HubSpot tells us that today’s buyer, more informed than ever, has the power in most sales conversations these days. That sounds like a problem for marketers, but it’s not. It just changes the emphasis of what we need to do—rather than pushing the product, it’s all about helping the prospect along their journey from learning they have a problem to solving it.
And that’s really just the buyer journey. One of the most important ways marketers can provide prospects with the tools to become informed buyers is by creating content for each stage of that buyer journey. So let’s talk about what that looks like.
The three content stages of the buyer journey
The typical buyer journey is divided into three main sections when we talk about content: awareness, evaluation, and decision. Matching the right content to these three stages is crucial if you’re going to provide your ideal customer with what they need in order to reach a purchase decision. So let’s dig into each of them and see what will work—and what won’t.
This is the moment your potential customer realizes something’s wrong. They’re experiencing a pain in their life, and they begin to research in order to understand solutions that will solve that pain. At this point it’s all informational—they’re just learning what exists in the marketplace.
One way to think about this is through Clayton Christiensen’s “jobs to be done” model. Buying a product or service is essentially “hiring” it to solve your problem. If it does well, it gets hired again. If not, it gets fired and you keep looking.
So someone who’s looking to buy a vehicle right now might already have one; in the past it met their needs but it no longer does so. That’s the pain point—they had another child so they need more passenger space, or their home renovation business has grown and their work truck can’t handle the necessary equipment to get bigger jobs done.
The future buyer now starts asking questions around their specific pain point. “What’s the safest family vehicle in my price range?” “What truck is best for a growing construction business?” Whatever pains your business can solve, answering questions like these can get the attention of the people who are looking for those solutions.
The content: For the awareness stage in the journey, you want to provide inbound-type informational content: blog posts, videos, and social media content that are simply providing information that can help them. It’s all about teaching here. Paid media generally will not be very successful here, unless it’s strictly brand awareness—hitting the right audience here can be very tough, and it’s also pretty expensive, so we generally recommend against it.
Once the potential buyer has a proper understanding of the boundaries of the problem they’re trying to solve, they can begin to identify specific options and narrow down to the ones they think are most likely to work for them.
The evaluation-stage buyer uses more specific language based on what they learned from their research in the awareness stage. Now they’re asking different, more precise, and better informed questions. The parent who’s looking for a larger family car might be asking about specific models to learn more about them now, rather than more general questions about classes of vehicle.
The content: In the evaluation stage, you want to get more specific alongside your audience. Use detailed white papers and how-to content (both written and video) to show a product or service in action. Demos, case studies, and frequently asked questions can also help show prospects what you might have to offer.
This is, of course, where the rubber meets the road. This is where the prospect takes all the information they've already gathered and learned and looks for the one thing that puts an option over its competitors. Should I buy this or that? They narrow choices even further, and ensure that their final choice is the right one.
The content: When the prospect is deciding between your product or service and a competitor, showing the power of your solution is key. Options like free trials, consultations, and other in-depth education on your product or service can seal the deal. For example, we have a gated marketing toolkit that’s seen some success in this arena.
Psychographics help determine content success
These general answers—that is, concentrating on blogs for awareness and free trials to close the deal—are helpful. But they aren’t the whole story. The effectiveness of certain kinds of content at certain stages depends on where the seller’s business is as well—what their needs and goals are, their industry, whether they’re selling a product or a service. And it also depends on the frame of reference of your “best possible customer.”
Your audience is always going to depend on the industry in which you operate, as well as what you’re selling to them. Knowing your personas is important, but your research has to go beyond simply who they are—their demographics, like age and gender and job—and emphasize psychographics, how your customer feels and how they think when they purchase.
How rational are your buyers? How emotional are they? How rational and emotional do they think they’re being? The same person might buy in wildly different ways depending on the situation.
Here’s an example. Think about an actuary. You would probably guess that someone who works with numbers all day would be pretty rational as a buyer, and you might be right—while they’re at work. A new software purchase for the office might depend mostly on price and features, while things like brand loyalty fall by the wayside. But that same actuary has a daughter, and after closing the deal on his software purchase at 5pm he picks her up from soccer practice. He’s not weighing the costs and benefits of the smile on her face when he buys her a milkshake because she scored two goals in her scrimmage.
Despite that buyer’s demographics obviously remaining unchanged, he buys work software in a very different way from how he buys food for his kid. That’s the impact of psychographics, and that’s why they should be a top priority for a marketer.
As a marketer, you have to be ready for any situation. Sometimes that means slow times with thin budgets and high pressure, but the pendulum can swing the opposite direction as well. And sometimes loads of success can be just as disruptive as the lean times.
Let’s talk about another example, this time from our own work. One of our clients, a leader in the travel trailer industry, has reached a stunning achievement—they’re sold out. Demand’s so high that they’re actually in a position where they could not sell another trailer right now if they wanted to. Great, right? That means tons of revenue and a strong audience who wants their product. It’s a place lots of businesses would like to find themselves.
But in terms of marketing, that means goals have to change. Rather than hammering all three stages in the buyer journey right now, they actually need to avoid doing too much in the way of decision-stage content. We’ve helped them shift priorities, concentrating more on awareness- and comparison-stage content, to make sure they aren’t closing deals they can’t service.
That means that together, we’re putting extra resources and energy into things like top-of-funnel influencer marketing and new owner workflows that introduce people to the industry and the product. The lesson is that strategic and tactical needs can shift, and being prepared for those shifts—having a marketing plan ready for when each of the three stages is dominant, or when they’re waning in importance—means you can continue leveraging your resources properly, no matter what.
How Element Three does this
Let’s stay backstage for a moment and talk about our own content. What is this an example of? Based on the fact that it’s a blog post, you’d be right to assume that this is, primarily, awareness-level content. We’re talking about how we do something, and how you can use that information to improve your own content. You also might notice that several paragraphs ago, I linked to one of our content-focused case studies. That means if you’re intrigued and maybe ready to move on to the next stage, there’s a piece of evaluation-stage content right there and ready for you.
Following this framework isn’t going to guarantee instant success. Content can take time to bear fruit. But the better you get at providing the right people the right content at the right times, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to move prospects through the pipeline with ease.
Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.
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