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Permission Marketing, Inbound Marketing & Content Marketing: What’s the Difference?


Every year we seem to find a new form of marketing. Persuasion, loyalty and search could all be suffixed with ‘marketing’ and be seen as ‘genres’ of marketing.

Largely due to the publishing of key books on permission, inbound and content marketing over the last decade or so, matched with increasing usage of the terms on blogs and social media, these particular ‘genres’ of marketing have become prominent. But they are actually all very closely related, and could even be perceived as one of the same thing.

Google Trend for Content Marketing, Permission Marketing and Inbound Marketing

Inbound and Content Marketing are particularly on the rise.

Permission Marketing

Permission Marketing by Seth Godin Out of the three, Permission Marketing seems like the odd one out. Seth Godin’s book largely focuses on direct email marketing, and rarely references content.

Permission Marketing explains the method of obtaining permission from potential customers as they move through the sales process. For instance, a person might initially sign up for a newsletter, then give more permission for contacting and more personal data as they build a relationship with the prospective company. Much of Godin’s treatise is based upon Don Pepper’s and Martha Roger’s earlier work The One to One Future.

Godin sees this method as polarised from traditional ‘interruptive’ marketing methods, such as TV, which are failing as people have less attention for them.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing by Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan

Following on from Godin, Inbound Marketing was popularised by Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan the founders of HubSpot, and published as a book in 2009. The Wikipedia entry for Inbound Marketing interestingly opens with:
For the synonymous term coined by Seth Godin, see Permission Marketing
However, the two terms aren’t quite synonymous. Rather than discussing levels of permission and the access of customer data, Inbound Marketing focuses on different forms of content marketing, and how ‘remarkable’ content can be used instead of advertising in the sales process. Still, there are two very clear similarities to Godin’s earlier work:

‘Outbound’ (interruptive in Godin’s terms) methods of marketing are failing, and ‘inbound’ is a preferable method for customer acquisition.

Inbound ‘earns’ the attention of customers, rather than interrupting without permission. Thus it is similar to Godin’s increasing levels of permission marketing.

Content Marketing

While content marketing has possibly been in existence since the beginning of human trade, it has seen increased usage in the last two years. Its rise as a term has much to do with the proliferation of content and sources of distribution on the web, and in this increasingly fragmented landscape, the requirement of a ‘content strategy’ has come to the fore.

There is actually very little distinction between the terms ‘Content Marketing’ and ‘Inbound Marketing’, as both describe the use of content, rather than use of advertising, to reach consumers. However, content marketing is rather more loosely defined, and is not always used antagonistically to ‘outbound’ or ‘interruptive’ marketing methods. For instance, Pepsi Max spends millions of dollars a year on advertising, but also appreciates new methods of reaching consumers – for instance, with this online video of ‘Uncle Drew’ playing basketball.

Thus: Permission Marketing, Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing are all very similar terms, but there are slight nuances between them.

This is a guest post from James Carson – a Content Strategy consultant based in London. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+


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