The way we buy products and services has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. We all remember when cigarette companies told us that pregnant women craved their products, that doctors recommended them, and they were great weight-loss.
Before the turn of the century, customers interacted with brands largely on the company’s terms. Consumers had to wait for businesses to reach out to them with information about the latest products. There were clear touch points that marketers and salespeople could identify to keep the customer engaged and moving forward.
Advertisers told us what we needed, how to feel and think, and we took their advice. If you’ve watched the US TV series, Mad Men, you’d know that this is where the Don Drapers of the world thrived.
This type of marketing is called an ‘outbound marketing strategy,’ which is any kind of marketing where a company initiates the conversation by sending its message out to an audience. Ads largely focused on product features, and were targeted to customers who were ready to buy.
The historic buyer journey
In these times, the buyer journey – which is the process that buyers go through to become aware of, evaluate and and purchase a new product or service – was simple and linear. The advertiser made the first move. Typical ads of the time would centre around feature words that got men excited, such as “Performance, power, style”.
And this journey was fairly quick – from first touch point to sale could happen in a matter of days or weeks.
Today, 67% of the buyer journey takes place online
Today, for the modern buyer, this has all changed. Now, around 67 percent of the journey takes place online, where the customer is in control.
We expect to receive personalised care and information on our schedule. This new journey is largely in the hands of the customers through the first few stages – it’s the job of the brand to just supply the information and be ready to meet the customer where they are.
This strategy is called ‘inbound marketing’, and is focused on attracting customers through relevant and helpful content and adding value at every stage in your customer’s buying journey. With inbound marketing, potential customers find you through channels like blogs, search engines, and social media.
Because, we know that people don’t impulse buy anymore. They do research. They ask for recommendations, they visit websites, they check their social media, all before the brand has any idea that they want to buy. So, instead of a linear buyer journey, it’s a messy and chaotic buyer journey with multiple touch-points happening over weeks and months, even years.
If fact, a recent case study by Google and data research company Luth Research found that one car buying journey by a woman named Stacey included over 900 digital touch points – 71% of which occurred on a mobile device. Within that time, countless intent-driven micro-moments occurred when the consumer turned to her devices to answer a question or to address a need. The buyer explored 14 brands, conducted 139 Google searches, looked at 89 images, watched 14 YouTube videos, had 69 dealer interactions and 186 manufacturer interactions.
This makes life extremely hard for a marketer.
The modern buyer journey
And it’s why content marketing is such a big trend in the industry. If we break down today’s buyer journey, it looks like this:
The buyer, let’s call him Mark, has expressed symptoms of a problem or opportunity. He doesn’t realise that he has a problem. He knows that something’s not quite right, but he’s not sure what that something is. He’s interested in researching possible solutions to his problem, but he’s not limited in the brands or products that he might be open to. Customers like Mark are researching online, visiting social media pages.
Mark has defined the problem or opportunity and now he needs to solve it. This type of buyer is still early in their journey and not too confined in their decisions. They’re also using search, social and paid ads to learn more about the companies, but their queries will likely reflect their existing research, such as asking questions about products and brands.
Mark has decided on the solution or strategy that solves his pain point and is ready to make a purchase decision. He’s narrowed down his possibilities to just a brand or two. His searches reflect his final decision making, and often these last searches include keywords comparing one brand to another. Customers might be meeting with sales people or emailing back and forth.
(Otherwise known as the post purchase or promotion stage). Mark is happy with his purchase decision but would like to learn more about how to use the product or service to its fullest. Mark becomes an advocate of the brand through word of mouth. This is when the brand needs to focus on turning this first-time customer into a returning one. Companies might continue to contact the customer to see how well the product or service is working for them to help them troubleshoot any struggles. Customer searches might focus on answers to common questions or learning how to maximise usage of the product.
Using content marketing to support the buyer’s journey
In order to meet the modern buyer’s expectations, you must be at the ready to supply the information that your customer needs when and where they need it. And ultimately, if you want to convert your customer, your content marketing tactics must help buyers through the journey. So what sort of content should you be producing, for example, when is it appropriate to use technical information and when is it all about case studies?
Firstly, understanding how the journey influences buyer behaviour can help you channel your efforts more effectively. Consider what your customers need to move to the next stage. For example, in the awareness stage, you want to be giving your customer the tools they need to move from a symptom of a problem to recognising the problem and considering your brand.
Everything starts with awareness. It’s about convincing them through relevant, interesting and entertaining content.
Market until your buyer is content
Want to know what’s relevant for your industry and target market at each stage of the buyer journey? Reach out to our team today for a cup of coffee and chat.