If contact center queues are any indication, consumers have needs. They have needs, darn it! Vastly diverse, wildly specific needs that must be met before they even become customers. Just look at the rise of user-generated content, which has given way to sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp—customers want to know all the details in advance of any kind of purchase.

On this journey, people pass through a handful of common phases that McKinsey calls the three pre-purchase phases:

  • Awareness
  • Familiarity
  • Consideration

It’s during these phases that we see companies jolt, jostle, and jockey to be seen. They pull out their megaphones with above-the-fold spend on print and television; and they’re increasingly directing spend below the fold on digital ads in social channels, or product placement with Instagram influencers. For good reason, too: companies that fail to capture awareness risk losing out to competitors.

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Provide content that meets three specific needs

While this familiar rigmarole can be fun to watch (Apple vs. Microsoft, anyone?), companies that win the customer start with the customer. They look outside in, making a close study of both the needs people have during the awareness, familiarity, and consideration phases and how they go about fulfilling them.

Increasingly, it is content that moves customers through these phases. And it’s not just sales and marketing materials that move the needle. Today, public-facing product help content, social media, and even community posts help move the needle. Here’s a closer look at three common pre-purchase needs that demonstrate the growing importance of content quite clearly.

1. Get informed

Washing machine and refrigerator aficionados aside (you know who you are), few consumers begin a purchase journey as experts. Most begin by seeking information to satisfy their … well … ignorance. A quick Google search is the easiest way to begin.

That shiny new Internet of Things (IoT) home security device? Let’s figure out just what in the heck IoT is first before cracking open the piggy bank. The meanest margarita-makin’ blender on the market? Let’s get a list of top brands to compare, contrast, and evaluate based on reviews from our fellow imbibers.

This will give us a better idea of different features and benefits to look for. Again, all of this information-seeking usually begins with a search engine, leading customers to some combination of branded website, community, educational, and product help content.

2. Address objections

One of the most common objections that customers have is—you guessed it—price (who knew that self-driving cars were so expensive!?). Yet customers will raise objections around other friction points, too.

For example, how complicated is the setup and installation process? What about ease of use and reliability? And why isn’t there any authoritative information available online?

Consumers in this stage will be looking for any content that either helps them overcome objections or serves to validate them. Can they find more information to address their objections online? And if customers need to reach out to the company, is the customer service experience forthcoming, friendly, and helpful?

3. See what being a customer is really like

Which brings us to the third pre-purchase need: before people decide to put their hard-earned dollars down, they want to know what awaits them as paying customers. They want to ensure they will have a successful product experience.

What is the customer experience really like? How will I be supported when issues arise, or I need help? What kind of resources—be they community, online help, or otherwise—will I be able to find? It’s about understanding the post-purchase experience to help make pre-purchase decisions.

Be there or be square

There are two aspects of this pre-purchase behavior that should pique the interest of so-called customer-centric companies:

First, as McKinsey points out, pre-purchase need fulfillment is non-linear: consumers seek info wherever and whenever they feel so compelled (and not in any particular order). One might begin their research on a brand’s website; another might wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and ask Alexa for the top washing machines according to Consumer Reports. In the store, in the car—the permutations are endless.

Second, much of this pre-purchase need fulfillment is driven by content. That person waking up in a cold sweat, panicking about which washing machine to buy? The answers they get from Alexa are powered by content. Same goes for the simple Google search at any stage of the game, which will return results from things like branded websites, help content, customer reviews, and video.

To satisfy these pre-purchase demands, companies need to create and surface the right content—not necessarily to “control” these experiences, but to serve up the content their potential customers actually need. That delivering timely pre-purchase content begets the inside-out metrics that keep companies alive—things like increased engagement, new opportunities, and decreased churn—only sweetens the pot.