Inbound and digital marketing both are very commonly used terms in global marketing world today. Though both may sound similar, they are a little different from each other. Before we dive down into differences, let’s understand the meaning of each of these terms.

Inbound Marketing

Creating compelling content to attract prospects and customers to your digital properties across different stage of a buyer’s journey such as attract, interest, desire and action is termed as Inbound Marketing.

Inbound marketing, over the last few years, became synonymous with HubSpot as they leveraged it well by creating a whole educational ecosystem around certifications for inbound marketing.

Examples of Inbound Marketing

  • Creating blogs
  • Writing whitepapers, use cases or case studies
  • Creating infographics or eBooks
  • Conducting webinars or Podcasts
  • SEO for any of the asset types mentioned above
  • Affiliate marketing

Outbound Marketing

Traditional approach wherein businesses reach out to customers to sell a product or service is called as Outbound Marketing.

Cold calling for instance is outbound marketing.

Digital Marketing

Every marketing tactic which is online or over the internet could safely be called as Digital Marketing. Using online channels such as website, search, social media or marketing automation to reach your customers are integral components of digital marketing.

Examples of Digital Marketing

  • Running a paid social media campaign on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram
  • Paid search or google ads campaign to drive leads
  • Paid search campaign to drive webinar registrations
  • SEO for any of the asset types mentioned above

Ten Differences between Inbound and Digital Marketing


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Difference 1: Broader vs Methodology

Digital marketing is broader as it encompasses everything in the digital marketing world. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is focussed around the methodology used to create compelling content across different stages of your buyer’s journey (Attract, Convince, Convert and Delight for example)

Difference 2: Short Vs Long Term

Digital marketing is helpful in addressing short term goals such as immediate leads this quarter using paid search, inbound marketing on the other hand, is more strategic and requires more time and efforts including joining the dots between different stages of your buyers’ journey.

Difference 3: Push vs Pull Marketing

Inbound marketing is attention focussed and pull form of marketing while digital marketing could be anything between push and pull.

For example, writing a blog is meant to attract customers on your website – it is pull marketing or inbound marketing in this case, however, when you start advertising the same blog through google ads to reach your potential customers, it then, becomes a push form of marketing (or digital marketing tactic as a whole)

Difference 4: Objective difference

Digital marketing is all about reaching your customers and prospects through digital media such as website, search, social media, emails or publisher networks, while Inbound marketing is all about attracting your customers and then converting and retaining them thereafter.

Difference 5: Consumer Behaviour

Inbound marketing is intent driven and based upon the customers need at any given point of time. Digital marketing may or may not be intent based, for example, a paid search campaign on google may try to push a product or services related to the keyword being searched and not necessarily the exact product being searched. Inbound on the other hand, will show the most relevant web page for that very keywords through organic search results.

Difference 6: GDPR Friendliness

On a lighter note, anything intent based or user-consent based is safer than a pushed information in this era of privacy sensitive regulations across the globe. Inbound marketing is more GDPR friendly than digital marketing on those lines.

Difference 7: Advertising vs No Advertising

Digital advertising is part and parcel of digital marketing. Inbound marketing has nothing to do with digital advertising.

A google ad is digital marketing and not inbound marketing for instance.

Difference 8: Tools and Technology

Since digital marketing is much wider in scope, the set of tools including marketing technology stack is vast and numerous, Inbound marketing on the other hand, will have limited set of tools.

Difference 9: Career Prospects

If you are an Inbound Marketing professional, you will see lesser money spends and may focus more on SEO, blog, Email marketing and so on. You won’t get sacked because you didn’t rank on one day. (rare to happen at least for a web page in promotion)

Due to the larger piece of advertising money, a digital marketing guy will see more budget and money expenditure in his or her lifetime. You are responsible for money you advertise with. You can get sacked if you burn up the money without results😊

Difference 10: Term Awareness among Hiring community and HR Managers

As of today, on LinkedIn, subject to the way LinkedIn algorithms work, when you search by keyword “Inbound Marketing” there are a total of 11,339 job results (worldwide) whereas when you do the same with the keyword “digital marketing” you notice a Whopping 133,518 job listings as such.

We could safely assume that the hiring community at least likes “digital marketing” more than the word “inbound marketing”.

It is also true when you deep dive into each job description, an SEO job without any money involvement may be listed under “Digital Marketing” for instance.

Results for “Inbound Marketing” job search on LinkedIn
results for inbound marketing

Results for “Digital Marketing” job search on LinkedIn

results for digital marketing

Conclusion Thoughts

Whilst there are few notable differences as we discussed above, both, inbound and digital marketing are important for business and they do complement each other, it is more about the term being used and its context of being used. For example, a user finding your video on YouTube (by typing keywords) is inbound marketing, but when you are asking them to subscribe your channel for subsequent videos, it is digital marketing. The whole process from creation of video content to asking them to subscribe and then pushing more videos to their inbox is inbound first and then digital marketing, both.

Having done both the forms of marketing and personal inclination towards paid advertising, I feel paid advertising is more challenging as it matters by every frame of a second when you deal with your competition in digital marketing. A paid search campaign on google requires real-time changes or bids for instance, I never get the same adrenaline rush while doing SEO to attract inbound traffic, otherwise.

Which one do you like the most?

Can you think of any more differences between inbound and digital marketing, let me know in the comments section below.



Neeraj is a Tech Marketer with 9+ years of experience in B2B Sales and Marketing. At StepToInbound, Neeraj writes about Website, Search, Social Media and Marketing Automation practices.

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