The traditional buying funnel has evolved to what we now call a buying journey.
The new social path to purchase model has a broad range of significant implications along each stage of the buying process. Here are the implications at the beginning of the journey, prior to the purchase.
Preparing for the Journey
Consumers buy from brands they trust. Multiple studies have shown that consumers will trust other consumers, even those they may not personally know, more than brands.
Increasingly, consumers are choosing to buy from fewer brands. Study results indicate brand preferences play an important role in loyalty behavior. This raises the stakes for marketers; in order to gain new customers they must build trust and find ways to be included in a prospects decision set.
Most any journey requires preparation. The very first, and arguably the most important preparation step, is defining your audience segments. I like to use personas to identify specific segments.
Next, I encourage my clients to map the buying process (I call it a Journey Map) for their product or service because experiences vary significantly based on factors like:
- Length of the buying decision
- Complexity of product or service
- Product or service alternatives
- Prospect’s knowledge of the product or service
Then, a touch point map would be useful. This might be included within the buying process map, it’s important to know every potential contact point where consumers can interact with your brand. This will be very important when considering the role of content.
I have found that most businesses have a pretty good idea of how their prospects eventually become customers. In a rapidly changing marketing landscape, however, it’s a good idea to be curious, continually exploring and asking questions.
Finally, some type of a CRM database will help identify and track the behaviors of the different personae.
Once we have defined the personae, mapped the buying process, and have a CRM database in place,we are ready to start helping our prospects become loyal customers.
Starting the Journey
Reaching the empowered consumer requires a different way of thinking. Traditionally, marketers have sought to target prospects by sending messages designed to raise awareness and stimulate trial.
The goal of this new way of thinking is for the marketer to view the journey from the perspective of the prospect in order to gain a better understanding of the specific challenges and needs along the journey.
This is where the personae can be helpful. Creating an identity for each segment is a valuable way to begin to understand the specific needs, frustrations and behaviors of each segment.
When possible, ask members of these segments questions that will provide additional context for their actions. Here are a few sample questions; there are many others.
- What are their specific pain points?
- What motivates them to have an interest in your product or service?
- Where do they seek information?
- What are their media habits?
- How did our existing customers find us?
- When choosing to buy what factors are most important?
- What kind of language or terms do prospects use to describe what you do?
It’s a good idea to listen and observe behaviors in the social media space. There are free tools that will help filter out the noise and allow you to focus on relevant topics and conversations. One can track specific industry terms, competitor information and references to your own brand.
Getting Noticed, Attracting Attention
Now that the target audience segments are defined, the buying process mapped, and we have a database to capture data, it’s time to create a content strategy.
Owners and marketers can be intimidated by this step. Keep in mind, there is usually a great deal of information available throughout the organization; it just may be in different formats. For example, most businesses have a list of FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions).
The goal of attracting attention is to help people understand how to find, purchase and use your product or service. Now is the time to refer to the buying process map and start to identify the relevant content for each persona keeping in mind that the information needs will vary by channel and their position in the buying cycle.
Many companies are discovering blogging as an effective medium for providing insights and education. If handled properly, this channel can attract, engage and even help convert prospects to customers.
For example, if the buying cycle is lengthy or complicated some “How to” tips can provide invaluable education. Including tips and resources to help consumers compare and evaluate will help build trust. In addition to original content consider including other authoritative resources that would help the prospect arrive at a decision to purchase or use your product or service.
Providing relevant and helpful content can help establish your brand as a thought leader. The key to this positioning is helping vs. selling.
There are many ways social can contribute to drawing prospects into a brand’s digital marketing space. In order to take full advantage of the content strategy I’ve described above, it’s necessary to get the content in front of the right audience at the right time.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) practices can help. There are two significant distinctions, unpaid or organic search and PPC or pay per click search.
Organic search, while unpaid, can require professional assistance in order to identify and appropriately use the correct key words. Search engine algorithms are constantly evolving to try and provide the most relevant search results for the end user.
Pay per click strategies are designed to attract attention to your site through targeted ads on platforms like Google. If you are unfamiliar with this practice it’s probably wise to seek the help of a professional to determine if this strategy might make sense.
Video is increasingly popular strategies for reaching and educating audiences. You Tube, one of the largest video platforms, has a plethora of helpful “how to” videos; many are consumer generated. You Tube content can be optimized for search. Recently sites like Vine have emerged offering very short video snippets.
Images are another powerful tool in the marketing arsenal. The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is increasingly true. For brands that lend themselves to a visual experience platforms like Pinterest and Instagram are used to illustrate the buying experience and these formats are effective ways to connect with prospects emotionally. Here is more information on how to use Instagram to improve your marketing post along with one on how your brand can tell stories on Pinterest.
I even have some advice for those whose prospects may not use social media. My friend Craig Jamieson explains how to use social to reach them.
Role of the Community
The ultimate goal is to create fans willing to share their experience. Word of Mouth isn’t a new phenomenon; technology and the Internet have just raised the stakes.
Owners and marketers can find the notion of community somewhat daunting. Many fear the loss of control and they fear the risk of adverse comments or photos. There is a greater benefit to a well-managed community. As I noted earlier in the post, consumers trust each other far more than the brands they interact with.
With guidelines and appropriate levels of monitoring, most brands that experience glitches are able to recover, if they address issues in an authentic manner.
Platforms like Facebook have become quite popular with brands. Most of the time fans of the brand are sharing and enhancing the brand experience. Facebook status updates can be used to drive traffic to your blog.
For those who market to businesses, LinkedIn can be a valuable community resource through the use of the Group function.
Google Plus offers a similar Communities feature allowing brands to invite and moderate conversations.
In future posts, I’ll address some of the other stops along the buying cycle. Once you have converted a prospect into a customer what do you do? How do you create raving fans?
Let me know if there are specific topics your interested in.