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The 3 Types of Inbound Marketing for eCommerce Businesses

Date published: October 22, 2012
Last updated: October 22, 2012

The inbound marketing formula is relatively easy to articulate for B2B and B2C non-eCommerce companies. However, defining a good inbound marketing strategy for eCommerce companies isn't quite so easy.

Would inbound marketing work for large eCommerce sites such as Zappos, Newegg, and Target? How about niche eCommerce sites that only sell a few products to a targeted group of consumers? Can inbound work for eCommerce sites that peddle commodities?

Non-eCommerce Inbound Marketing

Good inbound marketing is a combination of three things: demand generation, lead capture, and lead nurturing.

Content marketing powers demand generation. This in turn provides social media and SEO benefits, among others. Content developed for demand generation activities generally resides on a blog.

Calls-to-action and landing pages are two of the most-used means for lead capture. These contain a unique value proposition that has no monetary cost to the consumer. Effective lead nurturing should guide leads through their buying decision process over time.

Types of Inbound eCommerce

Since not all eCommerce sites have the same sales cycle, sell the same products/services, or target the same audience, the inbound marketing description above may not appear to strategically align with all eCommerce companies.

1. Traditional Inbound (Learn More/Buy Later)

For some eCommerce companies, the strategy outlined above aligns perfectly with its goals, product/service offerings, and target market. Niche companies such as Lauren's Hope and GoodbyeCrutches utilize traditional inbound marketing. They shift the focus from buy now to learn more.

Lauren's Hope was able to grow its year-over-year sales by 40 percent in 2010 and attracted over 1,300 blog subscribers in five months. GoodbyeCrutches experienced a 307 percent increase in leads and drove a 43 percent lead to customer rate from direct traffic in eight months.

2. Product-Driven Inbound (Buy Now)

Amazon and TigerDirect are good examples of product-driven inbound. Rather than having robust blogs that publish lots of high-quality, problem-solving content, these companies offer up lots of product images, videos, reviews, and robust descriptions on their product pages. Their focus is definitely on buy now rather than learn more.

The content described above is distributed via search, social channels, and other channels. Its purpose is to generate demand. Lead capture via an intangible value proposition is relatively gracile, but newsletter signups, mobile app downloads, coupons, and wish lists all serve as free intangible value propositions to capture non-customers as leads.

Lead nurturing with product-driven inbound marketing isn’t very stratified. In the cases where the sales cycle is very short, like commodities, there’s no need to segment leads by where they reside in the sales cycle. Generally, a focus on products is used to generate leads. It sits at the bottom of the funnel (like coupons, specials, product announcements, and contests).

Product-driven inbound campaigns use the principles behind lead nurturing for re-marketing. This is an attempt to get current customers to buy more, rather than nurturing leads to buy for the first time. Re-marketing campaigns start after the sale as opposed to before it.

3. Hybrid Inbound (Learn More or Buy Now)

This type of inbound marketing is an equal mix of buy now and learn more (traditional inbound and product-driven inbound). Admittedly, it’s hard to find an example with equal parts of both, but some companies come close.

Zappos has several very popular blogs and a robust social media presence. Target has its Pulse blog and is very active on most major social media channels, including LinkedIn. Shindigz, a party supply company, has a very active blog and distributes not only its written content but its rich multi-media content throughout many social channels.

These eCommerce companies are close to hybrid inbound. However, they’re not there yet because the learn more part takes a back seat to the buy now. This is evident because their blogs are hard to find. Links to information aren’t prominently displayed. Their blogs also lack specific problem-solving top-of-the-funnel calls-to-action pointing towards intangible value propositions.

Zappos could offer up guides and how-tos for download on its blog. Target could prominently place a couponing guide call-to-action. Lastly, Shindigz could offer downloads available for every holiday. These companies are already producing and publishing problem-solving content, but it’s on blogs that are hard to find and none of it is gated with a form.

The Case for Hybrid Inbound Marketing

Building and growing a community through blogging and social media is great, but failing to capture non-buying community members to nurture is a missed opportunity. According to data presented by HubSpot, 57-75 percent of all shopping carts are abandoned for a variety of reasons before the sale is finalized.

Intangible, problem-solving content in the form of a gated download can help brands earn trust and reduce cart abandonment through expert thought leadership. It also allows companies to segment and targets those conversions in a more effective way, which can incrementally grow sales by bringing to harvest the brand’s social and blogging communities.

High-cost, high-value items lend themselves to copious amounts of research (tires, major appliances, hot tubs, cars). In these cases, hybrid inbound marketing with robust lead nurturing can help expedite the buyer’s decision.

Robust blogs build expert thought leadership as well, but consumers of blog content can't be captured without free downloads. They can't be marketed to later unless they buy or start the process of buying. This decreases potential website conversions and results in missed opportunities.

Inbound marketing has proven its worth to much of the non-eCommerce world. eCommerce today uses elements of inbound marketing. However, the buy now philosophy still reigns supreme. This philosophy is powerful and prudent. The learn-more philosophy is still effective, though, and also ought to be integrated.

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