In our fast-paced, mobile world consumers hold all the power now and the buying cycle has certainly changed because of this. Consumers have more options than ever before, as well as more information at their fingertips than they did in the past. In order to successfully attract new customers and maintain your customer base, you can no longer just focus on engaging with buyers at the point of purchase, or shortly before. Taking back some of the power requires a fresh look at your marketing strategy, and creating a plan that engages customers during every phase of the buying cycle: pre-shop, shop, and post-shop.
Consider yourself as a consumer and how many marketing messages you’re exposed to on a daily basis. Before you decide to dig out your credit card and spend your hard-earned money, you’ve been nurtured by that brand throughout your own unique buying cycle. While it’s hard for brands (big and small) to break through the noise of all the countless emails, commercials, and advertisements – discovering a streamlined and effective engagement plan is crucial.
This article takes a look at why your potential customers require different interactions depending on what stage in the consumer’s buying cycle they’re in. We’ll also take a look at how specific buzz words can trigger them into making a decision, and examine how you can apply these techniques to your marketing strategy.
Pre-Shop: What Is the Need?
Let’s pretend you’re a national home improvement store. What makes your services so exemplary? Why, with dozens of options in any given market, should a consumer choose your brand?
Consumers are constantly reading reviews, researching products, and comparing prices before they make their final decision. They’ve been influenced by the reviews, feedback from strangers, and not to mention friends, family, and colleagues.
First and foremost, you must be aware of what previous customers are saying about you. According to BrightLocal’s 2014 Consumer Review Survey, 88% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, up 9% from the 2013 figures. This is a common trend we’re seeing with how consumers are influenced early on in the buying cycle.
Next, you should ask yourself: do you have their attention? For instance, does the Smith family know, when they’re in search of new kitchen cabinets, that you are even an option? Do they know about your seasonal discounts, superior installation services, and/or vast variety of choices?
Or does your competitor hold that initial spot in their mind?
In the pre-shop phase, you should educate the Smith’s early on as to why your product or service will solve their problem or need, as well as answer the questions they have before they are even ready to buy. At this stage, your competition might not be the other home improvement store down the street, but could be hiring someone to install it for them or even deciding to just paint their old ones. By focusing on education and showcasing your expertise and value earlier on with a powerful brand story, you’re more likely to make a connection when they are simply researching.
One way to deliver this story effectively and build on brand awareness is by using detailed flyers and booklets or large format ads in your direct mail campaigns. Using seasonal timing for that particular need delivered to a targeted group of people, you can reach them not only at the right time but in a way that helps them see you as an expert and a partner, versus simply the best price point.
Shop: How Do You Address or Solve This Need For Them?
Congratulations! The Smith’s are ready to engage… they’ve visited your website, read about some of your kitchen remodel ideas, and viewed tips for DIY installations. They’ve also visited some of your competitors sites, and even checked out a few industry reviews, and now they are officially in the buying mood.
At this point, you of course want to make sure they know why they should choose you over the competitor (better service, product, pricing, faster shipping, etc.), and what’s in it for them if they do (special discount for their next purchase, refer a friend and get XYZ, no-hassle returns, etc). You’ve already connected with them in a way that your competitors have not in the pre-shop stage, so talking about products and offers more directly makes sense when they are ready to shop.
Regardless if this is an in-store or online purchase, make it simple for the family to find the information they’re looking for. If this is via your website, make sure your FAQ page is helpful and full of relevant information to make them feel confident in their decision. If this is an in-store purchase, make sure your employees are knowledgeable about your products and policies; leave them without questions or uncertainties.
Now is the time to upsell. What else do they need with those cabinets? Knobs? Wood polish? You get the idea. How else can you engage the family to make their buying decision a positive one that leaves them with absolutely zero buyer’s remorse?
During this stage, keep the Smiths informed of upcoming promotions and events. Do you have an end of season sale coming up in a few weeks? How can you keep them coming back for more? Additionally, take the checkout process as an opportunity to build your database with an email and/or phone number. While this is a more frequent practice online, most buyers, happy with their purchase and the level of service your brand provides, will gladly provide you with their email address or a rave review.
Post-Shop: Why Should They Keep Coming Back?
In this scenario, you’ve won the business… but it’s important to note that a one-time purchase does not equal brand loyalty. You now have a choice of either allowing them to walk away, and decide on their own to come back, or continue the conversation by creating a meaningful and ongoing relationship.
According to a study by Inc. acquiring a new customer costs a business about 5-10 times more than it does to sell to an existing one. In addition to that, the average current customer tends to spend 67% more than new ones. In light of those figures, it’s not only a good idea to keep the Smith’s happy and coming back for more, it’s imperative.
Regardless of the method of purchase (in-store or online), follow up with them! Make sure that they are happy with their purchase, and if they aren’t — find out why. Great customer service goes beyond a smile in the store; bend over backwards to assist in whatever way you can.
Getting feedback from customers can be an invaluable way to grow and adapt to changing trends in the industry. The post-shop period is also a great time to ask for a referral or get the Smith’s to take a survey about their experience. Keep in mind the “What’s In It For Me” mindset and provide new offers as an incentive to come back for more.
Which would you rather have: a customer or a brand advocate? That should be an easy answer. If given the choice, smart brands would choose the advocate. This is someone who will not only continue purchasing what you have to offer, but also someone who shares their experience with friends and family via social media and word-of-mouth. Happy customers not only become loyal to your brand, they can quickly turn into quite the advocate for your stellar product or service. They are an incredible way to expand your reach, and a Nielsen study revealed an astonishing 92% of consumers say they trust recommendations from friends and family over any other form of advertising.
The Bottom Line:
Simply put, the consumer’s buying cycle can be broken down into three stages: pre-shop, shop, and post-shop. However, the process is much more complex than that. As a marketer, you need to ask yourself: are you engaging customers at every stage of the buying cycle?
In an effort to grab consumer attention, retain it, and keep them coming back for more, you need to identify what strategic changes need to be made to more effectively target and engage consumers at every step. Developing a strategy for every stage of the buying process is necessary to foster meaningful relationships with your customers. Brands now need to go above and beyond traditional campaigns to guarantee valuable engagement with their customers and maintain their loyalty.