How to Attract Buyers in an Inbound Market

Join us as we explore the stages of the buyer's cycle and how to attract them with the right content at the right time.
August 11, 2014

The marketplace has changed, and old strategies for attracting prospects aren’t keeping up. As new buyers become more self-reliant, old models and mindsets need to give way to the new ethos of inbound marketing.

It’s not just a new coat of paint on old tactics. Inbound is a new philosophy for online marketing based on the new marketplace revolution. Marketing and sales teams are working closer than ever as job descriptions morph to reflect new buyer expectations, but the job of attracting new prospects has always fallen to marketing.

The difference, however, is that instead of simply opening the funnel or starting the cycle, “attraction” is a much more versatile job in the inbound marketplace. New research suggests a new strategy for modeling the buying process in light of independent,  self-educating decision makers, and understanding that journey may be the key to crafting stand-out content for a new breed of buyer.

Walk A Mile in Your Buyers’ Shoes

Traditional sales funnels and marketing cycles have been stretched and tweaked in response to changes in the marketplace over the last several years. The roles of sales and marketing teams have adjusted, funnels have become more stout, and stages have been added, as inbound marketing has evolved to answer a new breed of buyer. But decision makers don’t consider themselves sliding down a funnel, or looping through a cycle. As buyers continue to lead the marketplace today, it’s helpful to consider their buying process the same way they do.

Stages of the buyer’s journey

One study, part of a project called The State of the Demand Generation, outlines the buyer’s journey in three phases, based on research habits that typically result in three spikes of content consumption:

  1. Unidentified Need – This is when a buyer is starting to define his pain or need. He is defining his problem and starting to learn how to solve it.
  2. Defined But Stalled- In the second stage, the buyer understands his need, but does not have the budget, authority, need or timeline to move forward with a solution.
  3. Evaluation of Vendors – By the third stage, the buyer has earned what he needs to move forward (BANT), and is comparing you with your competitors before purchasing.

Most of the five (or seven) stages of the marketing cycle come in at the end of this process, and old funnel models would assign two of these three steps to the sales team. In the new marketplace, however, this journey is self-guided by informed, independent buyers, which means it is all in marketing’s territory.

Outbound Speed Bumps

As your buyers make this journey – carving out significant time for online research at each stage – they will inevitably encounter a sea of old-school, outbound marketing tricks: banner ads, unsolicited email blasts, pop-ups, etc. Some of it will be related to their need, some of it won’t, but it hardly matters. In the new marketplace, buyers are calling the shots – interruptions are routinely closed, shut down, ignored, and over-looked with increasing skill and speed.

Ross Quintana, owner and founder of Social Magnets, has experience in all aspects of marketing. He has watched the marketplace change, from a marketer’s perspective, for years.

The internet is full of information. It is a sea of distraction and buyers have learned to tune out everything except what is relevant to them. If you don’t tune into your target market’s needs you are invisible, and all the strategy and branding is for nothing. – Ross Quintana, (@Ross_Quintana), Owner and Founder, Social Magnets

Stephanie Miller is a digital marketing and CRM expert with DMA.

The signal-to-noise ratio is the bane of every acquisition marketer. There is too much competition for the precious few seconds that prospects can spend. – Stephanie Miller (@StephanieSAM), SVP and Chief Listening Officer, DMA

It’s important to understand the whole journey. Whether they’re in the middle of a research spike, or just doing life as usual in the valleys, buyers are being constantly interrupted and annoyed by ads. The inbound marketing mindset speaks to both aspects of the buyers’ journey by putting your brand in front of decision makers at the right time, and in the best possible light.

Meet Them Every Step of the Way

Nurturing an inbound marketing strategy will necessarily help to hone your brand narrative. Then, with a clear understanding of who you are and why your organization does what it does, an inbound marketing ethos will help you not only meet but engage with buyers at every stage of their journey.

Craft A Compelling Brand Narrative

Inbound marketing is all about actively participating in the new marketplace, and drawing decision makers into your brand. As inbound continues to become mainstream, though, more of your competitors are creating inbound content as well. You need to have a clear understanding of what makes your organization unique, and part of your content marketing strategy needs to focus on distilling that identity into each piece you create. Extraordinary content marketing starts with a compelling brand narrative. Jason Miller leads global content and social initiatives for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

It all starts with building a solid brand narrative – the essential first step to defining what your brand or company is all about. Then it’s all about getting to know your prospects and customers – from what keeps them up at night, to what trends and topics they are most interested in. Once you have the foundation in place, that’s when social, content, and PR can all start to work together to tell your brand’s story and aligning this with business objectives. – Jason Miller (@JasonMillerCA), LinkedIn

Two valuable tricks for developing a brand narrative, especially in the light of a content marketing strategy are:

  • Product Positioning – What problem is your product or service designed to solve? What need is it scripted to meet? How does your audience already perceive your brand? Figure out where you stand in the marketplace, and determine where exactly you want to go. Since inbound marketing is about engaging new buyers, you’re already planning to do as much listening as talking in the marketplace. That means your inbound strategy will naturally help you with product positioning as you listen to decision makers in your industry.
  • Brand Persona – You probably have a few personas outlined for your buyers, but taking the time to develop a brand persona (based off of your audience, of course) will help tremendously as you develop a content strategy. Considerations like tone (Is your brand personal or more clinical?) and language (Does your brand use complex or simple language?) will help to give your content a unique voice in a loud marketplace.

And whatever you do, do it honestly. In a world where we see more ads every day than our brains can even register, trust in the marketplace is at an all-time low.

It starts with being genuine. People can smell authenticity. It is one thing to know who they are and what they want, but you also have to be identifiable and consistent so they can reciprocate the relationship. Remember, they are people, a brand is perception. That perception is molded and must be consistent so people know who they are dealing with. – Ross Quintana, (@Ross_Quintana), Owner and Founder, Social Magnets

Transparency and authenticity speak much louder than strategic copywriting and beautiful stock photography. Leadership coach Christina Lattimer consistently ties these same values to the power of a brand.

In the leadership field, corporate social responsibility, ethics, and transparency should really be reflected in branding. – Christina Lattimer (@ChristinaLattimer), People Discovery

A valuable brand narrative will honestly and authentically tell your organization’s story with an engaging, consistent voice, across multiple channels, through various mediums. And, it will create a dynamic position for your company in the new marketplace.

Content for every stage

Understanding the buyers’ journey, and when they are looking for specific kinds of information, should then lead your content marketing strategy. Carefully molding content that appeals to and informs decision makers at every stage in their process will help your brand stay in front of buyers, and build a positive reputation in the marketplace.

Once you understand the type of content your buyer is searching for, then it’s time to optimize and scale your efforts across multiple channels. It’s no longer a numbers game when it comes to content; it’s now a game of relevance and optimization. Inbound marketers don’t need more content, they need more relevant content. – Jason Miller (@JasonMillerCA), LinkedIn

With your brand narrative and persona in mind, review those three stages in the buyer’s journey, and create great content that answers their questions and solves their problems.

  • Unidentified Need – The buyer is identifying his need and beginning to understand how to fix it. Use lots of short, visual, quick content here, because the buyer isn’t looking for details yet. Catch his or her eye. Ask questions, and be prepared to genuinely listen so you can help your audience clarify and begin to solve their problems. Be entertaining.
  • Defined But Stalled – In this stage, your content should be meatier to help decision makers overcome the lack of budget, authority, need, or timeline (BANT) that is keeping them from moving forward. Blog posts, eBooks, events, and more in-depth videos are valuable as you provide all the information and assistance that you can, and establish your brand as a thought-leader in the industry. You already have their attention, in fact, they are now actively looking for you. Content for this stage is focused on answering all of their questions. Be informative.
  • Evaluation of Vendors – If you provide consistent, high-quality content for the first two stages, this final peak should be the easiest. By the time decision makers are ready to pull the trigger, they have already seen a lot of branded content, and already have a good idea of which organization they trust and feel comfortable with. Provide pricing sheets, breakdowns of your service level tiers, and testimonials. Be persuasive.

Use social media to continue meeting, listening to, and engaging your audience in between those research spikes. Ask questions. Share success stories. Don’t let them forget about you.

I can’t think of any brand which can’t seriously think about social media, interaction, and engagement with customers moving forward. I think this will become the fabric of the most astute brandings in a much larger scale than is now. – Christina Lattimer (), People Discovery

Understanding the buyers’ journey from their perspective will help you to produce content that gives your brand a unique voice among new buyers. Consider each stage of the journey, and start designing strategic pieces to meet them every step of the way.

Empathy is Attractive

Just as traditional marketing strategies are failing in a buyer-driven marketplace, old mindsets that led to old marketing models are finding themselves less and less effective. The handoff of prospects from marketing to sales looks less like a football play and more like a relay race skill – where both are running in the same direction, and the connection is seamless. Understanding the buyers’ journey the way the buyer understands it will help marketers meet decision makers at every opportunity, and in the best possible way. It will help to hone a brand narrative and then to develop a powerful inbound marketing strategy that will attract buyers in the new marketplace.

Nate Dame
CEO and Founder
Nate is the founder and CEO of Profound Strategy, a results-oriented SEO consultancy trusted by forward-thinking companies, including a few of the world's largest B2B and technology brands. Profound Strategy builds holistic SEO strategies, supports internal teams, and offers full-service execution to create an organic search presence that generates significant revenue.

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