Digital marketing is a complex online and offline activity, which encompasses anything related to electronic communication. Digital marketing according to Neil Patel, includes 7 major categories: Search engine optimization (SEO); Search engine marketing (SEM); Content marketing; Social Media Marketing (SMM); Pay-per-click advertising (PPC); Affiliate marketing; and Email marketing. The success of any one of these categories depends upon how well you understand the customer buying cycle.

When a customer buys a product or service, it is the visible aspect of a complex buying cycle. There is much more going on behind the scenes.

To buy or not to buy?

When did the consumer decide to buy? What happens after the purchase? What influenced the decision to buy?

What are the factors influencing the choice of product purchased by the consumer? These are questions that intrigued market researchers Engel, Blackwell and Kollat as far back as 1968. As a result of their investigations, they developed an intriguing five step model.

1. Recognizing a problem or need

When you recognize a problem or a need, it will create a desire to buy a product to solve it. However, you will only make a decision to buy the solution if it fits within a certain criteria, which will include things like price, availability, ease of purchase, and so on. An ideal situation has to occur for you to consider the purchase acceptable.

2. Searching for information

After recognizing the problem or need, you will look for information to resolve the problem or fulfill the need. How long your search takes depends on the complexity of the desire. The desire to eat pasta for lunch when out shopping can be answered by quickly reviewing available restaurant choices on the smartphone app.

The solution can be found within a few minutes. On the other hand, your desire to buy a home will result in some complicated research and decision making, including enlisting the help of realtors.

3. Evaluating the best options

After finding a number of choices, you will go through a mental sifting and sorting process before arriving at the best possible choice. Your evaluation is based on a subjective and objective understanding of the product.

You will then arrive at an “evoked set,” products that you like; an “inept set,” products that you don’t like; or an “inert set,” products that don’t interest you.

4. Making a decision to purchase

After you have mulled over the information and your feelings about a product you’ve chosen, you will buy it because it promises to resolve your problem or fulfill your need. It also matches your buying criteria.

5. Evaluating the purchase

After the purchase, you will decide whether the product was satisfying.

If you feel satisfied, you may buy more products from the manufacturer. If you are highly satisfied about it, you may recommend it to family and friends.

If you feel dissatisfied, you may resolve not to buy any more products from that particular company. If you feel highly dissatisfied, you may complain about it to family and friends and may even ask for a refund.

Using the buying cycle to sell 

When developing your digital marketing campaign, you can inject this knowledge into your marketing material.

Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Find out what problems people in your target audience are trying to resolve or need that they are trying to fulfill. Use this information to develop how you present your content. In other words, make the content relevant to consumer’s specific needs, wants, and desires.

Step 2: Make your content more easily available to people in your target audience who are searching for information that would help them. This might mean placing more ads, enlisting the help of JV partners, or publishing your material in a number of different places.

Step 3: Give plenty of reasons to your target market about how they will benefit from your product over the competition when they are trying to figure out the best choice between different solutions.

Step 4: Make the purchase as easy as possible for your target audience. Besides technological ease, consider how you structure your offer. Can your customers have a two week free trial of your membership site? Will you be able to break your $1,000 product into a four month payment plan of $250 for 4 months?

Step 5: Provide plenty of reassurance and after-sales support. Although you may have done your best to create a high-quality product, your customer may still have buyer’s remorse. Perhaps, your product does not quite fulfill their needs or it cost more than they were willing to pay.

Perhaps, in the case of an information product, they found it either too simple or too complex for their level of comprehension. Reassurance can come in the form of an easy way to get a refund. Support can come in the form of a forum, customer support center, or personal mentoring.

Use the buying cycle to guide and inform your entire digital marketing campaign. Here’s how it goes again: first, the consumer recognizes that they have a problem to resolve or a need to fulfill; second, the consumer searches for information that can help them; third, the consumer evaluates different solutions they’ve found; fourth, the consumer decides to make a purchase; and fifth, the consumer reflects on whether or not the solution solved the problem or fulfilled the need.