A key part of content marketing is ensuring the right message and offer reaches the right person at the right time in their buying process so you can motivate the right action or response.
To put it in even simpler terms – when some approaches your business for the first time and asks what you offer, it is more appropriate to explain what you offer and the benefits enjoyed by your customers versus responding with “Buy now and save 50%!”
They don’t know who you are or what you offer or what benefits they are going to enjoy.
The Consumer Buying Process
Consumers go through a six-stage buying process that includes the following stages:
Problem Recognition: Sometimes the problem is identified by the consumer (“My car just broke down again.” Then, there can be times when the business can “create a problem” by pointing out asking questions that make the consumer think about a situation and decide “I need that.”
With content marketing, a business is going to be focused on topics that help the consumer identify the need. For example, when your car breaks down, you might start to think about repairing the car or replacing the car. Effective content in this stage is typically educational in nature – for example, explaining the benefits of repairing a car and avoiding car payments or replacing the car to avoid repair costs while also enjoying the benefits of new features like Internet access.
Information Search: Once a problem has been recognized, the next step is to search for information. The consumer with the car problems will start looking for a garage that can diagnose the problem and offer an estimate as well as shopping around for options for a replacement vehicle.
During this phase, content marketing is educational and could focus on customer testimonials and case studies that show how repairing or replacing has worked for others that did business with your business.
Evaluation of Alternatives: During this stage, the consumer starts to put together their selection criteria and evaluating the identified options and alternatives. And the ideal content for this stage is focused on helping them make the best decision – so you recommend factors for them to consider.
Checklists and ‘questions to ask’ worksheets that walk them through a process of focusing on factors that should lead them to your business if they are, indeed, a qualified buyer. For example, the car dealer might focus on factors that help the consumer focus on the maintenance and warranty coverage that’s available. The repair shop might focus on the long-term commitment of financing a replacement vehicle and the interest-free financing offered for repairs.
Purchase Decision: The consumer has gathered and analyzed information, explored options and are deciding whether or not to make a purchase decision – or in our example, whether or not to repair the car, replace the car, get rid of the car and use public transportation or carpool.
This is when your content marketing focuses on reminding them of the need or problem recognized in stage one, and offering reasons why your business is their best option. If they decide to go with you, great. But if they decide not to buy from you, remember to retarget them for future needs.
Purchase: This is the actual purchase process – a process that needs to be easy, straightforward and effective or you risk losing the sale.
Let me share a car related example. A friend made the decision to purchase a used car from a dealership after going through all the previous stages but when it came time to address the paperwork, the dealer dropped the ball.
The dealer started suggesting add-ons like tire coverage and on-road assistance which caused my friend to wonder if those options weren’t already part of their auto insurance policy.
This doubt caused my friend to pause and rethink the decision. Then the dealer came back with several financing options that raised more questions and caused my friend to rethink the wisdom of the decision to purchase the car.
The lesson here is this – make sure your purchasing process is fast, easy, efficient and effective. Make sure the consumer understands what the purchase stage is before they get to it so they have realistic expectations.
Post-Purchase Evaluation: Too many businesses have a way of focusing on the “hunt” and drop the ball once the purchase has been finalized and that prospective buyer is now a buyer.
Content marketing should focus on ensuring the new customer is happy with the purchase and is getting the maximum benefits from the purchase. Highly successful businesses will keep the relationship going strong to ensure future business so they will have on-going out-reach and events for their customers.
Content focuses on building the relationship with news about new products, add-on products, special events for customers and more. This shouldn’t be a hard sell – the presentation should be personal, friendly, informative so that the relationship is strong and positive.
The Business Buying Process
The business buying process is like the consumer process but does have several of its own unique stages.
Awareness and Recognition: Just like the consumer process, the business process starts off with the identification of a problem. And like the consumer process, content marketing will focus on educational content that help confirm there is a problem, and what other businesses like theirs have done to solve the problem.
Content includes checklists to confirm the problem and clarify their needs, white papers, case studies, webinars and seminars that explain how other businesses have responded to similar situations.
Specification and Research: Business purchases are typically a team or group effort, so in this stage, a group is assembled to represent the stakeholders. This could include users, the decision-maker who has the authority to invest the budget, and buyers or purchasing agents that may oversee the request for proposal process and handle all the necessary paperwork and contracts that make the purchase final.
And in this stage, the team will work together to identify the specifications or criteria that will be used to evaluate and decide on a solution to purchase.
This is where your business buyer personas come in – because there are different wants and needs represented in the buying team that need to be addressed. For example, users will want to learn about how the product works and how the product impacts their work whereas decision-makers might be more focused on cost, payment and finance options, training and installation, service and support in addition to features and user benefits.
Your content should help them identify options and details impacting what specifications they decide to use – ideally placing your business at an advantage.
Request for Proposals: This stage takes many different forms – from detailed specifications addressing the business’ wants and needs only to general overviews of the business situation, goals, objectives with a request for a proposed solution. And to make matters a little more complex, there can be a single step process or a multi-step process where businesses that respond to the RFP can be eliminated at each stage or are scored and each stage but selected based on total score.
Content marketing during this stage is typically custom designed based on the RFP itself and the process.
Evaluation of Proposals: Like the previous stage, this can be a very formal process or a very informal process – and that impacts the content marketing strategy as well.
However, during this stage, the proposals are evaluated and rated in some way so that a decision to buy or not buy or even “move forward to negotiate specifics.” And based on the prospective client, your business may have free reign in terms of communicating with the prospective client or be under instructions to cease outreach until contacted by the prospective client.
Order and Review Process: During this stage, depending on the RFP process, you might be focused on executing the proposal your business submitted or negotiating details concerning pricing, discounts, financing, installation, training and other matters.
Content marketing during this phase is focused on the details – what will happen, when it will happen, who should be involved on both sides, outcomes and deliverables.
If this was a less complex purchase for low involvement items like office supplies or mobile devices, the content marketing will closely resemble the post-purchase communications with consumer only it will include users, decision-makers and buyers.
If this was a complex for a high involvement item that will require on-going interactions for the length of the relationship, the content marketing will be a mix of the post-purchase communications and customized communications based on current events.
With consumers and business buyers, the buying process is not linear – meaning a steady progression from Stage 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 through Post-Purchase. Life happens and both consumers and businesses can stop and re-start after a long delay or stop and re-start at an earlier or later stage.
For example, a consumer can stop and restart later due to personal or professional reasons. An illness or change in marital status or employment can be the cause.
A business buying process can be impacted by changes in employment, ownership, economy and other factors.
The key thing to remember is that you want to have a content marketing/lead management process that accounts for these situations.