The customer buying decision process is rarely linear. Customers typically don’t start at point “A” and move through each subsequent step of the buyer’s journey until they reach the finish line. Instead, customers move into the purchase funnel different phrases. They may enter early at the top or middle of the funnel or join late in the journey right before they make their purchase.
So brands need to have a strategy to catch customers at each entry point and know how to market to prospects at each stage of the buying decision process
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Let’s look at how you can position your marketing campaigns to help customers find you at every phase of their journey.
What Is the Buying Decision Process?
Before you can optimize your customer’s buying decision process, you must be clear about what it entails. You must know the consumer buying process definition.
The buying decision process is the path that customers take while moving toward doing business with you. It’s similar to a purchase funnel in that it is a downward flowing path that starts wide at the top (as prospects become aware of a brand) and ends more narrowly at the bottom (as prospects becoming paying customers).
It’s frequently described as a five-stage consumer decision-making process that includes the following phases of consumer activity.
1. Need Recognition
The buying decision process begins when a consumer realizes they have a need. They become aware they have a problem they want to solve or a gap they want to fill.
At this point, the customer may or may not know what will solve their problem. They may only be aware that they want to change their reality or situation. Or they may have an idea about what will help them but are not quite sure which brand, product, service, or solution will provide the best option.
Customer Examples: A consumer buying process example at this phase could be a college freshman, Sarah, who has a computer that is starting to run slowly. She is getting ready to start the semester and needs a computer that will efficiently help her with her assignments.
Or, it could be a project manager, Joe, who is tired of his team using an outdated method of Excel spreadsheets for keeping track of their projects. He needs a new tool or system for project management.
2. Information Search
The next phase of the buying decision process begins when the customer starts looking for information that will help them solve their problem. They know they need something to fix their situation but aren’t sure which solution is best for them.
The customer starts searching for information that will help him or her better understand their situation and identify what will fix their issues. At this point, the customer frequently turns to online research and conducts searches to find solutions.
Customer Examples: Sarah, the college student may start seeking information to help resolve her immediate problem, which is speeding up her computer. Depending on what she finds, she may also begin searching for options for purchasing a new computer.
The project manager, Joe may start researching topics about improving project management and may find multiple software solutions that could improve his processes.
3. Option Evaluation
Once the initial information search is complete, customers start reflecting on what they learned or discovered. They begin to evaluate their options to determine which is the best solution for their problem.
Customers at this point in the buying decision process have a lot to consider. They must determine what solution is the most trustworthy, affordable, highest quality, and highest performing. They look for reasons to believe why one solution has more benefits than the other.
Customer Examples: In this phase, Sarah might be making a comparison list of multiple computers. The list may include prices, features, and reviews.
Joe is at the point where he is doing product demos to see which software best fits his needs.
4. Purchase Decision
At this point of the buying decision process, the customer is ready to pull the trigger and make a purchase. They have made their decision about which product, service, brand, or solution is best for them, and they are ready to buy.
The research and evaluation are over, so now the customer just needs a clear pathway to purchase. For a brand to help customers through this phase, you need to make it simple to buy. You also need to present additional reinforcements (like great reviews, testimonials, discounts, etc.) that will lead to purchase and avoid negative reinforcements (like bad reviews, additional expenses, barriers, etc.), which will cause customers to turn away.
Customer Examples: Now that the college student, Sarah, has decided to buy, she is likely eager to make the purchase and get her computer. She may, therefore, be more likely to buy the computer if she gets free and expedited shipping.
Joe, the project manager may need final approval for making his purchase, but he will also be eager to get going, so a free trial may be the way to get him through this phase.
5. Post-Purchase Evaluation
At the last step of the five-stage consumer decision-making process, the path to buying is complete. The customer has made a purchase. But that doesn’t mean the customer journey is complete. Now is the time when the customer reflects on whether they made the right decision.
The customer will consider if the solution accurately and fully meets their needs. They will decide if it was worth the cost and if the brand delivered on their promises. They will feel either satisfaction or buyer’s remorse. If it’s the former, the customer could come back to make another purchase. But if it’s the latter, the customer could reject the brand, never make another purchase, and even share their negative experience with others.
Examples: When Sarah makes it to this phase of her buying decision process, she is using the computer and discovering what she likes and doesn’t like. Reading resources that show her how to better utilize the computer could make her like it more.
Joe is going through a similar process. He is utilizing the tool, distributing it to his team, and hearing feedback from his colleagues. Seeing articles about how this software has helped people like him will likely improve his perception of the product.
How to Nurture Customers at Each Stage of the Buying Decision Process
As we went through the five stages of the buying decision process, you saw how a buyer could start at the beginning and work their way through the phases.
But often, this theory doesn’t work out exactly as planned.
The buying decision process isn’t always linear, and customers rarely only enter at the beginning. Instead, customers come and go throughout the process and enter the funnel at the top, middle, and bottom of the process.
So you can’t focus on only catching customers at the beginning and hoping they find their way through the rest of the process. You must optimize the buying decision process from top to bottom to catch customers at every stage of their journey.
To accomplish this and improve the buying decision process in marketing for your brand, use these best practices and Alexa tools at each stage of the process.
No. 1: Attract Customers in the “Need Recognition” Phase: Actively Write Guest Posts.
In the first phase of the buying decision process, prospects are just becoming aware of their problems. They aren’t actively seeking answers or solutions yet.
So to capture attention in this phase, you must seed content in places where audiences will passively see it. You must work to get your content in front of their eyes and call out their problem because they are not yet looking for solutions. To do that, create and place content in locations where your audience spends time online.
To get your solution-focused content in front of your target audience, engage in guest blogging. Writing content for sites your ideal audience visits will help you make introductions with customers before they know they need your brand, products, or services.
Enter your site or one of your known competitors. A brand that is trying to connect with the project manager mentioned in the example above may enter Trello.com, as Trello is a project management tool. The results will show a map of sites that have an audience similar to Trello’s audience. You can assume the people visiting Trello.com are also visiting the other sites on the map.
This will uncover common keywords and topics that drive your audience to these other sites. Use that to create a plan for writing content about topics that relate to those sites but also expose problems that your brand, products, or services solve. This approach is a good way to help your target audience identify problems before they even know they have them.
No. 2: Attract Customers in the “Information Search” Phase: Target Popular Topic Keywords.
To attract attention during the information search phase of the buying decision process and bring customers into your funnel at this point, make your brand visible in online search.
When prospects research to find potential solutions, you want them to find your content. So you should publish a variety of top-of-the-funnel content. TOFU content helps a prospect solve their problem or answer their question. This type of content is usually published as:
- Blog Posts
- Interactive Content
To develop topics for TOFU content, perform keyword research to discover the terms your target audience uses most using Alexa’s Keyword Difficulty Tool.
Enter a term or phrase that relates to your industry offerings. The project management company, for example, may enter “project management.” The keyword discovery tool will then return a report that includes related terms along with their relevance, popularity, and competition scores. Each of these metrics will help you identify the top keywords for your content.
Ideally, you would target terms that have a high relevance and popularity score, as that indicates the term is widely searched for and tied to your topic. You would also want to target low-competition keywords that have a competitive score within your range, so you have an opportunity to rank for the term.
No. 3: Attract Customers in the “Option Evaluation” Phase: Optimize Your Website.
When customers are in the option evaluation phase, they already have an idea about the solution they need. They just don’t know which specific solution is best. At this point, they are researching specific brands and options to see which one they should choose.
To catch consumers in this phase, you need to engage in MOFU marketing (middle-of-the-funnel marketing) and optimize your website so customers can find you when they look for you.
You should create content like buyer’s guide, landing pages, FAQ pages, and case studies that are optimized for search, so when interested audiences look for additional information about you, they can easily find it.
Start with the SEO Audit Tool and run a complete check on your website. This website SEO test produces a report that ranks your website SEO factors as well as provides a list of actions you can do to help your website improve its rankings. Focusing on these improvements will help your website show when customers search for MOFU content to aid them in their buying decision process.
After reviewing the status of your site’s overall SEO, look at each page to see if it’s properly optimized. Enter a URL from your site along with the page’s targeted keyword into the On-Page SEO Checker to see how well the page is structured for SEO. The tool will scan the page and give you optimization tips to make the page more likely to be found in search.
No. 4: Attract Customers in the “Purchase Decision” Phase: Target Buying Keywords.
When customers find themselves in the purchasing decision phase of their buyer’s journey, they are ready to seal the deal. They are ready to buy.
To catch customers at this point, you must make it as easy as possible for them to buy. You need to position your brand so that when the customer searches for a path to purchase, they find it right away. You can accomplish this by optimizing your site to target buyer keywords.
Buyer keywords are phrases that customers search for when they are planning to make a purchase.
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The most powerful buyer keywords are transactional keywords, which are phrases like:
To identify the buyer keywords that will lead customers to your website, use Alexa’s Competitor Keyword Matrix.
Enter up to 10 competitors, run the report, and then navigate to filter the results. Click the checkbox to “Show Potential Buyer Keywords” and apply the filter.
The filter will drill down your results and display the most used keywords that also have purchasing intent. This report can give you ideas for the terms you should target so that when customers search to find buying options, they will discover your webpages.
No. 5: Optimize “Post-Purchase Evaluation” Phase: Retarget With Industry-Related Content.
The post-purchase evaluation phase is a little different from the other stages of the buying decision process in that it is somewhat linear. The customer can only get to this phase by making it through the purchase phase.
While the post-purchase phase might sound like the end of the process, it does not mean the relationship is over.
Instead of thinking that the buying decision process is over, consider that this is the beginning of a relationship with long-term customers. You already know the audience is interested in a specific product, service, and industry so set up plans to remarket and reconnect with this audience.
Create more content related to your industry and place it where the customer will be likely to see it. Send it to customers through your email newsletters and use retargeting ads to present new content to past customers.
Enter up to 10 competitors and run the report. Then use the “Use Cases” filter to “See the Top Industry Keywords Targeted.”
From there, you can see the top keywords that are mentioned on other websites in your industry. This information helps you identify the topics that are likely interesting to your audience and will give you a starting point for creating content to bring the customer back into the buying decision process.
Optimize the Buying Decision Process With Alexa’s Marketing Stack
The buying decision process is rarely a linear path that customers follow from top to bottom.
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Customers enter the purchasing process at all stages, and your brand must be prepared for it.
Use these tips to improve the likelihood that customers will connect with your brand at each phase of the buyer decision process. And, get extra help with the tools mentioned in this post. Sign up for a free trial of Alexa’s Advanced Plan to get full access to the tools listed in this post along with other powerful competitive research, keyword, and SEO tools.