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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 like 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

It’s generally accepted that good inbound marketing is a combination of three things: demand generation, lead capture and lead nurturing.

Demand generation is powered by content marketing, which in turn provides social media and SEO benefits, among others. Content developed for demand generation activities generally resides on a blog.

Lead capture is deployed using calls-to-action and landing pages that contain a unique value proposition that has no monetary cost to the consumer. Lead nurturing is designed to help 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 like 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.

Buy More Stuff2. 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 others in an attempt 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, lead nurturing is product focused and 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, but 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 and 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-to’s 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 target 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 without free downloads, consumers of the blog content can’t be captured as leads to 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. Elements of inbound marketing are being used in ecommerce today, but the buy now philosophy still reigns supreme. This philosophy is proven to be powerful and prudent, but there remains the learn more philosophy to be integrated and exploited. If you know of any good examples of hybrid inbound ecommerce companies, please share in the comments section below.

Image Credit: Michael Holden

Chad Pollitt

Chad Pollitt

Director of Marketing at digitalrelevance
Chad is a decorated veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and former Army Commander; member of a Forbes Top 100 List and the VP of Marketing at DigitalRelevance. He authored "51 Things Your Mother Taught You About Inbound Marketing" in 2013 and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and LinkedIn Pulse.
Chad Pollitt
Chad Pollitt
Buffer


Content, Inbound Marketing, Strategy | 4 Comments

4 thoughts on “The 3 Types of Inbound Marketing for Ecommerce Businesses

  1. The online retailers who are at the biggest disadvantage are the old school gifts4you123 (dot)com type of sites, selling everything under the sun.

    I think now, more than ever, niche online merchants have a true advantage, IF they take advantage of their unique product knowledge and resources.

    • Jeff:

      Agreed. However, IMO, eventually the the big dogs will start to figure this out and deploy a true hybrid inbound marketing campaign – especially the direction the search engines are pointed.

      @CPollittIU

  2. Hi Chad.
    My name is João Zito Sollberg.I’m the Content Manager of a Brazilian inbound marketing agency called Aotopo (www.aotopo.com.br ).
    I came here to ask your permission to translate and post one of your articles (http://relevance.com/blog/the-3-types-of-inbound-marketing-for-ecommerce-businesses/)
    Your work is a very important reference for our readers and translating it will help those who don’t speak English to understand it.
    Obviously, we always post a link to the original content, to make clear who is the original author, and we believe this the way we’re making good link building and advertising of your post here in Brazil. Thus, without creating duplicate content – here is video from Matt Cutts that prove it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDg2AGRGjLQ
    Could you please tell us if you agree?

  3. Hi Chad,

    I like the idea of using Hybrid inbound marketing, as this type of marketing actually involves both the practices of inbound marketing and product-driven inbound marketing. Traditional inbound marketing helps in drawing new clients or customers for buying and product driven marketing helps in current customers buying more. Thanks Chad for sharing this wonderful post with us. I hope we will be seeing your next post about the new trend of digital marketing.

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