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:


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:


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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