Alibaba Group

What the 2015 Holiday Shopping Season Can Teach Us About the New Buyer’s Journey

Read this blog to learn how the holiday shopping season can teach us a few lessons about the new buyer's journey.
Article Outline

More Americans shopped online last Monday (November 30) than braved Black Friday in-store sales, and that can teach us a lot about how the Buyer’s Journey has evolved since “Cyber Monday” was inaugurated 10 years ago.

The Internet analytics company comScore reported that Cyber Monday 2015 set a record as the biggest US shopping day of all time, with sales topping more than $3 billion. The online onslaught led to outages and snafus for some retail websites, including Target, Neiman Marcus, and Amazon.

And while $3 billion is a big deal compared to my checking account, the Chinese online retailer Alibaba Group nearly doubled that amount in the first 90 minutes of its single-day shopping event, called Singles’ Day, on Nov. 11.

Singles’ Day, which started in the 1990s with the fun intent to celebrate singlehood, has been embraced by Alibaba as a day to buy something nice for yourself. This year, shoppers spent $5 billion on themselves in the first 90 minutes, and more than $14.3 billion on themselves during the day.

What Does This Have To Do With The Buyer’s Journey?

What do these shopping events have to do with the Buyer’s Journey? And what does that mean to you, in your marketing role?

Well … everything. The explosion of online sales in events such as Singles’ Day or Cyber Monday are snapshots that reveal how much the Buyer’s Journey has changed, as well as who is now in control.

Let’s begin with a quick recap of the Buyer’s Journey, which are the steps a purchaser takes before making a purchase. The Buyer’s Journey typically flows along what marketers also call the sales or marketing funnel. That typical journey has three main parts:

  • Awareness (top-of-funnel, or TOFU)
  • Consideration (middle-of-funnel, or MOFU)
  • Decision/purchase (bottom –of-funnel) BOFU)

Now let’s look at Black Friday, which has its roots in the 1960s. Back then, purchasers followed a time-worn Buyer’s Journey.

They were made aware of a product through traditional advertising on television and radio, and in newspapers or direct mail.

They were alerted to special sales the day after Thanksgiving mostly through coupons and advertising inserts stuffed into newspapers. Armed with their ads, they hopped in the family car and drove to the nearest Sears or Woolworth to get the kids a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot or Chatty Kathy Doll. Even more complex sales, such as buying a car, put most – if not all – of the buying information in the hands of the salesman and company to be doled out to the buyer as bread crumbs to a sale.

Fast forward to today, and you’re hard pressed to find a newspaper in a household, let alone one stuffed with ads. This was true in my home this past Thanksgiving weekend, where we had nary a newspaper but did count more than a dozen smartphones, half a dozen laptops, and at least three tablets among us.

From the comfort of our couches and arm chairs, we could purchase one of 2015’s hottest toys, the remote control robot from the upcoming Star Wars movie, with just a few clicks.

In fact, mobile spending accounted for nearly one third of the Cyber Monday sales, increasing more than 53 percent from 2014 to $838 million. Mobile accounted for about 70 percent of the Singles’ Day sales.

We – that includes you, me and the general shopping public – no longer want to set alarms to wake up at 5 a.m., drive to a store, and then wait in line to get a discounted TV set we could have ordered online for the same price – and had shipped to our home for free. Today, buyers are enjoying the freedom that comes with online shopping, which let them shop wherever they want, whenever they want.

ABC News interviewed Diane Boral from Oxnard, California on why most of her shopping was going to be online this year. Her reply: “Because I have more time to browse for items.”

Buyers willingly, happily spend a considerable amount of time online researching their options. This is the new norm for B2C sales, as seen on Cyber Monday.

And Yes, B2B has changed too

It’s true for B2B sales, too. CEB surveyed more than 1,400 B2B customers and found at least 57% of a consumer’s purchase decision was made before they talked to a sales rep.

Back in the traditional Buyer’s Journey, would-be purchasers followed the path laid out for them by a company. Today, the buyer is empowered through technology, Internet search engines, review websites, and social media platforms to blaze their own path to your product. This graphic from Forrester shows how the buyer now moves freely (and unpredictably) throughout the Buyer’s Journey.

What Does That Mean To You?

Basically, it means you can’t afford to be lazy. Today’s buyer is better educated and more empowered than ever before. They lead busy lives, and when confronted with a pain point (e.g., needing a new furnace or a new logistics vendor) they will begin their research online and, increasingly, will make their purchase online.

So, my advice is to use Cyber Monday and Singles’ Day as models to how you can prepare your business for the new, every day, Buyer’s Journey.

“Every Day is Your Cyber Monday” Checklist

1. Understand your customers, what they want, and when they want it

First, begin with the end in mind. Take a look at your products or services and work backward to determine the seasonality of your business, as well as begin to better understand your customers’ demographics, interests and pain points. Your seasonality might have nothing to do with holidays and everything to do with buying cycles, such as end-of-quarter or end-of-financial-year.

Buyers like to have information ready and waiting for them to get when they feel they need it, not on your schedule. Publish content that will help them choose you as their solution. You want to be the business that gets called when they’ve finished the first 57 percent of the decision-making.

Consistently publishing value-added content will also increase how many people find you on their buying journeys. The more relevant content you have on your website – i.e. content that addresses the consumer’s pain points – will increase your visibility to Google and the other search engines. 

2. Content Audit & Planning

Next, audit your existing inventory of marketing collateral, matching it with the information you gained above. You want to match the collateral with the different stages of the Buyer’s Journey, as well as identify who would be consuming that content (managers, C-suite; B2B or B2C).

With your audit complete, you next step should be to identify any holes or redundancies you may have. In our experience, many businesses have tons and tons of content aimed at the top of the funnel and targeted to a general audience (insert frowny emoticon here). Read more on building a content library.

Now you should know what you have and what you may need. The next step is planning when you’ll create and publish this content. If you’re B2C, and your “Cyber Monday” is the start of the school year, then you should be making sure all the content is created and ready to be published before the end of spring. If you’re B2B and selling software to financial analysts and tax preparers, your content should be ready to go no later than the start of Q3 for Q3 and Q4 sales. Download the white paper on Six Best Practices for Creating a Content Marketing Strategy.

3. Prioritizing Content & Lead Scoring

Not all white papers are created equal; you need to understand which content has the most value for your customer. Review your existing business data analytics. Interview your sales and marketing teams. Ask your current customers. Determine which content help the buyer move through the buying funnel.

Once you have this information, associate a value to the content. You could start by giving a clicked-on email a value of five. A downloaded white paper could be worth 15 points. A product demo is worth 40 points. And so on. Your marketing automation platform can do this automatically, making it feasible to track a volume of prospects as they move along on their own idiosyncratic journey. Read more about the importance of lead scoring.

Remember, that it is no longer a linear one-way journey. A buyer may first come to your business after an Internet search resulted in a white paper or webinar offer. If you know it takes a score of 80 points for a prospect to become HOT, then encouraging them to download white papers or attend a webinar can get them there faster than having them retweet a post, which may only be worth one or two points.

4. Testing & Technology

You have now created amazing content targeted to your very own buyers, and you would be happy to have online sales land somewhere between Amazon (500+ transactions per second) and Alibaba (85,900 transactions per second) on their respective big shopping days.

Well, you’d better make sure first to test all the moving parts. One organization recently moved its website to a new server and never confirmed all its online forms still worked – they didn’t. A sure fire way to lose potential customers is to not be ready for them once they have made the decision to come to you online – especially if they’ trying to buy via mobile (read about Google’s emphasis on mobile).

Make sure your PPC advertising is updated for the season or current campaign. Make sure the links actually link to the correct landing pages, not your home page. Make sure there is a call to action on the page (“register right now to learn something important at this fabulous webinar’). Test the call to action. Test every link and form, on different screens (laptops, tablets, smartphones), on different operating systems and Internet browsers. Is the form hard to navigate? Is any of the language confusing? When you’re ready to launch, A/B test your headlines, buttons, and offers.

Innovations in technology make it easy to segment your buyers. You can segment by attributes such as title or location; you can segment by actions (e.g., attended a webinar); by purchased product (they bought a printer, so you send emails about ink); by engagement; by where they are in the journey (top of funnel? Mid-funnel? Almost closed?); or any other factor that mkes sense in your unique marketing environment.

You can also consider purchasing retargeting advertising or use programmatic advertising to deliver your snappy videos to customers. Sell direct to buyers online? Consider creating a secure way for existing customers to store purchase information, or incorporate Apple Pay or Google Pay to your shopping cart options to speed up the process. Be transparent about this to enhance trust.

Read Act-On’s ebook on Marketing Tech 101 to better understand the landscape and how you can plan your technology investments.

5. Promotion

The night before Singles’ Day, Alibaba hosted a big television show filled with celebrities. They spent the time highlighting all the specials that would be available during the sale.

Unless you know a Kardashian, you’re not likely to land a TV special. But you can and should consider all the avenues you have to promote your campaign. Consider creating short product videos that can be included in an email newsletter. Or create a video announcing your “Cyber Monday” sales event that can be featured on your website and newsletters. You can also create special edits of this content to share on the social media platforms your customers care about. Download our eBook “10 Tips for Creating Engaging Social Content.”

One other promotion you should be doing is letting others throughout your organization know about your campaign or sales event. This includes the sales team, as well as engineering, customer service, and accounting. You want folks ready to respond should a potential customer call or email them, or meet them at a holiday party.

Communicating with customers has never been easier. Or harder. There’s a ton of content out there, much of it just regurgitated noise. Remember that buyers are more savvy than ever, that they are researching information about your product or service before you even know it, and – if you are not ready for them, they will go elsewhere. Take a tour of Act-On to see how you can effectively engage your prospects throughout their buying journey by providing the right content, at the right time.

But if you’ve followed our “Every Day is Your Cyber Monday” Checklist you’re already separating yourself from the competition. Good luck on your journey.

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