To have a successful e-commerce site, content is critical. This content can take many forms including images, manuals, feature descriptions, recommendations and more. The key to successful commerce and accelerating purchase decisions is to understand the customer decision journey and target content to the user to help them navigate that journey as quickly as possible, with minimal distractions. By focusing on the customer journey, it will be easier to understand and prioritize the content requirements for your, or your partner’s, e-commerce site.

The Customer Decision Journey

For years, customers have always followed a very consistent set of steps when making buying decisions:

  • Learn -- I just heard/saw something about this. I want to learn more about it and understand if it might be able to address my needs or desires.
  • Validate -- I’m pretty sure this is something I want. What do others think?
  • Decide -- I’m ready to buy/signup. Make it easy for me to purchase the right set of things.
  • Use -- Help me solve problems and get the most value out of my purchase.
  • Commit -- The product/service is great. What else can I do with your company/brand?

You may use different names for these phases or some of them may be broken down into multiple steps, but generally they apply to most cases. Additionally, don’t think of these steps as a consistent, linear path. Customers may jump forward or backward in their process -- often based on their reactions to the content they are processing.

Additionally, a full process is the ideal scenario -- where eventually, if you are really successful, the customer becomes a strong advocate for your products or business, but it is just as common for many customer journeys to end abruptly when they eliminate you and your products from consideration now and in the future.

Your content plays a big role in this journey and the overall experience the customer perceives during their journey. Providing the right type and depth of content to support each journey phase should be a central part of your e-commerce strategy.

Content for the Learn Phase

During the learn phase you are trying to do three things: attract, educate and entice. Some of your “attraction” content may be in other places -- things like ads, Facebook Fan Pages, tweets and blogs. This content should be clear, and compelling -- telling enough of a story to encourage the customer to learn more, while not overwhelming them with too much too soon. The “educate” content needs to show the customer why this product is the right one for them.

Be very clear about the benefits, work with your customers to understand the reasons they chose your product and create content for future customers that communicates that value. Don’t oversell at this time, but make sure you are providing answers to practical (“Will this fit in my kitchen?”) and emotional (“Does it look cool?”) questions. The “enticing” idea should flow throughout your content. It is the idea of making those emotional connections that make you memorable for the customer.

Content for the Validate Phase

Once you have them interested, they are going to want to validate their feelings. In most cases, customers want to look to others -- not you -- to do this validation. The unfortunate reality is customers don’t trust many businesses, unless they have a long-term relationship with them. Therefore, you should look to provide reviews from third parties and other customers right at your site. That way, the customer doesn’t have to go somewhere else looking for that validation -- a step that might distract them on the journey and push them in a different direction.

At the same time, it may not be possible to keep them on your site. The rise of social media leads many customers to ask their Facebook friends about products and services or to tweet a request. This is not a bad thing, nor is it something you can control. Fortunately, if you consistently deliver on the promises you make, you’ll create a network of supporters that will do some of your work for you.

Supporting your advocates’ efforts on your behalf on social channels can be a big win. Not only will it help you get through the validate phase, but in some cases their proactive support can cause new customers to accelerate their journey to the decide phase because someone they trust says a product is great.

Content for the Decide Phase

In some cases, you may not need content for the decide phase beyond the details around purchasing. But, if there are options the customer needs to select, then add content that makes that selection easy -- explaining or showing the choices clearly. This may leverage some of the content from the learn phase, such as pictures that show different color options along with tools to view from different perspectives. Don’t overdo it here; just focus on the right amount and type of content to get the customer to complete their purchase.

Content for the Use Phase

Now that they have signed up, they may come back to you for help. For some products, this might mean making user manuals, forums or how-to videos available. In other cases, those same reviews that helped the customer validate their thinking will be used to answer questions about usage options. While you might view this as support content, you can also offer additional products that might complement the existing purchase and enable the customer to get more value. Great support content is a marketing vehicle for your business. It helps the customer feel more comfortable with your product and your business.

Content for the Commit Phase

In general, you don’t create specific content for this phase. It occurs as a result of the emotional reaction the customer has to all of the content they process in other phases, the value they get from the product, and their reaction to any other interactions they have with your business. Ideally, all of these should be helping to create an emotional and trusting connection between you and your customer.

You can do things with content once this does occur. Create forums and communities where customers can interact with each other. For advocates, you might provide premium content and services that deepen their relationship with you. You can also provide easy means for them to create testimonials or other forms of endorsements on your behalf. Making this fun and easy, without it feeling like contrived support, is a great way to encourage advocacy.

On a final note, for many businesses, the e-commerce capabilities may be provided by another site, such as Amazon. In that case, you need to think about how the customer decision journey flows between your site, Amazon and other locations. Make sure you don’t leave the entire emotional connection aspect to the commerce provider. I am more loyal to Amazon than I am to many of the products and brands I purchase there. That is because I feel Amazon is providing the experience, not the brand. In other cases, the content that appears there also links me to the brand.

By creating content oriented toward optimizing the various phases of the customer journey, you can accelerate purchase decisions and provide the foundation for creating a deep connection between your brand and the customer -- a connection that will pay off more and more over time.

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