The internet is getting smarter every day.
It seems like a silly thing to say, doesn’t it? How can the internet itself get smarter?
With each search you perform on the internet, the content being delivered to you grows more and more relevant. It seems to match your needs more and more perfectly each time, until it seems as though all you need to do is think about a subject and suddenly you’re inundated with information on precisely that topic.
Okay, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, at least right now. But the fact is, this ever-expanding internet intelligence is driven by the collection of massive amounts of data on how consumers search online, and it’s allowing businesses of all sizes to reach new customers more effectively than ever before.
Big businesses are fully aware of this. They are taking advantage of the massive amount of customer data they’ve collected to craft super-targeted and personalized marketing messages that resonate with their typical buyer. They then deliver those messages to their potential customers right where they are and at the moment they most need the information.
Sound complicated? It can be. But that doesn’t mean that the fundamental principles of this type of marketing can’t be applied to small businesses too, with big results, and that’s precisely the topic of this series.
Marketing 101: Understanding Your Customer’s Buying Habits
So how can these principles be applied in a small, local business? How can a mom-and-pop auto body shop, for example, take advantage of this same precision of marketing when it doesn’t have a massive cache of data or a huge budget, let alone a team of marketing technologists and data scientists to analyze it all?
The answer lies in boiling it down to the basics. We need to go back to Marketing 101 and take a close look at the typical journey a potential customer embarks on as she works her way to your door. We need to understand her decision-making habits; where she spends her time online, and where she’s likely to turn for answers at each step leading up to a decision to purchase your product or service. By understanding this buyer’s journey, as well as which steps are the most important for your unique business type, we can make sure your message reaches your would-be customer at just the right time.
That is some pretty powerful marketing magic, wouldn’t you agree?
Let’s explore how it all comes together. In this multi-part blog series, I’ll be covering each phase of the buyer’s journey in depth, and offering some actionable insight into how a small business can deliver just the right information to a hypothetical customer at the right time in order to keep this customer moving ever closer to your business’ doorstep.
The Awareness Stage: Problem, Meet Solution.
It all starts with a customer with a problem. A problem for which your business has a solution. It’s the best solution, of course. Your competitors don’t even come close.
Sadly, while the superiority of your solution may be clear as day to you, your customer-with-a-problem might not even know you exist. Enter marketing for the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey. At this early stage, it’s a marketer’s job to provide just the right kind of information to your future customer that helps her recognize and define the problem she faces, and decide that some action must be taken to remedy it.
On her drive home from work, Sarah notices that her steering wheel has started to shake violently. She’s not sure what could be causing the problem. Maybe it’s just a bumpy road, but it might be something more serious. Either way, it’s uncomfortable, and it wasn’t happening before.
When Sarah gets home, what do you think she is most likely to search for at this early stage?
A.) Auto Mechanics in Anytown, USA
B.) Why does my steering wheel shake?
If Sarah is like most consumers, the answer is B., or something similar. Sarah isn’t really sure she has a real problem on her hands so she’s unlikely to jump right to a search query that will probably end in her paying a mechanic to look at her car. That comes at a later stage in the journey.
She’s searching for information right now. As an experienced mechanic, you know that a shaky steering wheel can be a sign of a potentially dangerous problem. Now is the time to provide information that helps Sarah recognize and define the problem she has, understand the severity of it, and provide that information in a way that establishes your business as a trustworthy source of helpful information.
At this stage of Sarah’s journey, her search for information on steering wheel vibration will lead her to content sources like blog posts, FAQ pages on websites, explainer videos on YouTube, discussions on social media, and paid search ads that are displayed on nearly all of these pages. If your business has a website with a solid search engine optimization strategy in effect, an active presence on social media, and some well-targeted pay-per-click campaigns running, Sarah’s chances of landing on one of your online properties are greatly increased.
Perhaps she’ll read your blog post about the most common causes of steering wheel vibration such as bent wheels, damaged wheel bearings, or problems with the vehicle’s suspension. She might find your YouTube video that explains some of the dangers of a shaky steering wheel. She will read your information, and realize that she needs to have this steering wheel issue addressed sooner rather than later. The information on your website was so helpful and had just the right tone that she’ll now move deeper into the funnel and continue on towards the next phases of the buyer’s journey – Interest and Evaluation.
How Small Businesses Use SEO & PPC to Succeed at the Awareness Phase
The awareness stage of the buyer’s journey relies heavily on your business being found in search engines. Unless your website is considered the foremost authority on a particular topic, allowing your business to rank for competitive keywords like “steering wheel vibration” on its own merit, pay-per-click ads coupled with solid SEO will be your best friends at this stage.
You may have all the right content in place on your website, meaning content that is helpful, answers relevant questions and builds trust in your business; but if your would-be customer can’t find your website, what good will all that great content do you?
Properly implemented SEO and an effective PPC campaign will help Sarah find your business during this important first phase of the buyer’s journey by allowing your business to be displayed prominently in the search engine results pages when she decides to turn to Google for an answer to her shaky steering wheel question.
So What’s Next?
In the next part of the series, we’ll cover what happens during the next two phases of the buyer’s journey – interest and evaluation. You’ll learn what kinds of messages resonate with a potential customer during these phases, where they’re likely to look for that information, and how to make sure your business is the one providing all that great information that will lead the customer towards a decision to take the plunge and convert from a stranger on the internet to a customer at your shop.
Serious Marketing Isn’t Just for Big Business
“Buyer’s journey? Sales funnel? Marketing strategy? That’s for big businesses with big budgets, right?”
Here’s the thing. While these marketing strategies may be the foundation for big businesses everywhere, not many small businesses take full advantage of them. They see them as out of reach – too complicated and too expensive.
At least they don’t have to be, and small business owners who invest in digital marketing strategies that have been proven to work on a big business scale eventually find themselves with a serious advantage over their competitors who rely on techniques that are growing increasingly obsolete, like phonebook or radio advertisements.
The fact is, digital marketing is especially beneficial for small businesses because it offers the highest return on investment possible thanks to the highly targeted nature of online marketing. You can literally reach people in your geographic area searching for exactly the services and products your business provides, in real time. Talk about marketing magic.
Can your phone book say that? No. No, it can’t.