In a day and age where tactics like "free shipping" and "lowest prices" are no longer a way to differentiate your eCommerce shop as they've become the standard for online shopping, how can your eCommerce site stand out and build your loyal and engaged audience?
The answer is Inbound Marketing. In today's article, we are going to take a look at how Inbound Marketing is making a huge impact in eCommerce and how you can start making that impact in your shop.
What Exactly Is Inbound Marketing?
I think there are a lot of misconceptions of what Inbound Marketing really is. Here are some of the common responses I hear when asking a group, "What is Inbound Marketing?"
Well, the truth is that all of these are correct; however, those are also only a few of the many pieces of the puzzle.
Inbound Marketing is really comprised of three main elements: strategy & integration, marketing tactics and culture.
1. Inbound Marketing Strategy & Integration
The Inbound Marketing philosophy, on a high level, is to focus on attracting people who are actively seeking (and excited for) information about your industry. It's about helping people answer questions and give small solutions to the questions they may have and integrating all your marketing efforts to incorporate this philosophy, in order to help those people through their buying journey.
This strategy is free from pushing messages out and interrupting people when they aren't interested in learning. This is basically the complete opposite of what we traditionally think of for marketing (banner ads, sales focused emails, TV and print ads).
2. Inbound Marketing Tactics
When the rubber hits the road and you move to implementation, tactics like SEO, social, email, blogging and premium content shine through. All of this must be framed within the genuine, transparent and helpful methodologies of Inbound Marketing. Additionally, all of these tactics are interconnected and should flow together in a coherent way, as opposed to being fragmented and treated as separate activities (which is how most companies treat them).
3. Inbound Marketing Culture
One last point of mention is that Inbound Marketing does extend far beyond methodologies and tactics. It also extends into the culture of your organization. In order to have a truly successful Inbound Marketing program, it must be fully embraced by the entire organization and get everyone involved.
This is probably the hardest thing for larger organizations to do because they are slow to change and treat each department as their own silo. However, moving forward, this is a change that must be embraced. I could talk all day about this and well save this for a discussion another day.
The First Thing eCommerce Marketers Need to Realize...
One of the first hurdles the marketing team at an eCommerce website faces when it comes to Inbound Marketing is the concept of a pre-transactional conversion. eCommerce sites are so narrowly focused on converting visitors into customers.
Obviously, focusing in on how to increase and improve the sales conversion process is critical. The problem is this really only focuses on the 1 to 5 percent of your visitors who are ready to buy. Take a step back and broaden their approach to encompass both those ready to buy and the 97 percent of visitors who are still looking for information.
An Example of Pre-Transactional Conversions
One example of a pre-transactional conversion comes in the form of premium content offers. Let's say you run a successful eCommerce website that sells fitness equipment. One of the very common questions you get from your audience is, "What workouts can I do while traveling and have no equipment?"
Being the smart Inbound Marketer you are, you decide to create a 40-minute instructional video that explains ten different workouts you can do while on the road. The video is purely informational and really brings amazing value to the people watching it. The only thing you ask is that they fill out a quick five question informational form to get access to watch it. Because your offer has great value, they convert on it and become a top-funnel lead in your system.
Once that user has converted on that video, they are added into a lead nurturing campaign where they are sent additional emails with even more great information about working out on the road. They get more content offers, you start interacting with them on social media and you even mail them a free t-shirt for sharing your blog content so often.
Then, later down their journey as they get closer to the bottom of the funnel, you introduce to them the idea that adding in some basic, small equipment such as exercise bands and jump ropes would really amp up their workouts while on the road.
You send them another "Working Out While Traveling" instructional video, but now you've incorporated some basic equipment into it (equipment your company sells online). At the end of the video, you send them a promotional offer to buy the equipment featured in the video at a packaged, discounted price and with a travel bag ideal for traveling.
Now, you've engaged a person who's excited and open to the idea of making a purchase. You've educated them and given them value even; if they don't happen to convert on this, they are now part of your community.
How Can eCommerce Sites Start Leveraging Inbound Marketing?
Once you've bought into Inbound Marketing and recognized the pre-transactional conversion, the next step is to think about how to implement an Inbound Marketing strategy within your eCommerce site.
My argument would be to first start with the culture portion of the equation and work with others within your organization to break down some of those departmental walls, to build a culture around Inbound Marketing. This is no easy task. However, to do Inbound Marketing correctly, this truly is the first step.
Next, it's time to start setting up your Inbound Marketing strategy. I'd first encourage you to take time to really research and learn more about the Inbound Marketing philosophy so you have a clear idea moving forward.
In my last ClickZ column, "Creating an Inbound Marketing Content Strategy,"I overviewed the general first steps to creating an Inbound Marketing strategy, starting with persona creation and content mapping.
After you've learned about Inbound Marketing philosophy and have created a solid Inbound Marketing strategy focused around your personas, you can then move into the tactics to make the magic happen.
Examples of eCommerce Inbound Marketing Tactics
Jack Threads is a daily deals, insider club-style ecommerce site in the street and urban clothing industry. Since their launch, they have exploded in popularity and are growing month over month.
A few months back, Jack Threads expanded their offerings and launched "The Crosby Press," which offers their audience fashion tips and upcoming style trends.
Rogue Fitness is a manufacturer and retailer of fitness equipment for the functional fitness industry. Their products are endorsed and used by Crossfit, a huge fitness organization (and methodology) that's sweeping the country.
Rogue does a great job job of bringing Inbound Marketing concepts to life throughout their marketing and across all channels. An example is their blog, which helps educate and inform potential customers. Another is their Youtube channel, which offers unique and original content that teaches and entertains their audience and is free of intrusive sales messages:
On Facebook, Rogue regularly posts pictures submitted by their loyal and dedicated audience, offering ideas and advice on how to best setup your house for fitness training. Often, the posts are teasers for longer form content on their blog.
These are just two of thousands of examples of eCommerce sites that are leveraging the methodologies and tactics of Inbound Marketing to help grow their business.
My goal with this article was to help open eCommerce marketers eyes to using Inbound Marketing as a strategy and get the gears in your head turning a bit. There is so much more to talk about when it comes to both Inbound Marketing and also how to apply it to eCommerce.
If you have questions or would like to add to the conversation, please post in the comments below!
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Luke is an industry leading inbound marketing specialist and an expert in progressive strategies integrating content, relationships, automation, and communities to drive lead generation and build brands people love.
He is the Director of Inbound Marketing at Savvy Panda where he helps lead web and marketing success stories for medium to Fortune 100 companies. Additionally, Luke is also the head instructor of Master Inbound, a comprehensive online inbound marketing training course. Find Luke on Google Plus.
March 19, 2014