Most consumers develop ingrained shopping habits. We consistently shop at the same supermarket, frequent a favorite dry cleaner, and drink coffee from our usual shop.
Unless a life-changing event comes along to upend our buying habits, our buying becomes predictable. We don’t think too much about each purchase.
But when there’s a major event – going away to college, starting a new job, moving to a new house, having children, or retiring – our old shopping habits go out the window and new ones are formed. At such junctures, we consider shopping at new places.
For example, after moving into a new house, we search for a new supermarket, dry cleaners and coffee shop. We may choose based on convenient locations, try several choices before settling on one or switch from one to another.
But then we settle into new shopping habits rather quickly – and the window for considering other options closes until another life-changing event comes along. Habits are hard to change unless a friend recommends a new shop or a new store opens in a convenient location.
How do buyers make choices in your category? Are purchases a matter of habit, or carefully considered? Do you find a mix of purchasing behaviors – certain buyers who go by habit, others who carefully consider their choices?
For consumers, carefully considered purchases include houses, college educations, retirement accounts and other high-dollar purchases. For businesses, they include capital facilities such as buildings, plants, equipment and systems, financial services, and information technology.
Different buyers may purchase your product different ways. Take for example, buying a car. Some consumers make a list of specs they want the car to meet, look at Consumer Reports, do other research, and consider a range of manufacturers and models.
Others decide based on habit, choosing the brand and dealer they’re loyal to.
It’s important to know how your buyers decide. That’s because different marketing tools work better with each type of buyer. Carefully considered purchases differ due to:
• A high price tag.
• High stakes: high risk if the purchase doesn’t work out.
• An expected long service life – often measured in years.
• The difficulty of switching from one choice to another.
• The high level of expertise needed to make informed buying decisions.
• Infrequent buying episodes.
It takes only one or two of these characteristics to tip the balance from buying habit to a carefully considered purchase. By its nature, content marketing fits buyers’ need to become well-informed as they reach decisions on carefully considered purchases.
Companies take months or years to reach decisions on multimillion-dollar purchases. That’s the challenge of B2B content marketing. To mitigate risks, they establish buying committees to examine purchases from different perspectives.
The more people who serve on a buying committee, the harder it is to reach a decision. Also, the longer it takes, and the less likely it is that the status quo will change. Content marketers must offer content that’s relevant to each buyer persona – for example, economic, technical and green buyers.
Buyers act most cautiously on carefully considered purchases. Consumers recognize they’re dealing with huge economic decisions. B2B buyers know their reputations, jobs and careers may be at stake.
To address those risks, buyers do research, consult experts and friends, perhaps use the product on a trial basis, and take their time before committing. Such a buying process creates many opportunities for marketers to deliver compelling content that addresses buyers’ questions, needs and concerns.
The longer the buying decision cycle, the larger the information needs of the buyer, and the greater the opportunity for content marketing to play a decisive role. With a keen understanding of buyer personas, the buyers’ journey, and buyers’ information needs, marketers can build content marketing strategies that win the business.
That’s not to say that buyers always follow a logical process. Nor do buying processes always take place in the same sequence. For example, emergencies such as plant shutdowns or equipment breakdowns speed up buying. Steps may be skipped or rushed.
In carefully considered purchases, buyers do 4 things:
1. Recognize a need. Buyers ask whether there’s a problem, is it serious, and do they need to make a change? Marketers seize the opportunity by helping buyers discover problems, size them up and fathom the consequences of not changing the status quo.
2. Evaluate multiple options. Buyers consider factors such as price, service, availability and performance. Marketers help buyers compare choices within their own product line and with competitors, offering benefit comparisons, user reviews, third-party rankings, news coverage and the like.
3. Resolve concerns. Buyers seek validation from third parties – experts, peers, friends and users of the product or service – to reduce risks. Marketers tell customer stories, share analyst coverage and offer video testimonials to assure buyers.
4. Finalize the purchase. Buyers agree to terms and conditions, finance the purchase and perhaps secure a guarantee or service contract. Marketers reinforce buyers’ decisions, cross-sell and upsell.
It takes persistence and grit to win a carefully considered purchase. Success in content marketing builds on thoughtful groundwork, and the need to:
• Address buyers’ questions, concerns and needs
• Understand buyer personas
• Map the buying process
• Match content to buyers’ information needs and preferences
• Deliver the right information to buyers when needed
• Synch marketing and sales messages for consistency and impact.
Companies that understand what buyers need and use content marketing for carefully considered purchases are winning more and more customers and revenues. Such companies will accumulate increasing advantages as purchasing becomes ever more buyer-driven and less sales-driven.
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.