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Building Marketing Plans Using the Customer Buying Cycle

Are you ready to build a marketing plan?
Defining a target market and understanding the Customer Buying Cycle are keys to the development of an effective marketing plan.
Here is what you need to know to start that development.
Who is your target market?
Although you may want to sell your product or service to everyone, it may not be practical nor a good fit. You need to focus on a segment of the total population that is the best target for your offering and you need to learn as much about them as you possibly can. For example, who are they, where do they live, what is the 'pain' they are trying to solve, and how do they shop. A well-defined target market is the most crucial piece of an effective marketing plan and will be the backbone.
How do they purchase?
Once you have defined your target market, you need to understand how they make their purchase decisions and develop activities that will influence those decisions.
There are six distinct steps that an individual goes through when making a purchase decision. Some of these steps may be done instinctively when a simple purchase is involved (e.g. a magazine or a pair of shoes). However, deciding on a larger purchase (e.g. a car or a new home) may require more time and more thought as the buyer moves toward their purchase decision.
Regardless of the $ value of the purchase, buyers will flow through the following stages: Awareness, Knowledge, Liking, Preference, Commitment and Buy. Each of these important steps has its own unique attributes and cannot be skipped.
The ultimate goal of a good marketer is to reach the right target market and have them take an action leading to a specific result. Satisfied customers become loyal customers and will refer your product or service to others. You need to create activities in your plan that will help guide prospective purchasers through the buying cycle towards the desired outcome.
Marketing for each stage has unique definitions, goals and activities. Below we provide a definition, goals for the target market and for the marketer and typical activities for each stage.
To illustrate each stage, we will use the example of buying a car. It is important to realize that purchasing a service (instead of a product) would follow the same cycle and stages.
Stage 1 - Awareness
Definition: Realizing; being conscious of something
Goal for the Target Market
In the Awareness stage, the target market realizes they have a problem to solve. In the example of a car purchase, the customer has a transportation problem. They will start to consider different options - public transit, car pooling, or buying a car. They need to become aware of all their options including the different car companies.
Goal for the Marketer
As a marketer, you need to make your presence known and attract the attention of potential customers so that you are included in their list of solutions to their problem. You want your target market to receive a glimpse of who you are and what you are offering. In our car purchase example, you need to make the buyer aware that you make and sell good cars. The goal is to get the buyer a bit excited and looking for more information about your product or service.
Typical Activities
Typical activities or tactics for creating awareness might be an advertisement in the local newspaper or on the radio, or business cards or the creation of a new website.
Stage 2 - Knowledge
Definition: a body of facts accumulated over time; the fact of knowing
Goal for the Target Market
Here, the target market is looking for more information about any of the options that have piqued their interest. They will gather information to help them narrow down the list. In our car example, they will try to find out more about different car manufacturers through brochures, websites, magazines or car shows.
Goal for the Marketer
The marketer must ensure that there is enough information available to their potential customers in places where they can find it. In our car example, you want to provide them with information about your different car models and to provide that information where they will go - i.e. car dealerships, websites, car shows, detailed ads in car magazines, or reviews.
Typical Activities
You want activities that will allow you to provide additional detail on your product or service. Advertising with product information or user examples, a direct mail package or brochures will help provide knowledge.
Stage 3 - Liking
Definition: having the same characteristics; similar; equal; to be pleased with
Goal for the Target Market
The target market has now gathered information on several of their options and they need to determine which ones they like and which ones they can eliminate. In our car example, they are ready for a test drive, to read an existing customer testimonial or to review a detailed product comparison in a car magazine.
Goal for the Marketer
The goal for the marketer is simple - create liking for your product or service. You need to create activities that strengthen your position with the potential customer. In our car example, you need to provide a positive experience when they visit the showroom or read an article in a magazine.
Typical Activities
Customer references, telemarketing, a demo or test-drive are activities that would help guide a potential customer towards liking your solution.
Stage 4 - Preference
Definition: the act of choosing or favouring one above another
Goal for the Target Market
Now, the target market needs to decide which option they prefer on their short list. They continue to gather more information and may seek out recommendations from friends and family. In our car example, they may take another test drive with a family member or start to focus on more specific areas for comparison like warranty or awards.
Goal for the Marketer
The marketer needs to ensure the target market chooses his offering above the competitors. You need to be aware of what is most important for customers and highlight how you provide those particular benefits. In our car example, you may be aware that safety and financing are important to your target market. You will need to highlight those areas and provide proof of how you outperform your competitors.
Typical Activities
Marketing activities in this stage could include customer testimonials, pricing comparisons, usability comparisons or special offers to help the market solidify their choice. In our car example, pricing and special deals could be used to help create preference.
Stage 5 - Commitment
Definition: To entrust; to consign; to involve; to pledge
Goal for the Target Market
In this stage, the target market has to make a commitment to their preferred choice. They may review all the information received earlier and will seek out positive reinforcement for their decision. The target customer is ready to take another action - asking about a contract, purchase options or incentives, walking with the product to the cash or placing an online order.
Goal for the Marketer
Having a channel ready at this stage to help facilitate the commitment will ensure the deal is closed promptly and smoothly for your customer. Setting up and having the appropriate channels stocked with product and ready to fulfill orders smoothly is very critical to successful purchases. A good marketer will have activities in their plan to educate the sales teams and the channels (e.g. dealers). In our car example, providing financing and pricing offers as well as offering a great warranty will help the customer commit.
Typical Activities
Marketing activities might include sales training, customer service and purchase incentives.
Stage 6 - Buy/Sell/Loyalty
Definition: Buy - to purchase; to acquire in exchange; to believe.
Goal for the Target Market
Their goal is to purchase their desired option. They want to make a final decision and exchange money for your product or service. They want to sign the contract or purchase order, provide payment and walk out the door with their purchase. In our car example, they are handing over the check and taking delivery of their new car.
Goal for the Marketer
The marketer needs to achieve two goals - the acquisition of a customer and the retention of that customer. You need to ensure your customers have a positive purchase experience, leave with a smile and a desire to return to you or to recommend you to others. In our car example, that might include reducing the paperwork to get the deal done, a deal on services, a thank-you letter or gift.
Typical Activities
A smooth purchase process will help the target market make their purchase. It is also important to have activities following the purchase such as a repeat or referral incentive, easy access to service, an online support group, or a newsletter. This will help keep your customer group engaged and content.
Summarizing the Buying Cycle
Focusing on a specific target market and how they move through the Awareness to Buy Cycle will help you create a successful marketing plan with appropriate activities. The steps and the process are not myths; they are real and are integral components in a customer's purchasing decision.
Sometimes, we are in a hurry to get the end result and we want to skip steps and make assumptions about our target market. In most instances, this results in work having to be re-done, timelines extended and an increase of expenses. Taking the time to do the thinking and the planning will pay off in the long run with a successful marketing plan, satisfied customers and a good ROI.
Please look on http://www.tmt-solutions.com for our next article in the series - Choosing a Target Market. More detail will be shared and each subsequent article will talk about each stage in the Awareness to Buy Cycle.

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