If You Want To Improve Your Marketing Strategy, Discover Your Customers’ Buying Strategy

Tara McMullin
What Works
Published in
9 min readMar 20, 2018
Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash

How long does it take you to buy a product online?

How much research do you need to contract a service or sign up for a subscription?

I find the reality of the way we buy from others is often incredibly different from the assumptions we make about how others will buy from us — and the venerable marketing “advice” given by so many gurus.

After all, we’re 100% focused on our marketing strategy.

But… our customers are 100% focused on their buying strategy.

Does your marketing strategy sync with your customers’ buying strategy? If not, you’re leaving money on the table and, likely, not making sales as quickly as you could.

In crafting a marketing strategy, coaches, educators, trainers, photographers, and other New Economy business owners often assume that a new prospect won’t buy for 3–6 months. They believe that they need to provide digital reams of free content to build the trust and likability that it takes for someone to want to do business with them. They believe the prospects’ buying strategy is all but nonexistent and, through carefully engineered marketing, they can bend the will of the prospect to their whim.

They might even assume that the prospect doesn’t want to buy — and that, instead, the business owner needs to show them all the reasons why it’s a good idea before they’ll even consider it.

Of course, customers just want to get their problems solved, their questions answered, and their goals met. That can often mean their buying strategy involves minutes of evaluation — not months. The buying strategy for every product and every market is going to be different but, if you don’t consider how your customers want to buy, your marketing strategy will leave something to be desired.

Knowing all this and having failed to connect my marketing strategy to my customers’ buying strategy in the past, I spent the last year paying close attention to my own buying habits.

What did it take for me to buy something from a new company or provider? How much was I willing to spend and how quickly? How did I use free content, social media, or email marketing to evaluate my purchase?

At the same time I started paying attention, I ventured into new markets thanks to some new personal pursuits. I had plenty of non-biased opportunities to evaluate my buying process and how digital marketing affected it.

In the last year, I bought products related to bouldering, fitness, running, weight lifting, and hiking. I’ve also experimented with new types of beauty and skincare products. And, I’ve even invested in a wedding-related service online!

My — albeit informal and limited — research showed me that my own buying habits are in opposition to the common assumptions small business owners make about how their customers buy from them.

Below, I break down some of the purchases that I’ve made online over the last year, how I found out about the company I purchased from, and the path that led me to making a purchase. I’ve also highlighted some common mistakes I see small business owners making and what you can do instead to attract more purchases.

As you read through each example, consider whether your customers are likely to make decisions in the same way and how you could adjust your marketing (email, social media, advertising, PR, etc…) strategy to match your customers’ buying strategy.

Digital Fitness Product

Let’s start with a fitness product. The product I purchased was a customized training plan from Aaptiv coach, Meg Takacs.

I’d been using Aaptiv — an audio personal training app — for about 9 months. I’d been working towards running a 5k and using the Outdoor Running and Treadmill workouts to become a better runner. I love Meg’s style, approach… and how hard she pushed me.

While writing another article highlighting one of Meg’s signature mantras, I checked out her website for the first time. The main call to action was to receive a personalized training plan from Meg. The headline was direct and reflected my situation exactly: “You’ve listened to me on Aaptiv, now train with me.”

via meghantakacs.com

Personalized training program? Please tell me more. My buying strategy was in high gear. There were very few things that would have kept me from making a purchase at that point.

I clicked the button and was taken straight to a Typeform form — not a sales page. “Sure! Why the heck not?” I thought and got down to business.

I spent a few minutes entering my current workout routine, average mile pace, personal fitness challenges, and goals. The form was easy to fill out but pretty exhaustive! I felt like I was really going to get a great personal plan out of the time I was investing.

At the bottom of the form, I finally got the price for the personalized training program. My buying strategy was telling me that I would spend up to $300 considering my goals, my 9 month track record of daily workouts, and the amount of work I’d put into telling Meg everything about my current level of fitness. While I don’t remember the exact amount of the purchase, I was thrilled to find out it was more like $120. Sold.

My buying strategy was complete. Now I could happily wait to receive my training plan!

It wasn’t until then that I started following Meg on Instagram and became more engaged with the Aaptiv community online. I didn’t follow first, then purchase. I purchased (the app), made behavior changes, decided to level up, then purchased again (the training plan), and then followed.

In this case, the main thing that prompted me to buy was just discovering the offer was available. Secondarily, I chose to buy because I was looking to level up my training and performance but didn’t know what to do next.

Common Mistake: Your potential customers don’t know what you’re selling. You’re connecting with them on a regular basis but either never sharing your offer or hiding it beneath layers of “connection.” It’s hard for the people you consider your prospects to have a buying strategy if they don’t know you have something for sale.

Next Steps: Make an offer! Put it front & center! Don’t assume people don’t want to buy.

Physical Beauty Product

Another product I bought online in the last 6 months was Overtone color depositing conditioner. I love keeping my hair blonde but I have a devil of a time warding off brassiness. My dream color was a silvery blonde but I’d never actually been able to achieve it.

I’m not sure how I originally heard about Overtone. But I bet it was on Instagram, through either an influencer or an ad.

Overtone makes a line of conditioners that help you maintain the bright fashion colors that are so popular now (pinks, blues, greens, etc…). They also include a silver color in their line.

I was intrigued. I added the product to my cart and abandoned it many, many times.

I stalked their Instagram feed. This was what finally gave me the confidence to buy.

Coloring your own hair is scary — even with a gentle product like a color conditioner. So my buying strategy here required a lot of evaluation.

Luckily, Overtone does an amazing job of showcasing how their colors look in a variety of settings on Instagram. They tend to cycle through their colors posting both model shots and explanations of how the product performs on different colors of hair. I also checked out their Pinterest presence to see more.

I watched their feed cycle through a few times to get a good idea of what I could expect from the silver product and then made the decision to buy.

I love it! And, it performs even better than I expected. I’m about 12 weeks into my current bleaching and I have absolutely no brassiness. It’s been professionally toned once in the middle but otherwise, it’s all been maintained by Overtone.

In this case, my buying strategy was a slow-churn process of evaluation. I wasn’t looking at other products but instead evaluating whether the product I had already chosen would actually help me get the results I wanted. Overtone did a great job of making this easy by seeding that evaluation right into their Instagram feed and Pinterest boards.

Common Mistake: You share information, ideas, and inspiration about everything except your product.

Next Steps: Let your product shine in your content marketing. Show it off. Demo it. Share results and how your product helped achieve them.

Personalized Skincare Product

Lately, I’ve found myself really taken in by personalized products and find that the process of discovery that happens as I’m personalizing makes me much more likely to make a purchase quickly.

Just a few days ago, I was served an ad on Instagram from a company called Curology. Curology connects you with a medical professional who can custom formulate a prescription topical acne medication for you.

I’ve dealt with acne since I was 9 or 10 years old. It’s changed as I’ve aged but never gone away. For the last 4 or 5 months, I’ve been dealing with a crazy breakout on my jawline and neck which I can only attribute to the changes my body has gone through over the last year as I have slowly lost fat and rapidly built muscle.

Needless to say, I have a history of impulsive purchasing when it comes to new acne products. My buying strategy when it comes to skincare is simple: when I find something that claims to be different, I’m willing to give it a try.

I was immediately intrigued by the promise of this product from the ad. I clicked through and gave them my email address almost immediately so that I could start the personalization process and learn more about the product.

It quickly became clear that this wasn’t an entirely automated process (major selling point…) and that a real live human would look at my answers before suggesting a product. I shared my situation and even uploaded pictures of my makeup-free face as part of the process!

As I went, I told myself a story about how much this was likely to cost (similar to my example with Meg’s personalized training program). I figured as long as it was $100 per month or less, I was in.

After uploading my pics, I finally got to see the price. Drum roll…

It’s $40 every other month.

You even get to try it out for just the price of shipping & handling!

It’s different and it’s less expensive than most of the stuff I’ve tried in the past? My buying strategy green light was bright!

That’s the first time I’ve ever been presented with an ad for the first time, gone through the evaluation process, and gotten up off the couch to get my credit card — and all that within about 10 minutes.

Curology had intelligently messaged their ad to highlight how their product was different. The process of personalization helped earn my buy in and the price made it easy to say “yes.” Their marketing strategy perfectly matched my buying strategy for this category.

Common Mistake: You spend tons of time creating content to nurture your nonexistent relationship with the people who are supposed to want your product while never pointing to what makes your offer different, more effective, and more desirable than what they’ve tried in the past.

Next steps: Work your messaging, story, and approach to selling until you’ve got a pitch that immediately hooks the right person. Sure, you’ll likely need some content and a follow-up plan to seal the deal… but make sure that content is building on what you actually sell and not a misguided belief that you need to make friends with your prospects before you can tell them about your product.

It’s safe to assume to you’ll run into different customers who have different buying strategies.

But if you’ve only ever considered how to turn the latest, greatest marketing strategy into your own, you’re missing out on the amazing synergy you can create by simply mimicking how your customer discovers, evaluates, and decides what they want to buy.

Spend some time today thinking about the last 5 or 10 customers who bought from you. Did they follow the buyers’ journey you so diligently engineered? Or, did they find their own way to identifying their need, evaluating their options, and choosing to buy from you?

The answer could help you generate a lot more revenue.



Tara McMullin
What Works

Writer, podcaster, producer. I think and write about navigating the 21st-century economy with your humanity intact.