Understanding the way your clients move through their buying cycle is one of the most important and often overlooked steps in creating a successful content marketing strategy. While most marketers rightfully begin the content planning process with persona development, many forget that those personas’ interests evolve as they progress through various stages of the buying cycle.
In this article, we’re going to focus on how your messaging strategy should evolve in order to resonate with both early and late stage prospects. Before we dive into the definitions of each stage, it’s helpful to think about which content types are best suited for your editorial plan in the first place. As you learn more about the various stages of the buying cycle, you can begin to consider which content types will best resonate with your prospects in each stage.
This booklet of the Top 10 Most Common Content Types will help you choose the content types for your editorial plan. It defines the most commonly used content types, explains when to use each, and teaches you which types of content will help you connect with prospects in various buying stages.
As for the buying cycle itself, there are roughly four stages you need to know about. All four are worth mentioning, but, as you’ll see, content marketing is really on effective at nurturing two of them:
The Unaware Prospect
A prospect in this earliest stage of the buying cycle is not fully aware of their business challenge. They are not actively seeking a firm with whom they can partner; they’re not even looking for education about challenges related to their business. While there are some marketing tactics out there that can break through to this blissfully unaware prospect, content marketing doesn’t tend to be one of them.
The Researcher Prospect
A researcher is much further along in their purchasing journey than the unaware prospect. Researchers are clear about the scope of an issue or challenge in their business, and they recognize the need to understand more about it. Prospects in the research stage are hungry for information and education. Their willingness to be taught and to absorb new information is at its peak. Once they graduate into the next stage of the buying cycle (the Evaluation stage) and real money is on the line, they become much more skeptical. Researchers are not close to making a purchasing decision; in fact, that idea probably hasn’t even crossed their minds. All they’re interested in at this stage is learning and applying this new knowledge to their specific business situation. This makes them particularly suitable for nurturing through content marketing.
The Evaluator Prospect
An evaluator prospect has completed enough research about their business problem to understand they’re going to need to spend some money to solve it. In addition to looking for ways to become smarter about their business challenges, evaluators also need to understand what it would be like to work with you to solve it. Creating content for an evaluator requires a precise balance of education and promotion. Firms have to work to convince evaluators that they’ve got the expertise to solve the problem at hand, but do so in a way that appears first and foremost generous with education about the issue. That balance is hard to achieve, but a smart content marketing strategy can do it well.
The Purchaser Prospect
Purchaser prospects have narrowed their consideration set dramatically. They’ll almost always have a contract in hand from the firms they’re considering hiring. They’ve made connections with individuals at your firm. If your firm gets involved with pitches, that’s likely already happened by the time an evaluator graduates into a purchaser. While marketers should avoid creating content that would alienate the purchaser in any way, it’s unnecessary to design the messaging strategy with this person top of mind. If you did, all content would come across way too promotional and aggressive, and those prospects in earlier buying stages would likely be put off.
While many prospects will spend different amounts of time in each of these stages, most will pass through each as they come to make a purchasing decision. Because you can’t predict what stage any one prospect is likely to be in when they land on your website, it’s important to diversify your messaging strategy in such a way that you’re speaking to both researchers and evaluators regularly.
How to Write to a Researcher Prospect
Because researchers are proactively seeking education (and, at least for now, avoiding partnership), you’re most likely to attract them to your website through unbranded, organic search. Researcher content must be well-framed for SEO, and that goes far beyond optimizing the page’s metadata. To make it onto a researcher’s radar, you should have a clear understanding of how people in your industry are searching for keywords, phrases, and general subjects related to your expertise. If you don’t have the access or time to ask your prospects about this directly, take your best guess at what you suspect those keywords to be. Then, use a tool like Google’s Keyword Planner or SEMrush to learn more about the search volume of those terms and other related phrases that might inform your topic ideation.
Once you have a sense of the topics that represent the overlap between your firm’s core competencies and your prospects needs, you’re ready to write. But remember, researchers aren’t ready to hire you. The only way to build credibility and trust with these prospects is to generously share information about the subjects they’re interested in. Hold off on referencing a case study, mentioning a recent award, giving a nod to your new star employee, or even mentioning your process related to solving the problem at hand. The researcher still believes he/she can solve this problem without engaging professional help. The moment the reader suspects you have a sales agenda, your advice becomes less trustworthy.
How to Write to an Evaluator Prospect
Evaluators are more sales-focused prospects than researchers. You might attract them through organic search, but it’s also likely they’re actively researching firms who might be suitable partners and perusing your site with that perspective. While still interested in education, evaluators tend to need more information about your specific approach and experience with their given challenge. The best evaluator-focused content is first and foremost educational but it tactfully weaves in anecdotes about the firm’s experience with or approach to solving that challenge. A well-placed link to a case study or portfolio piece, or a direct call-to-action to get in touch to learn more can also effectively engage an evaluator.
Keeping the nuances of writing to researchers and evaluators in mind will go a long way toward developing a messaging strategy that’s likely to nurture your prospects. When your content is thoughtfully framed for these buying stages, readers feel more understood and less marketed to, and your firm builds credibility and trust faster.