in the world as content marketing advances inside traditional marketing.
4. As Patrick said, this probably all plays into Hubspot’s hands.

Thanks again my friend and keep up the great work.

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Michael Schechter November 14, 2011 at 10:11 am

No one and I mean NO ONE loves a semantic debate more than I do, but that doesn’t seem to be what this is. A semantic debate is arguing or discussing the minutia where you disagree. This feels way more like a battle for putting your flag at the top of the mountain. Are there subtle differences between IM and CM, sure, but essentially (and especially to the un-nuanced in the subject) these are the same damn things.

I’ve personally always seen Inbound Marketing as the overarching theory and content marketing as the tactic, but when you really get into the nitty gritty these two groups are often (if not always) saying the same thing.

This feels more like bashing a competitor than discussing anything that moves the space forward. Then again, I could just be the un-nuanced schmuck that doesn’t understand the difference.

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Joe Pulizzi November 14, 2011 at 10:18 am

Hi Michael…this is nothing against a competitor or anything like that…but they are indeed different. For example, in the post that Marcus links to, is the Ritz Carlton in-room magazine inbound marketing? Of course not. How about LEGO Club magazine? Nope.

Inbound marketing is about getting found online, and much of that involves excellent content creation and curation. Content marketing involves a multitude of marketing goals (both inbound and outbound activities) throughout the entire buying cycle.

Both important, just different. Different is okay.

Thanks…Joe

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Michael Schechter November 14, 2011 at 10:46 am

You’re right and in hindsight, what I think I meant was that they are intrinsically linked if not directly related. For those getting started, the idea of getting found online through the content you create and retaining that audience through the creation of additional content are intrinsically linked.

They aren’t the same, but for those who aren’t Lego or Ritz and don’t have pre-existing strategies in place, the creation of content and the use of content for being found are deeply connected.

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Marcus Sheridan November 15, 2011 at 9:59 am

I agree that different is OK Joe, I do. But do you really think the difference will ever be written out?

Honestly, I see the two phrase as the two core ones of the industry. That being said, would it be possible to have some type of agreed upon semantics/phraseology between the CM wing and the IM wing? (ie you meet with Brian Halligan ;-) )

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Joe Pulizzi November 15, 2011 at 10:23 am

Hey Marcus…read Kipp Bodner’s comments from this post.
(http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/28681/Confessions-of-a-Content-Marketer.aspx).

Not good in my opinion and causes confusion.

While CM and IM overlap at the top of the funnel, they are indeed very different. For example, CM often includes outbound marketing techniques (direct mail for example). While storytelling is critical to inbound marketing, content marketing doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t always be) inbound.

Keep up the great work.

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Marcus Sheridan November 15, 2011 at 10:02 am

Actually Michael, I thought you were pretty spot on with this comment. Although there may be merits of debating and defining the two terms, this particular blog article didn’t so much do that….at all. Your flag analogy is perfect. And that’s exactly why I wanted so much to post my thoughts here, because it really is out of Hubspot character.

Thanks brother,

Marcus

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Michael Schechter November 15, 2011 at 10:16 am

I don’t think I was way off base, I just see what Joe is saying. That said, I think it’s an expert’s standpoint rather than an average business owners, who likely sees these two things as utterly interrelated. Since the analogies are working for you, winding up and releasing the ball are both pitching :)

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Joe Pulizzi November 15, 2011 at 10:26 am

I like your thinking Michael.

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Michael Schechter November 15, 2011 at 10:28 am

Someone has to :)

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Ryan Hanley November 14, 2011 at 10:52 am

Marcus,

When I look at this kind of debate I look less at the purpose of the words and more at the passion behind them. Everyone feels the necessity to defend their turf once in a while. It’s the fact that passionate people are debating a meaningful business topic that excites.

Look at how electrified these guys are. This shows me that only more great things are to come because these guys Live this shit. Awesome. I look forward to it. And as a budding content / inbound marketer myself I’m happy this is happening.

Thanks,

Ryan H.

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Joe Pulizzi November 14, 2011 at 10:54 am

Ryan…sweet! I love it!

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Marcus Sheridan November 16, 2011 at 3:03 pm

I appreciate your take quite a bit here Ryan. Like you, I love passion. That’s also why I’ve found myself drawn to both of these groups/movements.

So despite the fact that I’m not a fan of jockeying for the ‘who’s #1?’ position, I do think that such passion is only good for a budding industry.

Thanks brother,

Marcus

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Cheryl Pickett November 14, 2011 at 2:03 pm

There are a couple of points I’d like to make today. First, with regard to content marketing isn’t new/has always been around. While that is definitely true in the big picture sense, relative to other tactics, blogs are new, blogging with the intent of sharing via social media is new, giving away a free report to drive traffic to a website is an updated version of another tactic. These are new tools that a ton of business owners have no idea about. Those of us who live and work online do, but they don’t. That means, if someone gets interested in it, someone else has to teach them. That’s where semantics become important.

Think of it this way: If you take a particular class, say an algebra class, the terminology will be pretty much the same no matter what college you take it from. If someone in one class talks about a particular concept to someone in another class, or asks that person for help, they both understand the conversation.

Now lets come back to this discussion. If I’m teaching, Marcus is teaching and Joe is teaching, and someone hears all three of us (which is entirely possible), if we’re interchanging definitions, using totally different terminology, what happens to that person at the end of those classes. They’ll be confused and unable to implement anything at all and they are worse off probably then when they started and came to us for help. As a teacher/instructor or even as a blogger, that is certainly not what any of us would want to happen.

When you are talking about primary definitions within a topic/ discipline, I think it is important to have some uniformity. From there, each teacher can include his/her own nuances. If all involved in this debate would think about the end-user, the small biz owner who knows nothing about our topics but is eager to learn, I believe we can get to where we need to be.

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Matt Mansfield November 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Amen sister!

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Marcus Sheridan November 15, 2011 at 9:55 am

Cheryl, this really was a tremendous comment and I’m totally digging your algebra analogy.

To further add to your point, when I speak about this stuff, or write about it, I always have to say multiple phrases, like ‘Inbound and Content Marketing’, because so many folks are more familiar with one phrase or the other. So, to your point, yes, I can very much see how a uniform phraseology would be nice. At the same time though, I certainly don’t think (and I know you agree) that Hubspot’s tactic here to cast stones at another ‘phrase’ was not a smart thing to do. Granted, we are talking about them and the post, but it really seemed out of character with the company.

Thanks again for all you’ve added to the conversation here Cheryl.

Marcus

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Cheryl Pickett November 15, 2011 at 10:09 am

Oh totally agree. There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about any discussion/ debate. Staying respectful does the most good for all sides.

I also saw a note elsewhere about a possible panel discussion. That would be excellent!

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Phil Donaldson November 15, 2011 at 1:57 pm

This conversation would make a great series of “friendly debates”. It would be a great way (as has been expressed throughout this discussion) to get everyone on the same page.

Start the series with Marcus, Robert, Kipp and Joe and see where it goes.

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Marcus Sheridan November 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm

If one really cool thing happens from this debate Cheryl, (other than the awesome discussion by all parties) it would be a true, recorded panel discussion on this event.

That-would-rock.

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Phil Donaldson November 14, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Marcus,

Wonderful post. I agree that whatever semantic position one takes, the mandate is quite simple. In the words of Nike — “Just do it”!

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Marcus Sheridan November 15, 2011 at 9:48 am

Appreciate that Phil. And yes, Nike’s words are perfectly appropriate in this case.

Cheers bud,

Marcus

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Phil Donaldson November 15, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Thanks, Marcus. Appreciate your perspective in this conversation. Thanks for getting things going on this page.

I hope there’s enough server space for all the replies. :-)

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Candyce Edelen November 14, 2011 at 2:51 pm

I agree completely with Phil in his assessment that we should “just do it.” (full disclosure – we work together).

However, I actually think that the semantic debate can be good for the industry as a whole, because it attracts attention.

In 2005, I co-founded a company in a new space called “complex event processing.” At the time, VERY few people outside the vendors actually knew what that term meant. Each vendor took a different approach to how their systems analyzed data, and for a time, we haggled over calling the space “event stream processing” or “complex event processing.” We debated on what the best approach was for stream processing. We debated on how fast was fast. The debate was very public, very noisy, and attracted a lot of attention. In the end, many of the target customers started joining the debate, and when they met with us, they had a better understanding of what the technology was designed to do. That debate was instrumental in driving the industry from the “visionary” and “early adopter” stages into the “early market.” Now it’s entrenched and nearly every company in our target market knows what “CEP” is and has a pretty good idea of its value proposition.

So in my humble opinion, I think we should encourage debate as it allows us all to better articulate the value of some very complex ideas.

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Marcus Sheridan November 15, 2011 at 9:47 am

Loved this comment Candyce, as I can see you really have some serious experience with the exact same type of debate.

I agree that active discussion on a subject can be a very good thing, and the fact that your group came to a consensus of sorts is amazing. But I don’t see this happening in this case. And I’m concerned that if one group starts to demean another, then we’ll have a big headache all the way around.

What’s interesting is this is all so young. And I would imagine the debates and discussion have really just begun.

Thanks so very much for your thoughts Candyce.

Marcus

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Candyce Edelen November 15, 2011 at 10:08 am

Hi Marcus,
Actually, the battle in the CEP space was pretty bloody, and all the vendors publicly threw virtual tomatoes at each other. In the end, many of the startups failed, others were bought at bargain basement prices. There were only 3 main competitors left standing in the end, at least in the financial services world. The reason for the bloodbath was not the debate on terminology but that all the vendors ended up competing for the same tier 1 clients and tried to undercut each others’ prices. We have an advantage in the content marketing / inbound marketing space because our target market is so much broader. So I hope we all agree to continue the conversation and even the debate, but not get into the practice of undercutting each other. There is plenty of business opportunity to go around.

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Ameena Falchetto November 14, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Ummm – can I say eh? What? And Eh? Do we need a distinction?

Content vs Inbound Mktg??

I don’t really get into these debates with my clients – they don’t care … bottom line is they want something that WORKS.

Maybe I am a bit unorthodox in my approach but I encourage my clients (and do the same for myself) to focus on WHAT you are doing vs. how you label it. Getting bogged down with details takes you away from your goal.

Perhaps I need to read this in the morning but it’s been a while since The Sales Lion has left me thinking EH???

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Ryan Hanley November 14, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Ameena,

Seriously… “Do we need a distinction?” This is the perfect question. How about we just focus on producing amazing content that drives inbound marketing?

Love the content.

Ryan H.

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Ameena Falchetto November 15, 2011 at 4:35 am

Hey Ryan,

Yes to creating awesome content that drives inbound marketing … :)

Back to work!

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Marcus Sheridan November 15, 2011 at 9:42 am

That’s exactly it Ameena, they don’t care. They want to know action that works. Strategy that pays the bills.

I’ll see if I can keep you thinking Ameena ;-)

Marcus

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Ameena Falchetto November 15, 2011 at 9:54 am

Ha! You got me Marcus!

Can you imagine saying to a client, “so, would you like content marketing or inbound marketing?” … :)

Cheers!

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Eugene @ Content Strategy November 14, 2011 at 4:22 pm

It’s two sides of the same coin. Or maybe it’s one side of two coins? Or wait…no no…it’s one side of one coin.

Seriously, why argue about these things? One is a subset of the other? Or the other way around? Or its the same thing?

The important thing is that what needs to get done, gets done. They both fall under the umbrella of marketing. And if you’re performing your marketing functions well, and adding to the bottom line, who cares what you call it?

When a business asks you what they can do to increase sales, they aren’t asking you whether you will be doing inbound, content, both or neither. They are asking for a list of actions.

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Cheryl Pickett November 14, 2011 at 4:33 pm

One of the issues with using the umbrella term “marketing” though is that it covers so much. Years ago, it meant taking out ads in the newspaper and yellow pages. That’s all many small businesses ever did as far as marketing. At one point, “telemarketing” and door to door cold calling were all the rage and there are those who still employ those tactics. Begin a “marketing” conversation with someone with that frame of reference and they’re not going to know you mean blogging and free e-reports.

It’s kind of like exercise. You can tell someone to exercise which covers dozens of activities they might do. Or you can be more specific and tell them to do aerobic, weight bearing or even more specific, jogging, yoga and pilates. It’s all covered under the umbrella of exercise, but each activity yields different results and different strategies are right for different circumstances.

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Marcus Sheridan November 15, 2011 at 9:40 am

‘What needs to get done gets done.’……LOVE that Eugene, and it really demonstrates my feelings on the matter. Actions, it’s all about actions.

Thanks for your thoughts brother,

Marcus

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Owen Blevins November 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Wow, passionate post and comments by all! Marcus, I was delighted to read Ardath Albee’s responce to the original post. If you haven’t read her book, go out and pick it up. A great read… I’m no legendary blogger for sure, my chosen medium is video. Truth be told, my mother said I have a face for radio :-) .
I have pasted her comment below and have to say that I agree with her.
“I think the problem here is that it’s not either or, but both. Inbound includes content marketing (why else would someone come?), just as content marketing includes inbound (people must know to come).”
How can one be successful without the other?
As always Marcus,

Rock on…

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Patrick Allmond November 15, 2011 at 7:38 am

Owen: don’t write off yourself as a bad blogger. Keep up the video but get that transcribed on the cheap. I pay people to transcribe my video blog entries into text then post them back on joy site under my videos.

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Marcus Sheridan November 15, 2011 at 7:52 am

That’s an awesome idea Patrick. What’s something like that cost and what’s the best place to have someone do it for you?

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Patrick Allmond November 15, 2011 at 8:05 am

Odesk and amazon mechanical Turk are the first two that come to mind. $5-$10 seems to be what the going rate is for 3-5 minutes of video.

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Marcus Sheridan November 15, 2011 at 9:38 am

Cool info, thanks Patrick!

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Marcus Sheridan November 15, 2011 at 7:58 am

Interesting that you mention Ardath in here Owen, because I thought her comment was awesome too, I just ran out of room after 1400 words. ;-)

And yes, I’ll keep rocking my friend, and you do the same!

Marcus

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Christina Pappas November 14, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Here I was thinking you needed to have content to DO inbound marketing. And I thought ‘inbound marketing’ was that thing that happened to drive leads to your business, not keep them there. That’s where content comes in. It’s not an important debate, but I think it needs some attention because there are people who have heard both phrases or one or the other and may need some clarification. We should all get on the same page to support one another. It’s hard enough to get senior management to buy-in to content marketing or inbound tactics.

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Marcus Sheridan November 15, 2011 at 7:54 am

That’s the thing Christina, the ‘subset debate’ (as I have heretofore named it ;-) ) is going to go on and on, which worries me, because I think everyone wants their ‘way’ to be at the top, with the rest of the marketing techniques falling below. But maybe I’m wrong about that. ;-)

Good to see ya lady!

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Joe Pulizzi November 15, 2011 at 8:00 am

Hey Marcus…I’m not sure I agree that’s the case. There are a million terms and definitions for different kinds of marketing activities. This is all good. The point is, marketing pros should understand the difference…for clients’ sake and to move the industry forward.

As I said, it’s not an inbound vs. content marketing scenario…they are just different and they need each other, but let’s not say they are the same.

NOTE: The reason why I’m so passionate about this “naming” thing is that I’ve had literally hundreds of people contact me, thankful that we are identifying certain aspects of what a marketer does with the usage of content. I never realized how important it was to many marketers…to them, it’s critical. For small businesses, I don’t think it matters much. In a larger enterprise, you better all be calling it the same thing or it really gets out of hand and is then much tougher building the business case for it.

Cheers!

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Phil Donaldson November 15, 2011 at 9:58 am

So, it would be safe to characterize the relationship between content marketing and inbound marketing as symbiotic, correct?

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Joe Pulizzi November 15, 2011 at 10:13 am

Hi Phil…at the top of the funnel, absolutely.

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Candyce Edelen November 15, 2011 at 10:12 am

Christina,
I could not agree with you more on both points – content and inbound are both dependent on one another, and it’s helpful to define what they mean to get senior management buy-in, particularly in large firms. But I still think the debate is good for our industry.

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Phil Donaldson November 14, 2011 at 8:26 pm

@Christina: Yes, I wholeheartedly agree — both sides need to reconcile and get on the same page. Clarity will help us all.

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Phil Donaldson November 15, 2011 at 10:03 am

Actually, this would make a great panel discussion. Junta 42/CMI, HubSpot, you game? Perhaps Focus can be the mediator. :-)

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Leon Noone November 15, 2011 at 11:06 am

G’Day Marcus,
I really should keep out of this. But I’m a weak reed and I can’t resist the temptation. In a word that your good Catholic grandfather might have thought but not used…..bullshit!

All this nonsense about “inbound” and “content” or whatever reminds me of a recent discussion on LinkedIn. Someone asked a question about whether learning should be fun. At least half the replies were about defining the word “fun.” Bloody hell!

Y’know Marcus, one of the greatest features of your blog is your missionary fervour. You really believe everything you say. And it shows.

Don’t be distracted from your crusade by silly buggers. even at good old Hubspot, who somehow lose sight of the fact that we’re in business, not in a freshman class for Philosophy 101.

They also seem to forget that we’re supposed to be having fun.

I’m now 72 and the last of my three greatest friends/ mentors died earlier this year. About 35 years ago one of them said to me about a similar experience I was having with someone whom I greatly admired, “it’s always difficult to handle when, for the first time, you discover that your hero has clay feet.”

As we old trainers like to say, “It’s a useful learning experience.”

Hang loose young Marcus. Always remember that in 30-40 years’ time you too can claim “curmudgeon ” status.
Regards
Leon

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Marcus Sheridan November 16, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Your first line here Leon was a literal all-time classic Leonism. I laughed out loud in the airport when I read it. :-)

And yes, we darn well should be having fun with this. Yes-sir-eee. :-)

When I come and speak in Australia Leon, you’re literally the first curmudgeon I’m going to look up. Mark my words friend. ;-)

Marcus

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John Sherry November 15, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Can I add another dimension Marcus. People are advised when blogging to often be controversial as it attracts interest and maybe there’s an element of that here with Hubspot. They seem to know their overall subject so they may just be stirring the waters (or muddying them) – after all they’ve had unlimited mentions in this post and we’re all hopping over there to check out their suspect post so they’ve done very well out of it. There’s no such thing as bad publicity or so the saying goes. They may have just proved something! But I agree it’s probably been communicated and handled somewhat less than you would normally expect of Hubspot. But, hey, you gotta love the way you get stuck in there and say it as you feel it. Way to go Mr S!

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Candyce Edelen November 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Great point John! It’s a perfect example of content marketing done effectively to support an inbound strategy.

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Marcus Sheridan November 16, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Thanks John, your comments always come from such a grounded and sound perspective my friend.

Was Hubspot muddying the waters? Yeah, that’s a good question. I think it may have more been a case of a new employee trying to make a splash….and boy did that get accomplished!

I appreciate all HS has done for the industry, but I do hope they look back and learn from this experience, thus turning it into a positive.

Thanks again brother!!

Marcus

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Patricia November 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Thanks for a great discussion Marcus,

I love this debate because it brings out the deepest passions in everyone here (whether or not they are misguided is a different matter altogether). In any case, I myself come into this debate seriously biased ;) But you’re right:

“Does anyone here actually think Joe Business Owner, who’s currently struggling to pay his employees and keep the lights on cares about semantic subsets and frivolous definitions of a couple of terms that are already very, very foreign??”

If Joe Business Owner tuned in to this debate I don’t think he would have emerged any wiser. I think we as content marketers and inbound marketers (and YES we are kin!) do him a great dis-service when instead of giving him practical business advice, we appear to be sending conflicting or contradictory messages that leave him more confused than ever.

I hope that we can learn to resolve these differences and definitions ‘in-house’ so as to present a united front.

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Marcus Sheridan November 16, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Hey Patricia!!! Yes, the need to define this ‘in-house’ would be a really, really good thing. In fact, I think that might actually come out of all of this. Joe P has already agreed to a panel on the matter. So now the ball is in Hubspot’s court, and I’m going to make sure to nudge this along, thus hopefully preventing something like this again in the future while offering a clear solution to the true ‘marketing professionals’ that do this for a living and, as Joe said, do need to have a name for it.

Great hearing from you lady!

Marcus

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Howie at Sky Pulse Media November 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Dear Marcus

First a hug.

Now how about a Lifesaver? No? It’s Peppermint. I promise it will give you that cool and minty whoosh of refreshment.

You went aggro and I feel so much better now that the cool calm and collected Lion roared like this.

I am pretty unique. I don’t claim to be an expert in any one segment of marketing. And digital is my weakest link. But I often see people who excel in certain segments try to sabotage other segments because of ego, greed, fear, lack of confidence in what they are doing. Many businesses need an integrated media strategy and to use petty semantics because one person wants to lay claim and lordship over something is ridiculous.

The whole discussion is so much deeper than what the Hubspot Author displayed and I wonder what the intentions were.

Good job my friend! I love seeing you Roar!

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Marcus Sheridan November 16, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Howie, you are clearly one of a kind my friend, and there ain’t nobody out there anything like you brother. ;-)

As for seeing me roar, I thank you for your words. I’m emotionally invested into both of these groups, especially the folks at Hubspot. So just like I would a brother that got out of line, I had to call out HS on this one, because it was a pretty serious brain-fart in my opinion. ;-)

Thanks again for the big smiles my friend,

Marcus

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Tom Ewer November 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm

You had me going at the start there Marcus – I thought you were going to swear! ;)

I only came along to read one article and I ended up reading three :) but it was worth it, because I now have a far better understanding of the entire process of content/inbound/honestly-I-just-don’t-care-what-you-call-it marketing.

And if you didn’t guess my position you probably know now – couldn’t agree with you more. The percentage of people who actually CARE about the differing definitions of content and inbound marketing are achieving nothing with their bickering, because no one else bloody cares.

Here’s a novel concept that I’m sure we can agree on – creating helpful content for targeted visitors can, given the correct circumstances, benefit your business. That’s the first step. As for all subsequent steps – call it what you like, just get on with it already!

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Marcus Sheridan November 16, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Hahahaha Tom, no worries mate, the swear words weren’t there….but the Lion was roaring a little louder than normal. ;-)

I appreciate your position. We come from the same side of the track on this one because we’re more focused on the average Joe business owner.

Joe P did make a good point though in that professional ‘marketers’ do need to be able to define what they do/bring to the table for big business. So from that perspective, I think it would be a good idea for Hubspot and CMI to meet on the matter and come up with a clearer definition of this, and hopefully the semantic debate will end with that.

Thanks so much for dropping by and supporting this blog my friend,

Marcus

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John Garrett November 15, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Marcus, I must admit that I did not really know that there was a debate at all!

Having hopped over and read the first article and the comments, then checking out Joe and Robert’s post too and finally jumping back here -I can totally see your points.

I obviously need to learn more about both of these strategies, and the scary thing is that if I had read the hubspot article and there had been no comments, I might have walked away thinking that it was the whole picture. Whoa.

Thanks for writing up this rebuttal and linking to the CMI, bro, I feel like I learned a lot here!

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Marcus Sheridan November 16, 2011 at 3:32 pm

John, awesome stuff brother. The fact that you really took the time to read all the the information herein just shows that you’re the type of guy looking to be truly informed.

You’re right, if someone had read the HS article and then left it at that, it could seriously leave a poor impression…which is exactly why I couldn’t hold my tongue on this one.

But thanks so much for sharing and commenting bud, hope you’re well.

Marcus

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Danny Breed November 16, 2011 at 10:37 am

Morning Marcus, thanks for bringing this to my attention as I have been learning a lot through it. I have been following Hubspot for a while and have been trying to apply the principles of inbound marketing to the non-profit educational sector. I have really enjoyed the service and value added aspect that inbound marketing has brought to my mind at least. The main point I have seen is that customers want to have a trust relationship with a business and that is built through businesses serving them. The more great content businesses can create for the customer that also adds value to the customer, the more customers can realize the heart and core values of the business. In a nutshell, the more businesses serve, the more trust is built, and relationships are solidified, which all normally leads to sales and a win-win relationship.

I just read Joe Pulizzi’s (thanks for the introduction) article that you mentioned above, which I found very helpful. Inbound marketing is primarily about getting found, bringing the consumer into the buying cycle, and nurturing them into a customer. Yet in the article Joe says they generally go to the 35 yard line in football terms and then have to throw a 70 yarder to get it into the end-zone. In my experience they do a little more than that, but the primary emphasis is on getting those first 35 yards out from their own end-zone. Content marketing seems to include a more holistic picture and focus on the entire buying cycle for the consumer. CM focuses on getting out of the end-zone and then marching down the field. I wonder if there is a greater emphasis in CM with the nurturing of the relationship so that the new customer becomes an established customer. I need to learn more about it. CM also focuses on every type of media to solidify that relationship, not just online.

In general they are different and yet similar. It seems the primary difference is one of emphasis. IM is about getting the onlooker into the relationship and CM focuses on the whole cycle with an emphasis on solidifying the relationship. Just my take on it, but thankful for the thought provoking discussion.

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Joe Pulizzi November 16, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Danny…if I could grade that comment, you get an A+. Thanks

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Danny Breed November 16, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Thanks for the encouragement Joe. This was my first foray into the online stream of IM and CM conversation. I am looking to checking out your content as well.

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Marcus Sheridan November 16, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Danny, holy smokes my man, this was awesome…I mean DANG awesome ;-)

I’m really digging your approach and analogies here. The fact that you’re seeing it this way says two things:

1. Your business goals are eventually going to be met because you ‘get it’.
2. You’re going to be a leader in this industry. (I really mean that.)

I truly hope to see you again around here Danny and am thrilled that you’re going to start following Joe’s stuff. He is absolutely one of the best out there.

Marcus

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Dharmesh Shah November 16, 2011 at 10:49 am

Wow! Had no idea this big of a debate was raging. Just catching up.

Here are my thoughts:

1. HubSpot *loves* content marketing. Seriously, we do. We create content all day, every day. It’s hard for me to imagine a company more passionate about the power of content than HubSpot.

2. I actually appreciate the value of a good debate. I don’t think it’s stupid at all. Though I would love for it to have been under different circumstances (seems like we lost some goodwill and karma on this one), I like that we got a bunch of ideas and opinions out there. And, it was pretty intelligent debate — very little name-calling or unproductive hating which is so popular on the web.

3. I think some of the points made in the article are valid — though I can see how they rubbed people the wrong way. Trying to find the right balance between taking a stand on a position and not coming off as deliberately antagonistic is non-trivial.

4. Want to go on record and say HubSpot really likes Joe Pulizzi. Many of us have been fans of his for a while. He’s good peeps.

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Marcus Sheridan November 16, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I’m glad you stopped in and left this comment Dharmesh (to say HS has been quiet since their initial article would be an understatement).

You know how I feel about you guys. I got passionate here because I’m overly passionate about HS and the inbound marketing movement…and what it can do for businesses.

As for debate, I can see the value of it, if done the right way. The method by which this one was started was, in my opinion, very poor…hence my ‘stupid’ adjective. A panel discussion between you, Joe, and a few others would be very, very helpful I think.

In fact, if there is one thing I’ve heard a heck of a lot of over these past few days is that there really should be a meeting of the minds on this matter so such disagreements don’t keep popping up again and again. Let’s make it happen bud.

Best,

Marcus

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Joe Pulizzi November 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Thanks Dharmesh…you are a class act…and as you say, this is nothing personal or against Hubspot. I continue to preach what you guys are doing and how you’ve grown the business through content marketing (Mike Volpe’s words actually).

And, a few folks from Hubspot have reached out to me personally, so that is first rate as well.

IM and CM are both important and different. As the spokespeople for inbound, I think Hubspot editorial content needs to speak to that a bit more.

I also agree that this is a healthy debate. I’ve had dozens on people contact me about how much they’ve learned through these articles and discussion…so good is coming from it.

Thanks for chiming in…I think it’s very important that someone from Hubspot got into the conversation. Glad it was you.

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Ken Stadden November 16, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Marcus, Joe, Dharmesh, et al:

Wow, what a great group of philosopher/marketers! It’s been an edifying half-hour plowing through 69 well-written comments .

I hope it’s not too late for a question or two. I sit at the fringes of the marketing community, with a background that doesn’t compare to those of lifelong professional marketers.

However, I do have some nunchuck skills and have dealt with Joe & Joanne Businessperson a few times. In speaking about this subject to non-marketing types, I tend toward generic and easily understood umbrella terms not coined by any business interest: “online marketing” or “Internet marketing.”

I understand that HubSpot’s coinage of “inbound marketing” has been useful in defining their space in contrast to old-fashioned “outbound marketing.” I also get that “content marketing” is subtly (or radically) different, depending on your view. But is there any benefit to using terms more advanced than “Internet marketing” with most clients?

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Joe Pulizzi November 16, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Ah Ken, that is a great question. And the answer depends on who your client is. For example, when I’m explaining what I do to my mother, I don’t use “content marketing”. Makes no sense to her and complicates things a bit.

However, “content marketing” is very powerful and relevant when talking to a CMO (the people I usually talk with), and it resonates with them compared to what they’ve been doing. Works with most agency people as well.

So, even though we are having this lively discussion, the usage of each terms depends on your audience and your own goals.

Great question.
Joe

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