Marketing Terms Explained: What Separates Content Marketing, Inbound Marketing, and Brand Journalism?
Marketing Content Strategy

Marketing Terms Explained: What Separates Content Marketing, Inbound Marketing, and Brand Journalism?

Marketing itself can be defined by the buzzwords created to support and validate the practice of promoting the benefits/values of a product or service, and measuring the success or failure of those efforts. Marketing meetings all across the country are starting to sound more like military mission briefs rather than business meetings. CTR, CTA, CPC, MER, ROI, and did I catch a niner in there? These acronyms dominate the conversation, confusing those not firmly fixed in the industry. It’s no wonder marketers are constantly asking questions like, “What is content marketing, what is inbound marketing, what is brand journalism, and what are the differences between them?” You don’t want to find yourself in a meeting with the CMO without answers to these questions.

Here is your definitive, “no BS” guide to navigating the muddy waters that are marketing buzzwords.

What Is Content Marketing?

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” Not quite. As we were taught in grade school, you can’t use the word you are defining in the definition itself. You can’t define success as the act of being successful, and you can’t define content marketing as the act of marketing content.

Patagonia Environmental and Social ResponsibilityContent marketing is brilliant storytelling. It’s establishing your brand as a business that cares about its surroundings, the world it operates, and the people it services.

It’s defining your mission, your story, and your contribution to the world. It’s informing a given audience about that story in a meaningful way, connecting with them emotionally, and sharing a passion for similar ideals. Some companies do this very well; Patagonia, for example, cares about the environment and the earth, so people who hold the same values and have a passion for preserving earth naturally gravitate toward its brand.

What Is Inbound Marketing?

HubSpot, the pioneer of inbound marketing, says it’s “about creating and sharing content with the world. By creating content specifically designed to appeal to your dream customers, inbound attracts qualified prospects to your business and keeps them coming back for more.” This sounds similar to something else . . . could it be content marketing? Are the two synonymous? Not quite. At this point, third-grade teachers across the country are rolling their eyes and pointing fingers at HubSpot’s and Content Marketing Institute’s marketing departments.

Inbound marketing is creating unique experiences that push people to direct action. It’s establishing a virtual, physical, emotional experience that your business operates within, and proving that your experience is one that other people want to join and be a part of. Brian Solis defines this shift in business as “Digital Darwinism.” Technology is rapidly changing the way consumers interact with companies by putting pressure on those companies to evolve their business models into ones that create unique experiences and draw in like-minded people. However, it only works when those experiences are genuine, value-based, and unlike anything else.

What Is Brand Journalism?

Forbes defines brand journalism as “marketers using the tools of digital publishing and social media to speak directly to consumers.” This implies that brand journalism is something you can simply pay for—a bolt-on service publishing destinations and media websites offer brands. Once again: Not quite. Brand journalism isn’t another marketing medium or tactic, it’s a mentality. It’s a conscious effort to change your business; it’s an evolution of the digital world where crowdsourced information is the norm.

Brand journalism, as discussed by Brianna Hand, a copy editor at Skyword, is about editorial quality, consistency, and intelligence. Journalism is the “gathering, processing, and dissemination of news and information related to an audience.” Therefore, brand journalism is establishing a media-like function within your company that disseminates a brand story or vision. Brand journalism requires complete transparency, honesty, and integrity.

Of the three buzzwords “content marketing,” “inbound marketing,” and “brand journalism,” brand journalism is the most trustworthy form of marketing. It’s purely about the story—one that’s not hidden beneath or published next to marketing campaigns that drive return on investment (ROI) and high click-through rates (CTRs). It can be published in parallel to value-based content that encourages readers to step into your world, or the experience you’ve created, but it is not a Trojan horse with which to deliver your marketing messages.

These buzzwords will continue to perplex marketers. Marketers, in turn, will continue to try to define them the only way they know how: with more buzzwords. If you’re a marketer at a brand with a purpose and you find yourself constantly performing searches that read “what is content marketing,” then take a step back and decide whether you’re ready to be a storyteller, create unique experiences, and provide integrity to your audience. If so, we should chat. I want to work with you.

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