Unless you’re in the business of catering to impulsive buying decisions, you’ll need to consider the distinct stages of the buying cycle in your industry—and cater to those stages in your marketing and advertising. One of the most useful tools for securing this progression is your content—but only if you’re using it properly.
Understanding the Phases of the Buying Cycle
Your first job is understanding the phases of the buying cycle. These will vary by industry and by target demographic, but they typically look something like this:
- Awareness. First, the customer is made aware that the problem exists. You can’t exert much control over this stage, since most companies rely on customers figuring out their own needs.
- Research. Once the customer is aware that a problem exists, they initialize research to learn more about the problem and, hopefully, find an effective solution.
- Comparison. The customer then shops around, looking at different potential solutions or providers, to determine which one will be most effective.
- Trial. If they haven’t yet, the customer then takes the solution for a trial run.
- Purchase. If they like what they’ve seen so far, they’ll make the purchase.
How Content Can Help
Ordinarily, consumers will move from one stage of the buying process to the next at their own pace, gradually, and occasionally dropping off at a stage with too many hurdles for forward progression. The role of content here is to gently persuade consumers to get to the next cycle.
- Setting expectations. One of the most effective strategies is to set proactive expectations for your customers, either thoroughly informing them about the problem they’re facing, or setting expectations for which stages of the buying cycle will come next. For example, you could write an article helping consumers understand when to repair a home appliance vs. when to replace it, or explain how to buy a motorcycle, with stages of the process from start to finish.
- Providing instructions. You can also use instructional content to direct consumers to the next stage of the buying process. For example, you might write an article targeted for consumers in the “research” phase of the buying process informing them about the importance of shopping with multiple competitors for the purposes of
- Closing with a call to action. Finally, you can include an appropriate call-to-action (CTA) at the end of a piece of content targeted for one phase, leading into another phase. For example, if you’ve created an infographic that compares different providers of a product you sell, you can close with a CTA that leads them to a free trial of your product.
Key Tips for Implementation
Not just any content will do in this strategy. If you want to be effective, you’ll need to follow these important tips:
- Keep quality as your top priority. Your “real” goal might be to persuade your customers to follow through the next steps of the buying process, but your main focus should still be on the quality of your content. If you aren’t writing articles that your target demographics want to read, or topics that people care about, you won’t get traffic, and those means of persuasion will fall on deaf ears.
- Avoid overt or aggressive tactics. If your content seems too pushy or too overtly persuasive, people are going to be turned off. Don’t spend too much time telling customers how they’re supposed to act next; instead, treat the process with more subtlety.
- Target your audience accurately. If you want your message to be persuasive, it has to reach the right audience. Spend some time learning what types of content your target demographics, at a specific stage of the buying cycle, want to see. Then, syndicate your finished work on channels where those demographics frequent.
- Track your results, and make improvements. Pay close attention to how people are reading your content, and what actions they take after reading it. Chances are, some of your articles will fare better than others—so what makes them different? Which commonalities do your successful articles share? Which weaknesses do your failed articles share? Learn from these experiences, and use those lessons to create even better content for the next stage of content development.
If you want to keep your customers moving forward in the buying cycle, use content to shepherd them quickly. Experiment with different options, and keep making adjustments until you have a process that works.