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7 ways to win your consumers on their decision journey

To win the digital war, it’s crucial you increase your search visibility at the marketing moment that matters. Delivering the right message, to the right people, at the right time increases the attractiveness of your brand in the eyes of your consumers as they evaluate their choices and ultimately make a purchase.

The art of influencing an empowered consumer

Today’s consumers are better informed than ever about products, services and the brands behind them. In fact, on average, consumers are referring to over 10 sources of information before purchasing – that’s double what they were doing just a few years ago.

While traditional marketing is focussed on the point of sale and post-sales experience, we now accept that it’s the multiple touch points that occur before both of these that matter. So how can your organisation best leverage these moments and convert a prospect into another happy customer. Recognise that not all of your consumers are the same.

1. Recognise that not all of your consumers are the same

Many organisations’ pitfall is categorising their consumers only after they’ve made a  purchase. A smart marketer recognises the need to personalise interactions leading up to a sale as well.

Establishing audience personas enable you to improve your visibility and the quality of your connection with a prospective consumer at each touch point. Knowing who you are communicating with allows you to craft the content experience so that you resonate with your various consumer groups. You may not be able to individualise the experience entirely, but you can certainly deliver a much more tailored offering with the following steps:

  • Collate your data. You have so much data at your fingertips, from social media intelligence and keyword data to real conversations with your consumers and business data. This incredible amount of digital intelligence makes it easier than ever to create consumer segments defined by attitude (across thousands of conversations), rather than relying on traditional focus group methods subject to the observer effect.
  • Categorise. Loosely group data together to give you some ‘draft’ personas. At this stage, it can be as fluid as ‘Persona 1’ searches for these keywords, asks these types of questions and typically buys this kind of product.
  • Interpret. Examine attributes of the various groups and understand what they may be looking for at each touchpoint and beyond. For example, if you are the marketer for a travel insurance company, your consumer groups are going to have very different needs in their search for information. Extreme skiers may want to know how much of their equipment is covered whilst a parent wants to know how much medical cover their child can get.
  • Refine. Solidify the various personas, giving you a set to be worked with.
  • Utilise. Your personas are only valuable once they become part of a strategy. Plan your content strategy (onsite and offsite) and your user experience. It’s critical to examine exactly how you are going to serve your various consumer groups in the marketing moment that matters.
  • Reiterate. Personas are living things that need to be monitored and allowed to evolve as time goes by. Keep your marketing strategy agile with constant iterations to continue producing content relevant to your target audience.

2. Use social media intelligence to capture consumers

Social media is a delicate channel. Users want to interact with, influence and be influenced by people they know and/or share a common connection with. Nothing causes problems like automated messages, corporate stalking and spamming.

Prospective consumers will very often head to their favourite social media platform to get their ‘friends’ help in making the purchase decision. This behaviour is useful to you for two reasons:

Social media intelligence

At a basic level, there are plenty of platforms and tools that allow you to monitor and learn from conversations around keyword terms. You can see the common questions or gripes that your consumers have around what you offer and either improve the product or at least manage people’s expectations via your content.

Social listening opportunities

Similarly to social media being used for intelligence gathering, it can also be used to tactically strike whilst the iron is hot – engaging with potential consumers you recognise are on their way to making a purchase.

This is a delicate practice; it’s critical to be authentic. Don’t fire off automated promotional tweets at anyone who mentions the word ‘furniture’ for example, select your moments and content carefully.

Don’t be afraid of simple, it need not be boring. There are moments when the most persuasive content will be the facts and the answers to consumers’ burning questions. This is the very heart of omnichannel marketing – right message, right place, right time.

3. Work in real time

The Harvard Business Review published a study on ‘The Short Life of Online Sales Leads‘ which found…

‘Companies that try to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving queries are nearly 7 times as likely to have meaningful conversations with key decision makers as firms that try to contact prospects even an hour later. Yet only 37% of companies respond to queries within an hour.’

Whilst this study specifically relates to ‘leads’, it does highlight the need for urgency and real-time action.

The case is even more compelling five years on from the publication of the study. If the success rate of converting a lead drops so fast in such a short space of time, imagine what the drop off in attention is with a user during the consumer journey who hasn’t even committed to your organisation by making an enquiry? You’ve got seconds to push your business front of mind.

4. Own your SERPs (Search Engine Results Page)

You’ve categorised your keywords according to where the individual is on their journey and you have all the data you need to start looking at how to optimise their path.

A good place to start is to view the SERPs that your consumers are likely to see en route to purchase. In the mind of your consumer, your brand and the product or service they are looking for should be synonymous. So you need to really own these SERPs if you want to be front of mind every step of the consumer journey and ultimately win the war online.

It is unrealistic to think you are going to own every slot of the SERPs with your domain alone. Here are some additional steps to consider:

  • Promote 3rd party sites. This is a great way of giving the consumer a great experience whilst also ‘controlling’ their path to purchase in an invisible way. Consumers may be put off when one company owns an entire search result page, which is why Google tries to avoid this. However, you can still ‘own’ the SERP through 3rd party websites that put your organisation front of mind once again.
  • Be the most relevant. It sounds obvious but the average searcher is getting smarter and more adept at getting what they want out of Google. They know what they want and they use cues to help them find it. If you present something that is the most relevant to that query then you own that SERP whether or not you have all the listings or not.
  • Optimise your listings. If you rank well for terms then make sure you are doing everything in your power to draw that user off the search result page and into your content.
  • Consider website acquisitions. While it’s not an option for every company, acquiring websites, SERP competitors and strong domains can help you to improve your coverage of a key SERP.

5. Allow reviews, embrace and be proactive about negative reviews

Embracing 3rd party review websites or an industry body if you are operating in a B2B market can help you ‘own the SERPs’. If you have a large enough consumer base, explore integrating reviews into your own website.

Monitor your SERPs and be proactive about negative reviews – don’t just seek to bury them with ‘reputation management’, look at how you fix your offerings or manage consumer expectations. Speak to the person who wrote the review, offer to put it right. A company that fails to manage reviews correctly will often drop out of contention during the consumer journey.

6. Use retargeting to cement your position

Put simply, retargeting is marketing to users who have visited your site previously by placing advertising on other sites around the web that they visit.

The numbers are compelling. If the average website converts at 2-5% on first visit, retargeting brings back the other 95%+ of users to attempt a conversion on a second, third…(ad infinitum) visit.

Once again, we come back to the importance of delivering the right message, in the right place at the right time. To assert market leadership and secure maximum conversions, you need to ease the consumer’s journey.

A sophisticated use of retargeting would be to tailor the banner and the landing page to where you believe the consumer to be. For example, if they’ve just visited your pricing plans page then this user is probably ready to buy. You don’t want to push them backwards on their journey by retargeting them with a banner and landing page that offers up a lot of information they already know.

At least anecdotally it is acknowledged that too much retargeting (or poorly executed retargeting) can reflect negatively on a brand – users feel like they are being stalked across the web.

7. Forge relationships with key influencers

The role social media plays in the consumer decision journey extends well beyond a prospective consumer asking their friends for their opinion on a purchase.

As the power has shifted from traditional media outlets to online, key influencers now wield all the power and reach. These are the people that your prospective consumers know, respect and trust.

Your consumers will seek the opinion of that influencer either personally or through previous reviews they have written or interviews they have given because they see them as the impartial expert.

Establishing and fostering relationships with relevant influencers should be core to any online marketing campaign.

If you’d like help transforming your business to win the digital war, we’d love to hear from you.