5 Tips for Reaching Consumers When They're Ready to Buy

By Pedro Hernandez | Posted January 03, 2013

Having trouble attracting customers? The problem for many small businesses is that they're not putting up enough guideposts to help potential customers along their buying journey.

And today, more of that journey is traversed online.

Todd Ebert, chief marketing officer for ReachLocal, a local online marketing specialist, has devoted countless hours of research and poured decades of hands-on experience into exploring consumer behavior and how it's evolving. Those efforts recently culminated in a new ebook titled "How Consumers Buy Today."

Ebert describes the ebook as "a labor of love for me over the past few years." The aim, he tells Small Business Computing, is to help companies, particularly small businesses, understand what the buying journey entails for consumers, and by extension, better position their business to attract them.

Here are five small business tips designed to lead consumers to your door at the moment they're ready to buy.

Change Perspective

Put yourself in the shoes of the average consumer. Sure, you may have more behind-the-scenes knowledge of the buying process, but the buying journey is roughly the same.

"Think about how you buy stuff today," says Ebert. Whether it's a home appliance, a repair service or a travel destination, most consumers today will almost instinctively run a Google search, look up videos and solicit opinions from friends over social media.

Let your own experiences be your guide. Even if you lack marketing savvy, the simple act of shifting your viewpoint will provide a solid foundation for your future marketing efforts.

Show up at the "Zero Moment of Truth"

The "Zero Moment of Truth" is a term coined by Google in an ebook fittingly called "Winning at the Zero Moment of Truth." In his own ebook, Ebert describes it as the "moment when you grab your laptop or phone and start learning about a product or service you're thinking about buying before you call or go to the store."

Needless to say, it's critical pursue a marketing strategy that makes sure that you are present and accounted for when consumers first fire up their Web browsers or reach for that iPad or smartphone.

"If you don't engage customers before they call, then you've lost the battle," warns Ebert. That means you must establish a strong Web presence.

Buy and Build

"It's simple: brand advertising influences click-through behavior," informs Ebert. "Buy a local targeted ad," he adds.

Think online ads don't work? A marketing expert himself, Ebert was recently (and pleasantly) shocked to experience firsthand the effectiveness of online ads.

He likes to tell the story about needing a plumber to fix a broken water heater. While searching for one, an ad appeared for a local plumber whose radio commercials played constantly on Ebert's commute to work but whose name – let alone phone number -- he didn't know.

He clicked the ad. With that repair behind him, Ebert says "that all happened before I engaged anybody from that business."

"Build a website and a Facebook profile. Post interesting videos and get customer testimonials," advises Ebert. It's a take on the "build it and they will come" theme, but online, the strategy has proven itself time and time again.

Remember the Three S's

"Today, the average consumer uses more than 10 sources of information to make a purchase decision, up from just five sources in 2010," writes Ebert.

To cover these bases, remember "surfing, searching and socialize," says Ebert. Online advertisements will help snag surfers. A robust website and good SEO will help lure searchers.

"Google and Bing are taking social signals into account," reports Ebert. Social engagement not only puts your business in the running in social media circles, but it also helps it rank higher in searches.

Embrace Technology and Automation

Seek out services and products that leverage the power of analytics and automation to maximize your online marketing budget.

Ebert's own company, ReachLocal, puts technology to work via a platform that analyzes the performance of its clients' campaigns and automatically reprioritizes keyword ad spend every day. The results speak for themselves, to date "we've driven more than 100 million leads," says Ebert.

While evaluating online marketing services, look for firms that specialize in local advertising and are backed by solid and dependable data. Make sure they employ technology smartly, effectively, and that they deliver the best bang for your buck. If you encounter a marketer that exudes that "gut feeling" vibe, look elsewhere.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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