The online buyer journey resembles a buyer’s progress through a high street shop. They would scan the wares to see if whatever they want is there. If they spot something like it, they might well ask questions about it. Ultimately, they might buy it. By analogy, those who browse online for products and services would ask preliminary and follow up questions. And, just as in the shop, the more questions they ask, the more they elucidate their needs and narrow down their preferences. Importantly, the answers browsers get would make them feel valued: they would personalize their experience. Read on to discover the sequence of questions which determine whether a product or service would sell.
“The hook”: purpose, features, and benefits
The primary question is what the purpose of a product or service is and how they solve a problem. This is the first query in a customer’s mind when coming upon a website offering that product or service. In fact, most marketing experts believe that answering this question covers some two thirds to three quarters of the entire buyer journey. Buyers would not buy unless they are happy with the answer they get to this question.
You can handle the primary question in various ways. A good homepage would usually lead by describing the product or service in terms of features. It would then follow by highlighting the benefits, which these features confer: how each of them helps resolve a problem or satisfy a need.
There is an old marketing technique for turning descriptive features into benefits. Let us say that an app is unusually fast. This is a descriptive feature. The way to turn it into a benefit is to say something like “therefore.” In this case, the app is fast, therefore it saves its users time. We now have a benefit.
But old marketing techniques are often not enough in our hectic new century. Customers tend to devote mere seconds to a website before possibly drifting off to explore others. This calls for a very powerful ‘hook’ to drag them further into the website and away from leaving.
Once the hook has done its job, users and customers might be offered interactive tools allowing them to ask further questions. They can include live chat or an AI-powered chatbot speaking natural language. The idea is to provide in-depth information beyond the headline features of a product or service.
On this second phase of the buyer journey, customers ask probing questions and expect to get satisfactory answers to them. These questions usually address very specific and even arcane features, particular characteristics, and set requirements.
A good FAQ or Help & Support page can be very helpful here. Also helpful are free tutorials showcasing a product’s feature power and useful benefits. But interactive sampling is no longer something outré in the second decade of the XXI-st century. This is why advanced designers are now offering video tutorials to anticipate even obscure queries. Even better, some offer live chat or chat-enabled solutions to get to the most individual level possible.
Pricing it right
If kept happy through the above steps, interested customers would take the next step: checking and comparing prices. Few products or services are unique. Most are rather similar to others available elsewhere under different guises and names. It is plain commonsense that any prospective client will compare the prices or subscription plans offered by perhaps dozens of competitors. That is why the price question repays the utmost attention. Answering it has to convince potential customers that the price is reasonable, competitive, and that it promises value over an extended term.
The temptation is often to start by driving prices unreasonably low or even to offer unsolicited upfront discounts. But, as any old-fashioned commercial rep or shop assistant would have known, this reflects poor commercial judgement. A product or service that resolves a problem should be worth every penny of its asking price. Cutting that price bespeaks the exact opposite to potential buyers.
On the other hand, pricing should reflect value fairly. There are alternatives to practically all online products and services. Today’s buyer enjoys plentiful choice in terms of similar functionality and keen pricing, and exercises that choice.
Stacking up against the competition
If prospect customers have not moved away from a product or service on the grounds of features, benefits, or pricing, they would ask one final question. It is how it compares with competing ones. The instinctive answer to it can easily go in the direction of boasting and even hyperbole. But consumers are inured to publicity and advertising hype and have learned to read between its lines in examining alternatives. Overstatement and screaming put them off. Honesty and openness win them over.
A good number of webpages resort to ‘knocking.’ In marketing jargon knocking means attacking the competition, often through unfavorable or out-of-context comparisons. It is often tempting to engage in knocking. But, to a customer, knocking divulges a fear of competitors. Worse, clients perceive it as a trait of black hat SEO and merchandising. It is wiser simply to stick to facts. If a service is 20 percent faster than others, then that is worth announcing with pride. If a product offers a concrete feature which competing products lack, likewise. While on this topic, it is worth keeping in mind that consumers do not take kindly to anyone insulting their intelligence. Plenty of them are able to test products or services comparatively and publish their results online; those who boast unsupported claims should beware! Bad buzz is buzz, but do you want this?
Four user journey models
The entire buyer journey, then, is navigated by posing questions and receiving answers. The precise questions will of course vary from buyer to buyer. Every buyer will experience things differently. Nevertheless, there is a set of four standardized models, which accommodate a very wide range of broad individual scenarios:
- The Easy-to-Convince Model. This covers simpler individual scenarios, including impulse buys driven by reflex or habit, loyal customer purchases, and purchases directed by a single decision maker;
- The Before-and-After Model. This is a straightforward six-stage model for a customer journey;
- The Circular Model. This reflects carefully considered big-ticket sales of repeatedly purchased products and services;
- The Consistency Model. This covers consistency in content over time.
The Content Marketing Institute explains these four models in more detail in an article on their website.
Knowing browsers and customers
Awareness of these browser and buyer journey models allows online service designers to guide visitors along predefined tracks – but only to an extent. Product vision is important, but flexibility allowing for satisfaction of individual customer needs matters more. Products and services are successful only if they provide the right customers with the right answers and adapt all the time.
Growing convergence between offline and online customer behavior calls for making the customer journey similar regardless of where. App and software developers are increasingly posting unified branding at all touch points in the buyer journey: websites, social media, mobile, email marketing, digital marketing, and all other channels publicizing a product or service. To be truly complete, the process should also include canvassing and researching feedback to get a rounded grasp of your customers and users.