Finding Your Pre-Customer: How to Speak to (and Convert) the People Who Aren't Even Looking for You

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Here's a little exercise for you. Think of a film or book you happen to be fond of. Take a second to review the story in your head. Now try to recall a character or two as well as their basic motivations. Odds are ten-to-one that you'll also remember a moment when a fateful decision was made, a point when someone did something that altered the trajectory of events. 

That's the way it goes in all storytelling, no matter the form, no matter the genre. Be it opera, westerns, a daytime soap, or even WWE wrestling, there's no story without a decision or two thrown in. Think about it. Hamlet isn't Hamlet if the Prince of Denmark never decides to avenge his father's death. Star Wars is pretty pointless without Darth Vader's defection to the Dark Side. And what good's a wrestling match without someone deciding to swing a metal folding chair at an opponent? 

Thus it goes with digital marketing as well. Every brand has a story to tell, as does every customer. What's more, these stories are filled with decision points that either move a transaction forward or keep it from happening at all. A person becomes a customer, for instance, by making a critical decision at a key juncture. Without this decision, no transaction ever takes place and there is no story to tell. 

So how can a brand insert itself into a potential customer's story in order to turn that person into an actual buyer? A lot of tactics have been offered up as answers to this question, but the best approach is to understand the story and the decision points that lead someone to make a specific purchase. Why? Because when you understand the story and the decisions that must be made, you are better able to speak to them. You are better equipped to connect with those who need what your brand has to offer. 

But who exactly is the person who might be needing what your brand has to offer? How on earth do you speak to them? At EdgeTheory, we call this person the pre-customer, and we speak to them by referencing the decision points they may be facing. 

An example might come in handy here. Let's say you own a rental condo in Aspen, Colorado, that you need to keep booked across the entirety of the tourist season. After a bit of research, you determine your pre-customers consist of well-to-do professionals in their forties and fifties. By thoughtfully considering the life experiences of this group you can easily figure out what you need to talk about. The loss of youth. Twentieth wedding anniversaries. The need to escape the noisy kids (or elderly parents) for a few days. The yearning to decompress from a stressful career. Suddenly your Aspen condo becomes more than just another space for rent. It's now the solution to all of these issues. 

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With regards to the pre-customer, there are three things you should try to accomplish. First, you need to capture their attention with well-crafted messaging. Second, you need to engage them in conversations that align your brand with their specific needs. Lastly, if you've done it right, you should be able to convert them into paying customers. 

It's important to remember, however, that the onus is all on you. The pre-customer isn't even looking for you, after all. In fact, the pre-customer doesn't even know to look for you. The pre-customer is simply clicking around the Internet, often seeking the answer to an ill-defined question or need. Unless you volunteer how your Aspen condo can make middle-agers feel young again, your pre-customer is likely to go off and book a canoe trip instead. 

I won't lie to you. The Internet's a noisy place. There's clutter and chatter everywhere. In order to stage meaningful conversations with your pre-customers, you've got to figure out a strategy for cutting through the electronic din and connecting with them. Social media offers the perfect place to start doing this. It's a low-cost platform that most people are already using. What's more, you can gauge the effectiveness of your efforts through your monthly and weekly performance stats - and ultimately through your sales as well.

Success in finding and converting pre-customers isn't always immediate, and the only way it can become permanent is through continual effort. Scale back on your messaging and your pre-customers suddenly vanish. There's every reason to be optimistic, though. You already have a distinct advantage over your competition just by knowing that the pre-customer even exists at all.