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The Difference Between Content Marketing and Paid Marketing

Updated: Apr 1

Spark! Studios blog

Inbound vs outbound marketing

Content marketing (a.k.a. inbound marketing) focuses on attracting customers to you. That is to say, it is a strategy where companies create and share valuable content to attract and engage potential customers, with the goal of earning their trust and eventually converting them into customers. Examples of inbound marketing include blog posts, ebooks, webinars, and social media content.

On the other hand, paid marketing (a.k.a. outbound marketing) focuses on interrupting customers and pushing your message onto them. This is to say, it’s a traditional marketing approach where companies actively reach out to potential customers through interruptive channels like cold calls, email blasts, print advertisements, and TV commercials. The goal of outbound marketing is to grab a customer's attention, regardless of whether they were previously interested or not.

Effectively, content marketing is information that you put out into the world without the help of ad dollars behind it to help it reach people.

Note: If you’d like to learn our content strategy and apply it to your business, we teach everything we do and give personalized feedback in our content marketing course and community. If you’d like us to do content marketing for you, then feel free to fill out the form on the bottom of our contact us page.

Is paid marketing “bad”?

Consumers don’t like ads, simply put. So, if you’re pushing paid content in front of them, you’re already off on the wrong foot.

Now, you may win them over by scoring with your content — you can make them laugh or feel informed, for example. But, if your content does not land with them, then you’re just that annoying brand that interrupted their day.

So, that isn’t to say that paid marking is good or bad — after all, brands around the world have been investing heavily in advertising for many years. It’s just a different playing field compared to content marketing, where people come to you, instead of you going to them — much like scoring a date at the bar.

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Should you go organic or paid?

There are several benefits of creating content that is intended for organic or paid marketing.

Benefits of Inbound Marketing:

  • Cost-effective: Inbound marketing does not draw out from your ad budget, though both organic and paid content will have production costs associated with it.

  • Builds Trust and Credibility: By providing valuable information and resources, inbound marketing helps to establish your company as a trusted authority in your industry.

Benefits of Outbound Marketing:

  • Immediate Impact: Outbound marketing can deliver immediate results by grabbing the attention of your target audience and driving them to take action. In contrast, inbound marketing is intended to nurture leads over a longer period of time. As a result, it can be an effective strategy for meeting short-term goals, such as generating a quick spike in sales or filling up an event quickly.

  • Wider Reach: Outbound marketing can reach a wider audience outside of your network.

Differences aside, there are parallels in the benefits of both types of content as well:

  • Targeted audience: Inbound marketing allows you to reach a relevant audience as they would organically come across your content. Meanwhile, ad platforms are able to help brands target their ads specifically to their preferred user personas based on the rich data that’s available to them to leverage.

  • Measurable Results: Distribution platforms for both inbound and outbound content often provide rich information about the consumption of the content shared on their platforms. This allows brands to more easily access their return on investment.

  • Brand Awareness: Both types of content increase brand awareness and visibility.

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