How do your customers find you? Chances are, you have relied upon a combination of old-fashioned tactics up until this point. “Inbound marketing” might be only a hazy term on the horizon of your industry knowledge… or you might never have heard of it at all! But according to many experts, inbound marketing should become an essential part of your toolbox in 2016.

Future past sign postSo, first of all, what is inbound marketing? At its core, inbound marketing is a collection of methods that help prospective customers discover your brand. That probably sounds like some of the things you’ve already been doing, but it’s important to remember that as the digital world evolves, customers become more and more sophisticated. Our marketing tactics must evolve to keep up with their needs and preferences.

So how does inbound marketing work? If you’ve heard of content marketing – and perhaps you’re already utilizing some form of content marketing in your campaign – then you’re already familiar with one form of inbound marketing. Publishing original content on your blog boosts your search engine optimization (SEO), which helps your audience find your website via Google or other search engines. Your content generates leads which can be converted to customers.

You can also offer some type of content – a free download or newsletter, for example – in exchange for the prospective customer’s email address. For a relatively small investment of your time and resources (to create the freebie content), you can gain the contact information of hundreds or thousands of leads. Now the ball is in your court, and you can contact these prospects more directly.

But inbound marketing encompasses other marketing methods as well. Social media marketing helps you connect with your audience via platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn. By putting a human face on your company, you can gain exposure for your brand and deepen your relationship with customers.

Why is inbound marketing essential to your strategy? As we mentioned, internet users are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Many are wary of obvious advertisements, and some will even go out of their way to avoid ads. That’s not to say that advertisements shouldn’t play a role in your overall strategy, just that inbound marketing should be used to balance your campaign and keep it relevant. Otherwise, you could be missing a large portion of your target demographic.

Inbound marketing is also more cost effective than advertising (or “outbound marketing”). According to one Hubspot study, inbound marketing cost 62 percent less than outbound marketing to gain the same number of leads.

Why is that? Consider how people use the internet. They use it to search for information… And all you have to do is provide that which they already seek! Their defenses (against advertising) are down when they are in control of their digital experience. That leaves room for you to swoop in, provide the information they need, and grab their attention while you’re at it.

The competition is already doing it. Google any keyword related to your business, and you will probably find that many other businesses in your industry are already online. With the increasing popularity of internet use over all other modern forms of communication, it is unlikely that a business without a digital presence will survive very long.

On the other hand, many of those competitors might only have a basic website and rudimentary social media presence so far. By acting now, and adopting a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy, you can direct more attention to your brand and grab your share of the market.