Understanding the Local Consumer’s Online Path to Purchase

Share this:

fingersHow do you help small to mid-sized businesses make the most of the “Zero Moment of Truth?” As Google describes it, this is the time when consumers initiate a decision-making process for a product or service they are considering before contacting a business or vising a store. This moment could involve searching for information on a search engine, comparing the websites of several businesses, checking online reviews, looking for deals and coupons, or asking on social media for recommendations.

Now that the average consumer interacts with more than 10 sources of information before making a buying decision, the Zero Moment of Truth is critical to consider as we create new solutions for small businesses. To help businesses win at the Zero Moment of Truth, hyperlocal companies must help their clients adapt to this new consumer-buying behavior.

Here are three simple steps that will ensure your clients have the greatest chance of having a presence throughout the consumer-buying journey:

1. Know What Motivates Consumers to Buy
It’s a fact that the web has transformed the consumer-buying journey into a complex, multistep process. And thanks to the availability of information online, consumers are so knowledgeable they have taken control of the entire process. But what influences people to buy from one local business over another? The short answer is everything. And so the marketing strategies you develop for these businesses must consider this: With a gold mine of information at their fingertips every moment of the day, consumers have access to countless sources across the Internet, including search engines and websites, reviews and social media pages, videos and images, to guide them at various stages in their buying process.

Consider this: Your client’s customer sees a display ad for a new local restaurant while visiting a local news site and decides he want to learn more about that eatery. So he searches on a major search engine, which turns up lots of valuable information: a few raving reviews, the restaurant’s website with photos and a compelling video tour, as well as the establishment’s Facebook page, which includes a 30%-off coupon. In this case, it’s not just one of these sources that convinces the consumer to eat dinner at the restaurant, but all of them.

So the online marketing campaign and web presence you create for your client must take into account every online platform a potential customer will refer to before making a purchase.

2. Map the Buying Journey for Your Client’s Target Audience
To make the buying journey work for your clients, you need to identify their target consumers and map out the typical paths they will likely take. This will help you understand clients’ challenges and deliver the right online marketing plan to aid them in reaching consumers across the web. The first step is to define a client’s target audience, according to gender, age range, education, income, interests, and any other identifying characteristics. The next step is to determine where these potential customers live and how far they are willing to travel to do business with your client.

Once you’ve identified the profile of your clients’ target customers, you can evaluate how potential customers think about their products or services so as to create a robust marketing plan for them: Is their product or service addressing a low-cost need (for repair of a drain, say) or a high-cost need (such as for new car)? Is it a low-cost want (for a spa treatment) or high-cost desire (for a kitchen remodeling)?

These considerations are important because the buying process for a low-cost need is dramatically different than that for a high-cost want and can determine how the target consumers are most likely to find a local business online. With that context in mind, think about where consumers might tend to discover your client’s business, what kinds of sites they will visit to learn more, and what information they need to make a decision to buy from from your client over a competitor and potentially share their experience online.

3. Build a Marketing Plan That Optimizes Your Client’s Web Presence
With all this in mind, the local businesses you serve can no longer afford to market only with a few traditional “offline” tactics like the yellow pages, billboards, and in-store signage. Today, they need to create a robust, sustained web presence in all the places that consumers search, surf, and socialize online.

What does a complete web presence consist of? For one, small businesses need targeted advertising on the leading search engines; popular news, entertainment and lifestyle websites; and social networks. Plus, they need to create a steady flow of compelling content across websites, blogs, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, and leading content sites like YouTube and Instagram. Finally, they need content that engages consumers and brings their businesses to life online, like product photos, video tutorials, how-to articles, and interesting stories. And on top of it all, they need someone to monitor and manage their online reputation to ensure potential customers form a great impression of them.

The bottom line is that consumers are using the web to become highly informed about everything they buy, and what they see (or don’t) about every business online affects whether they buy from that company. It’s much more complex and time-consuming for small businesses to reach these digital consumers than ever before, so it’s up to solutions providers to help clients create and sustain a total web presence that can win them more customers.

As CMO of ReachLocal, Todd Ebert leads the team responsible for all customer-facing marketing. He has 20 years of experience in brand strategy, product marketing, content marketing, and communications at technology start-ups and Fortune 100 enterprises. He can be reached through Twitter and his blog.