Beware of the Climbing Baby

by Frank Delmelle - July 05, 2016

“Your baby will climb things it shouldn’t, grab dangerous stuff, and put everything right in its mouth.” That’s how Farmers Insurance both educates prospects and pitches its family protection product. The frightening fragment is taken from a wonderful piece of branded content entitled ‘Babyproofing the Modern Home’. 

Especially when targeting product searchers, evidence such as this story suggests ‘why’ is a capital question for content marketers to answer.

People perform 129 searches per month, on average. Even if it’s impossible to know which percentage of these queries are product searches, we do know that 87% of consumers research online before entering a store and that “product search is worth billions” (which explains why Google and Amazon among others are fighting so fiercely for their piece of the pie).

The question of questions here, consequently, is how to convert product searchers? What content best triggers a purchase in that particular phase of the buying journey?Image title

Hope and fear

“Imagine you are in the market for a new air conditioning unit,” Blue Nile’s Nathan Safran recently suggested. “The content preferences you would be expressing, would be in the consideration phase of the buying journey, after you have already made a decision to purchase.” In that particular micro-moment, you won’t be won over by facts or even resolutions. As a product searcher whose mind is made up, the content that could convert you, would be an answer to your question why. “The rational decision-making content such as product features, competitive price comparison and cost-benefit analysis,” Safran argues, “would come later at the POS, if at all.”

Product searchers’ final purchase decision won’t be made based on rational arguments. 
What they need to hear next is why.

Psychologists describe the motivating factor emotion has on spurring consumers into action as follows: “(…) for consumers, perhaps the most important characteristic of emotions is that they push us toward action. In response to an emotion, humans are compelled to do something. In a physical confrontation, fear forces us to choose between “fight or flight” to insure our self-preservation.”

One excellent example of a product marketer (sic) successfully focusing on his (future) customers’ wonderings with content responding to their fears, is Farmers Insurance’s climbing baby mentioned above. In that very same genre, Farmers Insurance is hosting an entire Hall of Claims, by the way. Similar examples, also from the insurance industry: How Burglar-Friendly Is Your Home? from The Co-operative Insurance, Geico’s Natural Disaster Safety Tips, AXA Belgium’s Will I Still Pay Taxes When I’m Retired? or How Revenue-Based Financing Works from Fleximize. “If your debt isn’t paid back by some fixed date,” the latter story states, “you will lose your entire business and perhaps more if you provide personal guarantees or collateral to support the loan.” Each of these stories provides a compelling and “emotional” answer to the question why people had better buy the insurance product they are meant to market. It’s not a coincidence, in that respect, that fear – like its twin hope – is featured so prominently in every decent storytelling textbook.

How to ‘how to’?

“People do not simply take decisions based on what Adam Smith called Rational Economic Theory,” Wunderman’s Global Head of Content Tara Marsh confirms. “Logic could, for example, never explain why we consistently eat too much, oversleep, or make judgments regardless of negative consequences. Several studies have shown that if you want to overturn an existing point of view or opinion, logic may not be effective at all.” 

Likewise, search queries are rarely confined to rational economics. “Take millennials,” dixit Marsh. “They want to know how you make your product and even who the people at your company are.” Google’s latest ‘Year In Search’ featured ‘human’ searches par excellence, such as “Who were the terrorists?” and “How can the world find peace?” among the Most Popular Questions (MPQs).

‘How’, besides, is the most commonly used prefix in search (44%), reflecting the considerable number of searchers looking for content offering a resolution, an advice and/or a cure: queries brand content consequently ought to cover as well. The runner up prefix, however, is not ‘what’ (11%), neither ‘which’ (12%), nor ‘where’ (15%), but ‘why’ (24%), suggesting people turn to search in large numbers with investigations as to why a particular issue might be occurring.

Still, “conventional marketing wisdom dictates that the buying decision happens from the neck up, where rational decision-making activity occurs,” Nathan Safran notes. “A closer look, however,” Safran continues, “shows marketers may be misapplying the ‘appeal to the rationalist’ approach too broadly. (…) Over time, marketers have developed theories about why consumers buy. Most of these err by viewing the consumer through the lens of the product. Marketers start with the features and benefits of a product and conduct consumer research to find matching needs and motivations. By focusing on features and benefits, however, marketers get locked in to speaking to the (late stage) ‘rationalizer’ and forget that it is the ‘emoter’ that gets the buyer off the couch in the first place.”

Wonder why

“So what should marketers do to emerge from the off-kilter ‘address-the-rationalist-at-every-stage’ approach?” Safran’s advice: “Start by working to identify the emotional drivers your audience is looking to solve that your product addresses.” In three steps: 1) Inventorize the whys and wherefores of your target segments. 2) Make a selection tailored to your particular content strategy. And 3) have your editorial talent craft the corresponding compelling answers.

The bad news is that your familiar keyword research alone won’t do the trick. You’ll have to put some curiosity, data, empathy and consumer research in the mix as well. On top of that “online search is an expression of the human it emanates from and human makeup varies widely: different people search in different ways.” Which, unfortunately, doesn’t translate in searchers’ ease to be pleased: “They have more precise questions; they want more precise answers. (…) They have higher expectations of technology’s ability to answer their most complex questions — especially when they’re on the go.
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On a positive note, however, your compelling stories answering questions starting with why will very likely pay off far beyond product search. ‘Why’ has a potential marketing ROI in paid social, content discovery, voice search and even messaging for that matter. “One of the most severe forms of competition for Google,” after all, “is people simply asking their friends,” a source of recommendations trusted by 83% of internet users, according to Nielsen. And chances are these friends won’t come up with rational economic arguments either; they’ll most certainly provide – your? – memorable answers why.

@FrankDelmelle, Senior Content Strategist at These Days

Frank Delmelle

Content Strategist