How Is Digital Marketing Different from Inbound Marketing?

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Inbound vs. Digital: Differences & Similarities

Digital Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing: The Main Differences

September 2, 2021
4 minutes


Digital marketing and inbound marketing are two different strategies that are often used interchangeably. Although they can be similar in some things, these two terms are equally important to know and understand.

When starting out in digital marketing, you might often hear people using the term inbound marketing as if it’s the same thing. Although there are many different digital marketing tactics, inbound is a long-term form of online marketing, which focuses on pulling the audience towards a company by offering valuable content.

Contrary to traditional marketing, it is a two-way communication system that helps with brand awareness, bringing more traffic to your website, conversion rates and other long-term goals.

In this article, we’ll define the term digital marketing, explain inbound marketing, and offer some insight into what makes them two separate disciplines.

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing is a method of increasing brand recognition and promoting products and services online by distributing promotional information across a variety of platforms and formats.

The fact that digital marketing involves two-way communication is its most distinguishing attribute. That implies that online viewers of your marketing campaigns may provide feedback, allowing you to enhance your efforts in terms of targeting, optimization, and learning about your ideal customers.

Digital marketing is, therefore, a series of marketing efforts that include many different types and tactics (such as email marketing, content marketing, search engine optimization, lead generation, banner ads, etc.).

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What is inbound marketing?

Whereas digital marketing is more related to short-term actions done online, inbound marketing is a complex methodology whose main goal is to attract customers towards the brand.

Inbound marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on naturally attracting and converting internet users, as well as fueling sales choices with information suitable for a specific buyer persona and its characteristics. It nurtures sales funnel leads via interaction and natural interest, rather than employing invasive outbound tactics.

Although it clashes with the tactics of digital marketing, inbound has another main objective: to provide value.

So, even though both inbound marketing and digital marketing have worked towards reaching ideal customers, the methodology and duration of the goals are different. Inbound marketing is more holistic and often uses digital marketing strategies to fulfill its goals, be it through useful blog posts, free learning materials, or activation techniques in advertising.

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To help simplify the inbound marketing methodology, let’s use a case study. Hubspot, one of the leading marketing knowledge hubs that also has developed multiple automation tools, surely deserves praise when it comes to inbound marketing. They even share the gained knowledge in inbound methodology courses and blogs, but the way they pull it off is pretty simple.

The majority of their traffic comes from inbound marketing initiatives, which makes it easier for them to get noticed on search engines.

And, while they do invest in paid media, their organic search capabilities are nearly unrivaled.

They’ve written hundreds of blogs with appropriate call-to-actions and content offerings.

They’ve also invested time and money creating unique landing pages with a simple aesthetic style, short-form text, and a complete lead form.

To top it off, their landing pages provide hundreds of various lead-generating incentives in return for a person’s contact information (to fit their blog post content and the searcher’s purpose).

So, pretty much everything they do in terms of digital marketing has the inbound methodology in mind and is the main long-term goal.


How are digital and inbound marketing different?

Hopefully, we cleared up the main defining features of both digital and inbound marketing. Now, let’s delve deeper into what makes them different (or similar).

  • Visual vs. contextual: Digital marketing relies more on graphic design and the visual value of ads and other marketing messages. On the other hand, inbound marketing has the starting point that the content needs to be useful and connected to each other, more than to look pretty or well-designed.
  • Individual goals vs interconnected goals: Digital marketing efforts can sometimes serve a short-term goal or be designed ad-hoc (like moment marketing or event marketing, sales, etc.). Inbound marketing is a grander scheme where all content is planned beforehand and correlates well.
  • Broader audience vs directly targeted: Even though digital marketing is the best-targeted way of reaching out to your target audience so far, inbound narrows it down even more, appealing only to a specific target audience that is smaller, but much more relevant. So, you don’t approach audiences on every digital channel and you have a smaller audience, but the chances of getting qualified leads are bigger.
  • Harder to measure and smaller ROI vs clearer measuring system and better ROI: Digital marketing happens on many occasions and channels, and is not always planned out long before. That is why it is harder to measure its success and the return on investment is not always large. However, since inbound applies to each and every marketing effort with a common goal, it is easier to measure its effectiveness and success. At the same time, since it gets more qualified leads, it has a bigger return on investment.

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Stefanija Tenekedjieva

September 2, 2021

Journalist turned content writer. Based in North Macedonia, aiming to be a digital nomad. Always loved to write, and found my perfect job writing about graphic design, art and creativity. A self-proclaimed film connoisseur, cook and nerd in disguise.