Why understanding the purchase cycle is key to a content marketing strategy


Newsflash: it’s not just the point of purchase that matters!

How did we get to this point? 

Maybe there are some of us who are stuck in the past, pushing out product pitch after product pitch on social media, blasting sales messages in email marketing, and stuffing websites full of awkward and robotic keyword phrases to attract users and ultimately make a quick buck.

Take a step back and look at the bigger picture: how did someone get to that moment in the first place? Did they just decide they wanted a new television and immediately click “Add to cart” on the first one that popped up on Google?

Of course they didn’t! 

It’s generally a long process, and understanding each stage of what we call the Purchase Cycle is imperative to not only guide you through your content marketing strategy, but also to guide customers through each stage.

(By the way, the purchase cycle is also known as the purchasing cycle, the buying cycle, the purchase lifecycle, etc... you get the picture!)


The stages of the buying cycle

The buying cycle is often lengthy and complicated, but we believe, in essence, that it can be broken down into five key stages. They mightn't run true of all businesses and might need to be adjusted for particulars, but below we break down the typical stages of the buying cycle.

Delve into each stage and find out what happens in between a consumer recognising they have a problem, and what they do once they’ve resolved it through a purchase.

Purchase cycle and content marketing

 

Awareness

An example of the first stage is where an internet user recognises that they have a need, and begins thinking about ways in which this need can be fulfilled. 

This very early stage means an individual realises the difference between his or her current situation, and an ideal situation.

This is also the stage at which they become aware of not only their need, but of your business, too. 

They may find you based on a few Google searches of phrases that are relevant to your business and that you have implemented through effective Search Engine Optimisation.  

You might be the third in a long line of websites they visit. Don’t get smug yet; there’s still a long way to go.


Research (this is where your content marketing strategy is crucial!)

There are two stages of research: internal and external. 

Internal research is when we tap into existing knowledge without having to do any extra research. 

A good example to help illustrate this is everyday grocery items. You know that you want wholemeal bread rather than a white loaf, and green tea rather than black. These hardly require further investigation.

External research is where we want to concentrate. A user moves to external tools to learn more about a particular product or service. 

And where do 1.17 billion users search for products, services, brands and solutions every month?

Google, of course!

Many people that find your website will do so based on keywords. If your website is employing great white hat search engine optimisation tactics, you’ll be attracting visitors who have an explicit interest in your product or service.

Now we mustn't jump to conclusions here; don't make the naïve assumption that just because a visitor landed on your website, you are the Chosen One.



In case you haven't guessed it, here’s when your content marketing strategy plays its part. 

Blog posts and other media like videos, e-books, and white paper downloads provide useful information based around your products, as well as helpful content based around your entire industry.

Take the Disney Baby blog, for example.

They publish content that expectant and current parents will love – baby name trends, how to baby-proof your house, tips on throwing a first birthday party, teething and feeding advice, and more. 

Their blog isn't always focused on selling products; it’s about being natural and relatable, and providing something with real meaning and depth to readers.

Whatever their reasoning, these researchers are in the early stage of the cycle, where they’re probably not visiting your website because of who you are, but because of what you offer (product-wise and information-wise).


Comparison (this is when your marketing strategy kicks into high gear!)

Now we’re getting somewhere. Your prospect has a pretty clear idea of what he wants or needs, and he’s pretty well informed thanks to all the research he’s done.

So now, he’ll start comparing you against the others. He’ll look at things like price, features, shipping costs, and testimonials. He might check out various social networks and even sign up for a free trial. 

All of his behaviour is catered towards measuring up different brands to see who can most effectively and efficiently solve his problem.

Even at this point you’re still only about halfway through your cycle. From now, he might forget all about his need or want, and he might put it off for a while. 

Maybe he is waiting for a few more paydays. 

Maybe his need isn’t totally urgent.

At some point after this drop-off, somewhere around the research and comparison stages, he might be prompted by a trigger: something that has brought your product or brand back to the top of his mind.

These triggers can be internal (he has just booked a holiday and now has a deadline as to when he buys his new camera, so it’s crunch time) or external (a marketing strategy like automated marketing could be used fantastically here).

On top of all that, remember that when people buy a product they’re also buying into a brand. This is where your website does a lot of the talking. Does your website pass the test? Does it:

  • Visually attract visitors within a second or two?
  • Immediately tell visitors who you are and you can do for them?
  • Feature your products and address the problems they can solve?
  • Look amazing on all devices?

Purchasing cycle

Does your website looks GREAT on all devices?

 

Purchase

Good work – you’ve made the shortlist! 

A stranger has been introduced to your brand, learnt about your product, compared it to other retailers or brands, and decided you’re the one. 

They’ve evaluated their alternatives, but nope, you offer the best price, a flexible returns policy, and great shipping options.

They’ve made their purchase!


Retention

And now, a prospect has shifted from his current situation to his ideal one, thanks to your product. 

He’s transformed from a stranger to your brand to a buying customer, but alas, your work is not done! You want to keep him coming back, and referring friends. 

What kind of post-purchase support or information do you offer?

Further, how will your new customer broadcast your product? Maybe he’ll do it online by sharing a photo of his brand new office desk to your Facebook page, or she’ll tag you in an Instagram post when she’s wearing her new dress. 

Or maybe this will happen offline, where he’ll gush to friends about his new office set up, or she’ll talk about the impressive shipping speed of her new clothing.


What about the visitors who don't have an immediate need?

Rand Fishkin’s famous Slideshare presentation, Why Content Marketing Fails , really taps in to the notion above that most website visitors are not ready to purchase when they visit your site, and that the realistic pathway of someone who does not have an immediate need to absolve a problem is more complex. 

It’s a longer process that involves building trust with a visitor, and then, when a visitor does – eventually – develop a need for your product, they might remember you and come back.

Of course, there are still those times when a visitor will immediately turn into a paying customer, because sometimes you just need a Bill Murray shower curtain right now, for no logical reason whatsoever.

 

If you need a little guidance when it comes to your business's purchase cycle, get in touch. Fill in the form below. 

 

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