Why Early Stage Content Matters to the Buying Process
Tell me if this sounds right to you: A gentleman wants to buy a new laptop, and after searching the phrase “new laptop” online, he sees a brand he’s never heard of offering a 25% discount on a quad-core processor, 500 GB, 17 inch laptop. It’s a steal, so, even though he’s never heard of this company before, the gentleman clicks “buy.”
Does something about that story bug you? Are you wondering how the search for a generic term turned up an off-brand product? Or maybe you’d like to know how this brand skipped consumer skepticism and avoided providing any proof of quality or service. More than likely, you’re scratching your head at why a customer would purchase from an unknown brand without looking around for more information, even with the price discount.
From industry research, and even from purchasing items ourselves, we know that most customers don’t simply find your brand and choose to purchase based on a coupon. Instead, customers tend to follow a sales process involving multiple points of research and paths to purchase. Whether that takes a day or a year, your goal is to make sure customers keep returning to your brand when they’re ready to buy.
Content marketing – when done well – can help guide customers through that sales cycle while reinforcing your brand. It can also help improve your rank on search engines, build trust with potential buyers, and help steer the buying decision away from being all about price. Ultimately, content marketing gives you a chance to keep in front of customers throughout the entire sales cycle so when they’re giving buying signals, you’ve proven your brand’s value.
The process starts with getting a firm grip on your buyer personas, and your customers’ behavior during the sales cycle. Then, you’re ready to start creating content for the first stages of the cycle. The early stage, or awareness stage, is all about educating customers on their need. The content focuses on broader concerns, detailing what customers should know about the topic. Light videos, infographics, industry articles, ebooks and aggregated lists are particularly helpful in this stage as they’re informative yet easy to digest. This content provides a helpful resource for your leads, and sets your brand apart as knowledgeable during that crucial research phase. In the case of the laptop buyer, the content might look like a guide to “Everything You Need to Know Before Purchasing Your Computer” which helps the buyer ask the right questions when researching various models. Or it might look like an infographic showing the progression of early laptops into what they can do today. Or it could be an ebook on the various features available in laptops and what type of person benefits from them. (Need an example? Click here to view a microsite devoted to resources on buying healthcare benefits, including infographics, videos, and whitepapers.)
At the early stage, you want to avoid explicitly promoting your brand or your products. In the digital realm it’s easy to forget that leads in the early stage are the equivalent to physical customers walking into a new store for the first time. They’re likely at the store to browse and see what interests them, and are not ready for a sales person to rush over and talk about the top of the line products. The benefit of the digital realm is that you can allow the lead to warm up to you by providing the information they’re looking for in an engaging and nonthreatening way. Early stage content educates the lead on what they should consider as they move forward in the research process, proves your brand is informed and available to help throughout the process, and encourages the lead to return to your brand when they are ready to buy.
Because early stage content focuses on industry research and generally helpful material, it is easy to distribute via social media as well as your own resource libraries. When done well, you should see an increase of traffic to your site from your early stage content, as well as a bump in content downloads, social media followers, shares, and search engine page rank. The real test of the quality of your content, however, will be if you notice an increase in interest from your targeted buyer personas. Once your analytics point to success in generating more interest from your optimal audience, you’re ready to start moving your leads forward to the next stage in the sales cycle with consideration stage, or mid-stage, content.