A few years ago few had heard of (nor understood) the principles behind Inbound Marketing and how it reflects the changes in human consumtion of information that have happened over the course of the last 10 years. Hence, back then we decided among other things to write a blog piece about it, explaining inbound marketing in short. Now it's time again, but this time it's to explain how inbound marketing enhances ecommerce, and why it's relevant throughout the full customer lifecycle.
First of all, for those who are new to the principles of inbound marketing, it consists of four phases: attract strangers to become visitors, then convert those visitors into leads by offering them what they are looking for in exchange for a bit of knowledge about who they are. The third step is to use this knowledge to provide relevant support and guidance in order to gain more knowledge and trust to shorten the path to ultimately close the contact as a customer. And last but not least, it's very important to remember to delight existing relations in order to turn them into promoters of your brand.
Now, how does this relate to ecommerce?
Without a steady stream of visitors there is no need to focus efforts on convert, close or delight (of course!) so in that sense this stage is the most important for any online actor, those of you who operate ecommerce business included.
To drive short term growth (or if you are a market leader with an already very high market penetration for your ecommerce business) it's easier to gain immediate impact with paid advertising than to invest in inbound marketing activities. However, to achieve successful long term growth given the fact that we humans have changed our purchase process patterns, it's essential for attracting strangers. To produce and publish relevant content through a business blog is key here, and to use offsite communities (a.k.a. social media) to further spread this content. Over time the payoff for these "slower off the ground" tactics are undeniable as shown for example in HubSpot's 2014 State of Inbound Marketing report.
Traditionally in ecommerce the conversion step has been the point of purchase, i.e. when the customer goes through the last step of the checkout process and submits their order. With inbound marketing this thinking changes, and convert becomes something else than simply completing the ecommerce transaction. And what in fact, then?
Now, instead of only thinking about closing the sale, with inbound marketing a world of "micro-conversions" open up. They are the first step in building a relationship with the potential customer (or a way to delight and strenghenting it with existing customers, see further on). Here we should be using calls-to-actions to make sure we are driving those micro transactions, three of the obvious ones are subscribers to our blog, signups to promotional mailings and wishlists.
However, this is also where we need a lot of great knowledge content for people to find and consume in exchange for information about who they are and their interests. This is done through "landing pages", i.e. pages which explain what it is you will get, what you will learn and what you need to give away about yourself in order to consume it. The content can be how-to-guides, reports, comparison charts, educational films, webinars. Each piece of content typically have their own place in the attract, convert, close, and delight phases, but don't think too much about that at this point (it's a separate topic of its own!). Just remember that these micro-conversions can very well be the difference between a one-time visitor you never see again, and a visitor that becomes a customer or even a promoter of your brand in a not so distant future.
So, we just concluded that the point of sales has moved on to become the essential part of the "close" phase. Does this mean that it's the only thing happening here? Of course not. We can (and should!) use inbound marketing tactics to support it.
Think about all that knowledge you just gained about your contacts in the "conversion" step and imagine what you could do with it in order to create that conviction that you are the preferred supplier to do business with. By providing even more relevant knowledge content to drive your relationship deeper, you can significantly reduce the purchase decision timeframe, and at the same time make sure that competitors don't catch up. The important difference compared to "old school" outbound marketing is that this phase would traditionally only be about pushing random, or at best broadly targeted, "category style" messages that had little relevance to the contact and their needs at this given moment. (One example is a collegue of ours who as a "thank you" for actually closing and buying $60 000 car, one week later received a newsletter from the dealership pushing a $1 500 discount on a new car when scrapping his "old" one....)
So you've moved your stranger to visitor and customer, that's great! It's then time to nurture that relationship into where it's so strong that the customer in fact becomes a promoter of your brand. It's time to improve life time value of customers and have them bring in new business too!
The key metrics for delight are related to customer satisfaction and promotion (like the Net Promoter Score), or transactional data like time to repeat purchase and of course the churn rate of the customer file. Depending on what business you are in all of those values can vary dramatically, but inbound marketing can be applied in the same manner. What we want to do is to confirm for our buyer that he or she has made the right decision, and for that matter we want to make sure that they can optimise their return of investment. Again, content and timing for it is everything. Use the blog, use your offsite touch points and use customer service to spread knowledge to make sure customers know everything they should know about the product (or service) they just bought.
Think about it this way: Do you happen to like a piece of software like e.g. excel or powerpoint? Are you a promoter? If you aren't, chances are you have only used about 2% of the features of the software, excluding many of the shortcuts and smart things built into them to make them more useful (than they are without that knowledge). Yet, how much does Microsoft spend on traditional advertising compared to creating great content learning users all the little tricks and tweaks that make the software so much more effective and easy to use? Don't do it like it's always been done, change the game by thinking the inbound way!
Do you want to find out more about inbound marketing and how it fits together with your ecommerce tactics, then don't hesitate to get in touch with us at Zooma!