What's the Difference Between Digital Marketing and Inbound Marketing?

What's the Difference Between Digital Marketing and Inbound Marketing?

Attracting new customers online is more difficult than ever. With a huge flood of noise to sift through, customers are overwhelmed by choice. This means that they're not passively sitting by and waiting for your brand to find them and ignite a spark - they're looking for answers themselves and finding your competitors.

On the flip side, many brands have learned that more isn't better. Getting 50+ leads a week is great...until you actually start sifting through them and realizing that between the solicitations and bots, these leads are low value and out of market.

Digital marketing and inbound marketing are both online efforts to attract customers, but they're not the same. Digital marketing focuses on pushing your message in front of potential customers. Inbound marketing focuses on them finding you during their research. Let's explore the differences between these two more in-depth and how you can utilize them both to start attracting your customers.

What is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing is a broad term for any marketing done online. This includes search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, pay-per-click advertising (PPC), social media marketing and email marketingThink of digital marketing as the tactics, not the playbook.

A digital marketing strategy is often focused around brand awareness and lead generation. This relies on pushing a brand in front of as many eyes as possible, to try and play the odds. While a typical digital marketing strategy like this can still be useful for brands, it's not particularly effective at generating sales and revenue.  

Digital marketing is the how of delivering a message, not the what and why. Inbound marketing is the actual message being delivered and the purpose behind it.

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is customer-oriented and customer-driven. Simply put, inbound marketing starts with valuable content that your target audience wants, instead of just advertising your services. These content assets often take the form of guides, quizzes, webinars or ebooks.

The key here is that these are not pushed broadly in front of as many eyeballs as possible - instead, they're designed for potential customers to find as they search online based on their pain points. Inbound marketing is more focused on self-serving and education, rather than brand awareness.

Phases of Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing works by having a deep understanding of your ideal customers and the journeys they take. Broadly, this can be broken down into three core phases of research and decision-making:

GDD Flywheel GraphicAttract Stage

During this stage, a buyer knows they have a pain point, but they don't have a solution. Earn your people’s attention, don’t force it. Attract visitors with useful content and eliminate barriers as they try to learn about your company.

See it in action:

"Example Exavior" is homeowner in Minnetonka. His parents are aging and he wants them to move in with him, but his home currently only has one guest room and it would be cramped. He's open to renovation.

Exavior would be searching on Google and YouTube with phrases like:

  • Modifying home for elderly parents
  • How to accommodate elderly parents
  • Space-sharing options for living with aging parents
  • How to add liveable space to home

He's looking for educational resources that will aid him in his research, such as ebooks, webinars and guides.

Engage Stage

A buyer is now aware of the cause of their pain point and several potential solutions and they are actively looking for a solution. Forge relationships, don’t just close deals. Enable buyers to engage with you on their preferred timeline and channels. Tie sales incentives to customer success not just close rate.

See it in action:

Exavior has determined a few options for expanding his space, and he's trying to determine the best option and how to execute his expansion dreams. Now, he'll be looking for resources like:

  • Comparison guides
  • Budgeting and scheduling tools
  • Specific service info
  • Vendor comparisons

Delight Stage

A buyer has chosen your brand as their solution. But their journey doesn't end there. Tie your success to your customers. Shift resources to be more effectively distributed throughout the entire customer experience.

See it in action:

Exavior decided to remodel his basement and worked with a local design/build firm after determining through their educational resources that he needed more design support than a contractor. Now that he's become a satisfied customer, he's primed and ready to promote the company. They can keep him delighted and engaged with continuing resources like relevant blogs, customer surveys, and newsletter emails.

Related Content: How to Get Better Leads Through Better Inbound Marketing in 2024

Getting Started With Inbound Marketing

Digital marketing is better for brand awareness while inbound marketing is better for qualified leads. Qualified leads convert into actual revenue and will continue to generate more revenue as ambassadors for your brand. If you're ready to start getting more valuable leads, get started with inbound marketing.

Inbound Marketing eBook Cover Graphic-1

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Inbound Campaigns

Discover how to create effective inbound campaigns that drive traffic, engagement and qualified leads. Learn best practices for implementing, promoting, managing, and reporting on campaigns results. 


BizzyWeb is a Minneapolis-based digital marketing and web design agency that helps companies get the high-quality leads they need to grow and thrive. Our tactics include inbound marketing, SEO, advertising, web design, content creation and sales automation. We are an accredited HubSpot Platinum Partner and we offer full-service HubSpot onboarding, enablement and strategy for new and current users.

Dave Meyer
Author: Dave Meyer
Dave Meyer is President of BizzyWeb. Dave has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and communications and has presented digital marketing topics to thousands of people across the US and Canada.