The last few years have seen a new wave breaking in the marketing world. You may be aware of it under different labels, but 'inbound marketing' is an umbrella term for the change.

The bedrock of marketing was always outbound strategy: the print advertisement, the billboard, the commercial on TV or in the cinema (remember going out to the movies?). Market share used to be heavily influenced by how much you could afford to spend on advertising. So the companies most likely to succeed were those who could afford billboards and full page ads. Smaller competitors had to be a lot craftier, the quality of their products or services had to be outstanding and their appeal to niche markets was often their secret weapon. 

Today's customers are much more proactive about seeking out products and services for themselves, empowered by their confidence online. If they want a plumber or a palm tree or a book on rare birds, they're more likely to begin their search on Google before they reach for the yellow pages or walk into a shop. They don't only search online. They compare prices and features. They look at product surveys and access customer reviews.

By the time they email, pick up the phone, or complete the online form on your website, they're more than likely well informed about you, your business and what you have to offer. And they're already inclined to buy your product or use your services. They're a prospect who's generated a lead for you and they've invited you to contact them. You don't have to cold call them. You 'warm call' them. Of course, it's up to you to delight them from there.

Businesses have been quick to recognise the need to connect with the new style of customers. They're making it easy for customers to find them with inbound marketing strategies. Inbound marketing outperforms outbound strategies and is cheaper.

An eConsultancy survey from 2012 found the cost of acquiring a new lead was $346 using outbound marketing strategies, yet only $135 using inbound strategies. So, while larger companies have been quick to spot the trend, many smaller businesses are finding inbound strategies well within their reach and their budget.

The message for your online strategy is: make it easy for customers to find you. Make it enticing to stay and play. Offer takeaways with sufficient value for web-surfers to be happy to exchange their contact details for your white paper or presentation or your podcast. Create opportunities to interact with potential customers so your web presence is less of a billboard and has more potential to personalise future contact.