A tough part of content marketing is mapping content to the buyer’s journey. Too many people skip or gloss over this part of the job.
During a carefully considered purchase, buyers move cautiously through 4 steps. Marketers need to offer helpful content and answers to different questions at each step. Help buyers:
- Recognize the need
- Evaluate options
- Resolve concerns
- Make a purchase.
4 Steps in the Buyer’s Journey
Content audits reveal that most brands lack content for one or more steps in the buyer’s journey.
Imagine your buyers as they begin a buying journey with you. Good news: they find your content and start the journey.
But if they find the content for their next step is missing, they feel stranded. So they go back to Google or a competitor, which means you lose a potential sale.
In a recent workshop in Houston, I was delighted to learn about a small and midsized business (SMB) company with content that covers all 4 steps in a carefully considered purchase.
Marketers Rob Haines and Andrea Neph drive content at Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning, a heating and cooling sales and service company based in Plano, Texas, which serves homeowners and businesses in the United States and Canada.
Let’s look at how Service Experts offers buyers the right content for each of the 4 steps in the buyers’ journey. At each step, we’ll examine:
- What buyers need
- Which content marketers must provide
- Examples of the content that Service Experts offers to meet buyers’ needs.
1. Buyers recognize the need
The first thing buyers do is recognize that they have a need. They ask themselves certain questions such as:
- Is there a need or opportunity?
- Do we have a problem?
- How serious is it?
- Do we need to make a change or can we stick with the status quo?
In the heating and air conditioning business, one way homeowners discover the need is ugly. Suddenly it’s too darn hot or cold when their home’s HVAC system suddenly stops heating or cooling.
“It’s a very specific problem, like when your car breaks down. People say, ‘Oh no, I have to deal with this,’” Rob says.
“It’s a panic that interrupts your day and puts you immediately in a problem-solving mode. Buyers focus on how to solve the problem and who to ask – a neighbor, the Better Business Bureau or search online.”
Service Experts offers content that helps homeowners recognize the not-so-obvious problems with heating and cooling. They blog on topics like these:
- Why your furnace may be making these noises
- Why your furnace has a strange smell
- How to know your AC is on its last leg
- What do you need to know about indoor air quality?
- Stop the static and humidify your air.
What’s more, Service Experts’ content fulfills a broader mission: to help customers make their homes more comfortable.
“If it’s home enjoyment-related, it’s important to our customers,” Rob says. “We want to be a resource to the homeowner for making their home more comfortable, so we address topics such as home décor, food and air quality, as well as maintaining an efficient heating and cooling system.”
For example, the blog tackles topics such as:
- Ideas to disguise your thermostat
- Latest consumer electronics for the home
- Cozy gifts for Valentine’s Day.
2. Buyers evaluate options
Once buyers are convinced they have a real need, they go to the next step and evaluate the options to solve their problem. Now buyers ask questions like these:
- How well does each product perform?
- What will it cost?
- Who provides the best service?
- Can I get it done cheaper or faster?
At this stage, marketers need to help buyers compare their options. Yet too many brands hesitate to do so.
First, help buyers compare all the options offered by your company. Then help buyers compare what your company offers with other companies. If you don’t, either Google or your competitors will.
Service Experts offers the ultimate comparison tool – a book called Home Heating and Cooling for Dummies. Anything you’ve ever wanted to know about home heating and cooling, you can learn from this 53-page e-book.
Service Experts licensed the Dummies title from the publisher, then worked with a writer to create content for the book.
Now the company offers an exclusive, free download of the e-book on its website. Over 1,000 people have downloaded it.
Service Experts’ website even offers price estimates for air conditioners to cool your home. Since the comfort needs of each home and family vary widely, the company shows a range of estimates to give a sense of how much the new air conditioner might cost.
If questions arise during buyers’ evaluation, Service Experts offers live help through a toll-free number and 24 X 7 online chat.
3. Buyers resolve concerns
By now, buyers have a list of companies that can help them solve their problem. What they need next is reassurance that the company they choose will do a good job.
It’s crucial to buyers to reduce their risks and resolve any concerns about the decision they’re about to make.
That’s why, at this stage in the journey, buyers want to hear from a third party – an expert or someone like them, a neighbor or friend. Buyers might consult Consumers Reports, Angie’s List or the local Better Business Bureau.
Marketers need to offer buyers the validation they seek from third parties – social proof such as testimonials, case histories, rankings and reviews. To meet buyers’ needs at this step, the Service Experts website offers:
- More than 600 customer reviews and ratings
- A North American Technician Excellence (NATE) logo, proof that its technicians are certified by a third party
- An ENERGY STAR® Retail Partner logo, proof that it offers energy-efficient products and follows important energy-efficient practices
- A Better Business Bureau logo, proof that it follows third party customer service and ethical standards
- A Good Housekeeping seal of approval for certain products (air filters)
Service Experts’ customer reviews and ratings are a natural offshoot of its online customer satisfaction survey. Customer comments come from surveys verbatim.
Note that Service Experts gets a very high total average rating, a remarkable 5 out of 5 stars from its customers. That’s due in part to its unique written 100% Satisfaction Guarantee.
Under its 100% Satisfaction Guarantee, if a customer is not satisfied with their heating or cooling service or new system installation during the first year, Service Experts will do everything possible to ensure any customer concerns are fully resolved, up to and including removing the air conditioner or furnace and refunding the customer’s investment.
That’s an amazing guarantee. “It’s like a 365-day test drive for our customers, and helps customer know their decision to choose Service Experts as their home comfort company was the right choice,” notes Rob.
4. Buyers decide
During the last stage of the buying journey, buyers become customers. They select a vendor, negotiate terms and pricing, and finalize the buy. At this stage, marketers need to focus on reinforcing the buyer’s decision and drive away any doubts.
Service Experts assures customers not only with its 100% satisfaction guarantee, but also with financing plans, tips for homeowners, and ongoing services such as the Precision Tune-Up.
This month, the company is beginning to roll out an innovative new way to for customer to upgrade their home’s heating and cooling. Under its new full coverage rental program, customers can rent a furnace or air conditioner instead of buying.
Customers who choose to rent their new equipment get a brand new system immediately, plus complementary service and maintenance to keep the equipment running well for as long as they rent. That means they don’t have to worry about heating or cooling equipment anymore.
What Service Experts learned about content marketing
“In content marketing, the more that you can get a content specialist that is like your audience, the more that the information will do its job,” Rob says.
“Our Customer Engagement Specialist Andrea Neph is that person for Service Experts. She’s a mother, she’s a wife, she has a full-time job, she’s juggling many social and family activities.
“She’s a mirror image of our customers who just found out they suddenly have to deal with the fact that their air conditioner broke down. So, the information that she writes about is from her perspective. Therefore she’s very engaging to the specific audience that is our audience.”
What Service Experts’ content marketing does so well is to cover each step of a customer’s buying journey, addressing all 4 steps with content that helps buyers:
- Recognize the need
- Evaluate options
- Resolve concerns
- Make a purchase.
Does your content marketing cover all 4 stages of the buying journey?
Does it lead buyers logically from one step to the next, like stepping stones that cross a river?
Most marketers answer those questions No.
Many websites sell a product or service and spell out differentiation. But most brands hesitate to compare products, state prices and offer verbatim customer reviews.
Service Experts is a great example of an SMB that’s applying content marketing well, to educate buyers and offer the resources they need to make good decisions.
One of the joys of leading my Fast-Forward Your Content Marketing workshop is that I meet and learn from marketers all over the US. My next open-enrollment workshop will be in Burbank on May 3.
As a marketing change agent, I consult with clients, lead content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and write the weekly Simplify Marketing blog.
With experience from Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, RR Donnelley and Tellabs, I've been named:
- Content Marketer of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute.
- Best Marketer by BtoB magazine.
- A B-to-B CMO to watch by Fierce CMO.