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No two buyers are alike. And no two buying decisions of one individual are alike.

The factors that influence purchasing decisions vary from buyer to buyer, time to time, and situation to situation.

The ‘buyer’s journey’ is a rather pithy phrase that marketers use to define the process that someone goes through before making a purchase. On the face of it, it may look like a straightforward process of moving from point A to point B. But you need to just scratch the surface to realize how complicated this journey is, with several factors holding sway over why someone decides one product or service over another.

Let’s say you need to buy a payroll solution for your company.

If you run a design firm, you need a standardized payroll format that calculates monthly compensations and annual increments and bonuses. But if you run a manufacturing firm, you will need a solution that can manage a highly complex compensation system based on not just monthly pay but also hourly wages, overtime, incentives and bonuses.

Assume your company has spread its operations across countries, and now needs a solution that offers taxation and other mandatory deductions as add-on features. After the pandemic, with most of your staff working from home, your needs have evolved further. Now access to payroll data must be available on the cloud and in a secure manner.

With a plethora of choices and easy access to information, buyers today are not just more educated but also more discerning. A study conducted by Focus Vision revealed that B2B buyers consume 13 pieces of content before they make up their mind, of which eight are from the vendor and five from third-party sources.

As a buyer progresses on her journey, she will look toward the available content for inspiration to act at each stage. But what are these different kinds of content that you can use to influence her? Start with the educative to create awareness, then move to the thought-provoking to steer the conversation in a new direction and, finally, authoritative content to drive decisions in your favor.

So if you have something to sell, you have a rather tough job cut out for you. You need to create B2B content for a variety of purposes and channels – your company’s website, blog, social media platforms, newsletters, traditional PR activities and events – to fit different stages of a buyer’s journey.

#1: Awareness Stage

During this early stage, prospects begin to realize they have a problem. As they commence their research for a solution to this newfound problem, they will come across several companies offering relevant solutions. At this discovery stage, they may read an opinion piece by a CEO in a magazine or click on a landing page that will lead to the company’s website. Impressive web content is likely to lead them to the company’s blog or its social media pages.

Educative, engaging content across these channels will set the brand apart from its competitors’, build its reputation and provide confidence about its capabilities in the prospect’s mind.

At this stage, it is crucial to establish the company’s authority, while at the same time, build on buyers’ knowledge and pique their curiosity and interest to proceed to the next level.

Content formats to impress a buyer during the awareness stage:

  • Thought leadership: B2B content is not always impersonal; consider adding a human voice to it. Position leaders from the C-suite to talk on themes that are close to your business, without promoting the company directly. Explore both traditional media and the company’s blog for thought leadership, and bring out the subject matter expertise of the company’s leaders. By sharing insights and perspectives as a thought leader, you will be educating the reader, inspiring confidence and establishing the company’s authority in the chosen field. For example, a consulting company can go beyond just reporting changes in the regulatory environment on its website. It can publish commentaries from its leaders in the form of media articles or blogs that will help readers make sense of recent developments.
  • E-books: Digital books contain useful information that buyers may be looking for to understand a product category or the market better. An e-book is no doubt educative in nature but it can also subtly bring out the benefits of a company’s products or solutions. It may include contributory articles from industry leaders to add further weight to the content.
  • Social media content: Regular social media updates offer an opportunity to stay in the mind of a company’s followers, users and prospects. Use this channel to publish promotional content about the company and its products, thought provoking and insightful posts from the leaders, and informative content curated from other sources.

#2: Evaluation Stage

Now that the buyer has progressed to the next stage, arm him with resources that are tailored to his specific need. With the knowledge that he has gathered in the awareness phase, he would have created a shortlist of what he wants. Now is the time for a content deep dive to guide him and clarify his doubts and misconceptions.

The core focus at this stage is to empower buyers with content that will help them compare and assess one solution over another. How easy is it to use? How feature-rich is the product compared with others in the market? What do buyers have to say?

Content formats to persuade buyers during the evaluation stage:

  • Whitepapers: Publish whitepapers that throw light on a perplexing problem and recommend best practices based on your experience or study. The objective must be to help users gain better understanding of a pain point. For example, what is the best way to migrate from an on-premises IT infrastructure to a hybrid cloud? Whitepapers do not just provide depth to a website but also an opportunity to gather data about website visitors. Companies can ask for data of interested readers before they can download a whitepaper.
  • Video demonstrations: Besides being a visually appealing alternative to text-based content, videos can help demonstrate how a product works or a service is delivered. Explainer videos can take the place of lengthy brochures and deliver the message in a more succinct and engaging manner. It is also an effective way to explain complex subjects that may be new to the user. For example, how a bank is adopting blockchain technology to improve user experience in cross-border remittances.
  • Brochures, presentations, guides: Brochures and presentations are a staple ammunition in a marketer’s arsenal. Added to these are how-to guides that list out steps and provides recommendations on how to operate a machine or deploy a service. It is a great way to demonstrate product differentiators such as its ease of use.

#3: Decision-Making Stage

Now is the time to deliver the knock-out punch, the content that finally converts a lead to a buyer.

The buyer has now formed a favorable impression of your brand in her mind. But she will spend more time reading reviews and reports to put the last few doubts to rest before hitting the purchase button.

At this stage, she needs content that answers buyer-specific queries and addresses her peculiar demands and needs. This is also the right time to forge a personal connection with the buyer by delivering communication tailored to her.

Content formats to seal the deal at the decision-making stage:

  • Case studies: Case studies demonstrate a company’s core competence in a real-life scenario. By positioning a company’s solution in a customer’s context, case studies help tell the story in the classic problem vs solution (or villain vs hero) format from the customer’s point of view. It is a powerful authentication of a company’s value proposition.
  • Personalized communication: This is the stage to establish one-on-one communication with key decision-makers in the prospect’s organization. Communication in the form of emails or proposals must address the prospect’s pain points and demonstrate your track record of solving such problems.

Every stage in the buyer’s journey is critical as it lays the foundation for the next stage. Create content with a clear understanding of the needs of the buyer across these stages. Bring your leaders to the forefront and humanize your brand. Use storytelling techniques instead of simply relating facts and figures to make it more convincing. Such purpose-driven content creation will bring greater alignment between marketing and sales, and investment and returns.