I was having coffee with a colleague that I had recently connected with on LinkedIn (I highly recommend converting your LinkedIn contacts to in-person where you can – it’s the next logical step!), and we ended up discussing the wild and wacky world of marketing and how it has changed radically over the last decade. Not only have the tools that we use evolved but the overall approach to engaging customers has changed because of the way that customers have altered their approach to finding products/services to solve their problems.
Consumers these days are doing extensive research on their purchases before, during, and after they make them. They’re looking at product sites, reading reviews, skimming white papers, and consulting social media. So what is the key? As marketers, we need to focus on giving. We need to provide consumers with the content they need at the time that they need it and doing it without flogging our products. We need to focus on the buyer’s journey and what resonates at each stage. We need to give to them as part of the process of building trust and establishing ourselves as experts.
According to Hubspot (and no, I don’t have any company shares), the inbound process involves a buyer’s journey which has three stages: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision.
The Awareness stage is when they have recognized that they have a challenge or opportunity and they are trying to clarify exactly what it is. At this point, you can attract them to you by helping them to educate themselves on their need or problem. If their problem is a leaky roof, for example, in many cases they will be exploring the specifics of their problem: where leak in roof comes from, how water travels, etc. Provide them with the information they need to clarify their problem and resist the urge to talk about your product – it’s too soon, they’re not ready yet. Use white papers, blog posts and other educational content.
Once they have clarified their problem, at least to their own satisfaction, they will start looking for solutions. This is the Consideration stage. In the case of the leaky roof – new shingles, find the leak and plug it, put a pail under the leak, etc. Some solutions are better than others and you can be there for them when they need your expertise. Provide them with some possible solutions but still resist the urge to talk about your product. Create videos, develop expert guides, or create a webcast. Continue to build the relationship with the customer and establish your organization as the “go-to” for information.
Finally, they will reach the Decision stage where they have their problem/opportunity clarified, they know some possible solutions (hopefully both with your help) and they are looking for someone who can meet that need. Now you are ready to make the offer, send product literature, give a live demo or offer a trial download.
It’s difficult to hold back from talking about your product early in the process. Think about action movies with armed conflicts where the enemy is charging from the front and the general with the solders standing waiting for the attack is telling them not to fire. “Hold,” he says. The target gets quickly closer. “Hold.” Closer. “Hold.” When the target has finally reached the right point the soldiers are finally given the order to engage and the result is always a victorious one (at least that’s how it rolls out in the movies). Resist the urge to talk about your product until the time is right.
Remember, you have to give before you can receive – and you have to establish yourself as an expert before you can “make the ask.” If you create a reputation for providing valuable content, you won’t have to shout to get customers’ attention, they will seek you out. Whether you call it content marketing, in-bound marketing, or just plain smart – your thriving business will thank you for it!