From B2B sales to the sale of consumer products like games and phones, the buying cycle is an integral part of every marketing campaign. Even though less attention is being paid to marketing strategy lately, it’s still the single most important thing in any of your marketing efforts.
It’s a shame really… All blog posts these days focus on quick tips and tactical fixes. I guess most haven’t heard the expression of polishing a turd…
Anyway, this one’s different and going back to the basics!
Let’s get started.
What’s the buying cycle in digital marketing?
Before someone has bought your product, they have gone through the buying cycle. This buying cycle is essentially what your entire marketing efforts are centred around.
Understanding this buying cycle can help you a lot in your marketing efforts.
Don’t just skip to the next blog post, even if you think you know it all already.
Any knowledge is worth a refresh, especially if it’s not something you’re actively using in your marketing campaigns yet.
The 5 steps of the buying cycle
Step one: Recognizing they have a “problem”
In this step, the potential client sees they have a problem/need. This problem could be anything from needing a different color lipstick to having daily ankle pains.
Don’t think a problem has to be huge in order for you to make money fixing it. Just like the things above, anything can be seen as a “problem.” The buying process can only start once the client realizes they have a problem.
Targeting people in the first phase, or even before the first phase, is possible. It’s actually necessary for some business models that are centred around innovation.
A business idea I’m working on (I know, how exciting!) would require a shift in consumer behaviour for it to catch on. These kinds of businesses are challenging though, as the need isn’t there yet, so you have to start at step 1 of the buying cycle.
Here’s an interesting article on marketing innovative products by hbr.org.
The question you need to ask yourself for your business model though is: Is it worth my time?
If you aren’t in an industry that requires you to target your marketing at the first stage of the buying cycle (and few do), then it’s probably not a great idea that you start here.
You must remember that every stage needs to be completed before a client will purchase from you. This means that, when moving through the steps, potential clients will be lost to competitors or other industries.
This makes people in the first step of the customer journey notoriously expensive to turn into a client. You have to spend a lot of money on advertising, as only a small percentage will convert into clients.
If it’s not necessary and you don’t have a large budget, this isn’t the best place to focus your attention.
Step two: the Research phase
In the next step, the potential client will research the problem along with possible solutions. This is called the research phase.
This is the reason blog posts and product information pages work so well. It helps people get to know the product and get the right information to base their decision on.
If you have dry lips, you need to look at what helps first. Only then will you decide the right product and move onto the next phase.
Sometimes it may seem like they skip this phase, but they don’t!
It may be so that a certain product is “top of mind” and no other products even register, but the phase still happens.
If this is the case in your industry and your product isn’t what’s top of mind, then you need to focus on this phase.
For example, say your target audience is people who need to travel a substantial distance. Most will probably think of a car straight away and move on to the next step.
Say you’ve invented a jet pack. Even though it seems like they skip this phase, it’s the exact phase you should focus your marketing on!
Your target market knows they have a problem; they need to travel a long distance. However, they don’t know that your product is an option.
To ensure you start selling your products, you need to make sure you advertise in the right place at the right time to ensure people see you as an option prior to deciding to purchase a car.
In this phase, product awareness plays a big role.
Step three: Evaluation of alternatives
Now they have a problem and know what solution is best. All they need to do now is compare the different places they can buy from. Things like price and quality evaluations will happen in this phase. Brand-awareness plays a huge role prior to quality and price evaluation.
Once again, knowing your client and what they usually do in this stage will greatly improve your success here.
Some clients will prefer more expensive products, others will look for fast shipping times. Make sure you know your target customer preferences, so you can better tailor to this phase!
This part of the buying cycle can vary in length depending on your niche and target customer. For expensive products like cars or computers, it may be quite long. People will put in a lot of effort to find the right product for them.
A longer research phase will generally mean more importance is placed on positioning and things like pricing, than on awareness. This is because people will take the time to search thoroughly.
Evaluating alternatives when buying a car could include visiting a few forums, asking friends for advice, reading a few car reviews and test-driving multiple cars. It could include many other things too though!
It’s important to keep this in mind and pick the correct marketing channels based on where your clients are.
When you want to get an ice cream, it’s different. This phase could be almost non-existent or may include googling a local ice cream parlour, or asking a friend whether they want to buy one at the supermarket, or at a specialized shop.
With low-value goods, brand awareness is far more important than any real brand positioning/branding. Amazon compared to Apple is a good comparison that shows this. This doesn’t mean a strong brand and good reviews doesn’t help though!
Step four: Purchase
Here, the customer actually purchases the product. In this phase, it’s also important to know your client. What payment method do they prefer to use? Is there any information they are not comfortable with you having?
Tailoring the buying experience to your target audience helps prevents potential clients and customers from dropping out in the purchase stage.
On both step three and step four, you can use split tests to test different things in real-time to learn in a data-driven way. However, when just launching your product, make sure you think of the customer first.
Step five: Behaviour after purchase
This part of the buying cycle is very important, and the past 4 steps all influence this step.
After the purchase, the customer will either like or dislike the product. If they think your product will solve a problem it doesn’t, they won’t be very happy. If they aren’t satisfied with how well the product works or the price they paid, then the same will be the case.
It may seem like a great idea to sell everyone everything, but if you take this route, step five will bite you in the behind, and probably ruin your chances of succeeding in the long term.
A good reputation coupled with solid aftercare will make your brand stand out. It will also help to develop your marketing geared towards the other stages in the customer journey.
In an online environment, this can go very fast, and reputation management is getting harder and harder. Managing your reputation and customer service are very important parts of this phase!
How to implement it
Once you have this knowledge, you can ask yourself how you can get potential buyers through these steps in the buying cycle on your different marketing channels.
Also, it may be worth assessing which steps of the buying cycle are worth you pursuing/focusing on. Sometimes, step 3 or step 4 may be the best places to target your marketing and tailoring your content strategy towards.
However, if you are experiencing issues in steps 1 and 2, no amount of CRO will help you!
There are a few important factors to remember when auditing your customer buying cycle.
The situation your clients are in
This has to do with the customer journey. Do they know they have the problem that your product/service solves? Do they know that your product/service is even an option? Are you targeting the right customers with the right brand positioning and pricing?
Understanding the situation your clients are in will help you understand where your marketing should be focused on.
Your marketing budget
If you have a small budget, then trying to market to people in the first phase of the buying cycle will blow through it quickly.
Sometimes though, what your competitors are doing will impact where you’re better off spending your budget…
What your competition is doing
Many marketing channels cost money to use. PPC advertising costs money, but SEO and blogging also costs a significant amount.
If all of your competitors are focusing on step four, then it may be extremely difficult (and therefore expensive) to rank above them in the search engines, or to run PPC ads.
In these cases, a good sales funnel may help you target clients in earlier stages and move them straight through the buyer’s journey.
This is an evaluation you need to make based on research. So, do your research!
(if you’re already in business) what your analytics are saying
This is also a big one. Just because you think something is the case doesn’t mean it is. Check out your analytics and go extremely deep.
Analyse which keywords are bringing in the buyers and which seem to have little influence on your bottom line. Is social media traffic performing better than traffic from paid ads? Do your direct mail campaigns targeting step 3 of the buyer’s journey work much better than email campaigns targeting step 4?
Tailor to all the stages?
There are a lot of professional marketers who will tell you to create content tailoring to all stages of the buyer’s journey. This isn’t right or wrong, it’s just opinion based on experience.
Many will also tell you to follow the path of least resistance and target mainly the stage that has the biggest potential for your business.
It can be very helpful to cater to all of these steps on something like your website, as referrals will end up here. There’s no telling what stage they’re in, so ensuring they can find the information they need on your site is important.
Visitors that visit your site from another marketing channel also won’t all be in the same stage, so it’s best practice to at least provide the basic information a potential customer/client will need for every step.
One industry is much different from another, so what works for some may not work for others. It’s important that you make data-backed decisions on what’s best for you and your company, and then use the information you have on your target audience to tailor your marketing to them, and what works.
Tip: The post on goal setting in marketing is a great way of tailoring your goals to your business’s situation.
The buyer’s journey is an integral part of any marketing campaign, yet it’s something that’s often forgotten in all the tactic-ridden blog posts online. By thinking about the buyer’s journey and basing your marketing on it, you’ll see better results.