Are you sitting down?
Alright. Once you’re comfortably seated… I want you to close your eyes and imagine for a moment that it’s 2014 and you’re the first marketing hire at Casper.
Today Casper is a $1B company, but back in 2014, they were just a scrappy startup with a dream of shipping mattresses in boxes direct to consumers.
It was a lofty goal.
Casper had no brand awareness, no connections, and they were going up against entrenched competitors with VERY deep pockets.
So… as Casper’s newest (and only) marketer, what’s your first move?
You definitely can’t outspend your competition—you’ve gotta outsmart them.
To do that, you set out to answer one critical yet often overlooked question:
“When are people most likely to be TRIGGERED to begin the journey to buying a mattress?”
*Scroll down for the answer*
Answer: between 1-3 AM in the morning.
Are you surprised? Casper’s team was.
They weren’t shocked that the first thought often came in the middle of the night. That made sense. (And, for a savvy marketer, that’s an easy insight to action.)
What was surprising was that many of their customers had experienced similar life events that TRIGGERED those sleepless nights.
Casper’s marketing team conducted customer interviews and learned that many buyers had recently…
- Started a new relationship and their partner was spending the night more often
- Got a dog who now slept in the bed
- Had young children who started crawling into bed with them
- Moved away from home to start university/college
- Got divorced and had trouble sleeping in the bed they’d shared with their ex
These were common triggers, but it didn’t mean that the person was ready to buy… yet.
Many customers explained that they didn’t immediately realize that their mattress was the root cause of their sleeping problem. They just knew that they couldn’t sleep. And they were desperate for a solution.
Once Casper knew WHO their customers were and WHEN those customers might be triggered to begin the buying journey, they could get creative.
Two Smart Ways Casper Actioned Buying Triggers for Quick Wins
1. They focused on SEO
Casper’s ideal customers weren’t looking for a mattress yet. And they certainly weren’t ready to whip out their credit card at 2 AM to buy one. They just wanted to get back to sleep ASAP. This was an insight that Casper could action.
Casper’s blog ranks for many keywords such as “can’t sleep” and “sleeping positions.” It also ranks for more general search queries like “how to go to sleep earlier” and “what to do when you can’t sleep.”
Much of Casper’s blog content is short-form and humorous, which makes sense considering that the intended audience is an exhausted person who may be reading it at 2 AM.
2. They created highly targeted ads
Many brands use online ads to generate awareness, but unfortunately, many of those campaigns also hemorrhage money.
This is particularly persistent in tech, where marketing isn’t exactly well respected and is often an afterthought. (Daniel Kaplan reports that “a well-known tech unicorn was sending $5-8 clicks to a page with literally nothing on it but its logo and a signup form.” Eeep.)
The marketers at Casper worked smarter. Rather than running ads all day, Casper could use Facebook’s dayparting setting to show ads in the middle of the night. Smart, huh?
And they could use Life Events and Interests filters to only show those ads people who had recently experienced a triggering event such as moving, getting divorced, or getting a dog.
Rather than showing ads that pushed people to a signup form or sales page at 2 AM, Casper could show video ads teaching breathing techniques to help prospective customers with their current need—getting back to sleep.
Casper could then retarget people who watched those video ads in the morning, knowing that they were likely tired and would be open to hearing about a potential solution to their current problem.
Understanding their customers’ buying triggers and cleverly actioning those insights along the whole buying journey helped Casper to build a $1B brand.
Since Casper launched in 2014, more than 175 new competitors have entered the market. Meanwhile, Casper is preparing for an IPO while their competition lags behind desperately fighting over leftover table scraps.
Casper’s marketing team knows something that their competitors don’t…
If you understand your customer’s buying triggers, you can get in front of prospects *before* they begin actively looking for a solution like yours and dominate the market.
Rather than targeting people based on demographic and psychographic attributes—which doesn’t explain why people buy things—you can target people who have experienced specific triggers and are therefore more likely to be in the buying journey.
Understanding an audience’s buying triggers is a massive competitive advantage, yet many marketers are missing out.
Marketers are leaving money on the table because they’re missing key data
Every marketer wants to be data-driven. To do our jobs well we need to know what’s working—and what’s not—so we can double-down on the good stuff (and avoid wasting energy on time-sucking activities that don’t move the needle).
With this in mind, “customer journey mapping” has become a critical exercise that many fast-growing teams use to drive strategy.
A customer journey map often looks like this:
Salesforce describes a customer journey map as “a visual representation of every experience your customers have with you. It helps to tell the story of a customer’s experience with your brand from original engagement and into hopefully a long-term relationship.”
Well, no offence to the incredibly smart people at Salesforce, but I see a BIG, hairy problem with the typical approach to customer journey mapping.
Your customers’ journey doesn’t revolve around YOU—it begins long before they discover you and often includes many alternate solutions
Mapping the customer’s journey based solely on their interactions with YOUR brand is shortsighted for two reasons:
Reason #1: Many prospects will explore a number of other products before discovering your solution.
For instance, someone who has been lying awake at 1 AM for the last three nights in a row may also consider trying melatonin supplements, buying a sleep mask, researching how to sleep train their toddler, or going to bed earlier.
If you’re only tracking a customer’s interactions with YOUR brand, you’re missing out on a holy cornucopia of awesomeness.
Reason #2: Tracking every interaction a customer has with YOUR brand isn’t the most effective ways to predict how to generate new leads
Carefully tracking every customer touchpoint may help you to convert leads into buyers faster, but it won’t necessarily help you to figure out how to get new leads.
Lead generation is a HUGE problem for most companies—especially in B2B buying. A 2019 study shows that “85% of B2B marketers say lead generation is their most important content marketing goal.”
If you want to understand how to acquire new leads, you need to explore what prospective customers are doing BEFORE they come into contact with your brand.
For the customer, the buying journey doesn’t begin when they discover you—it begins with a trigger
Most buying journeys follow a similar path. It all begins with a trigger….
Credit: adapted from Rewired Group’s timeline
The Trigger Event
The trigger event is often a painful or frustrating experience—like lying awake in bed at 2 AM.
Zeroing in on your customer’s trigger event is key because if a prospect hasn’t been triggered to realize that they need a change, you can get in front of them as much as you like… but they’ll ignore you.
After the trigger event, prospective customers will start passively looking for solutions to solve their problem.
At this stage, they’re probably not ready to buy yet. They’re not really putting energy into hunting for a specific solution, but they’re aware that they have needs that aren’t with their current solutions.
During the passive looking stage they’re basically building “a mental list” of all potential solutions.
Identifying a prospect’s trigger events can inspire clever ways of getting in front of them sooner with highly targeted offers so that you can build trust and be the first name on their “mental list.”
The problem? Most companies don’t invest the upfront effort to truly understand their customers’ buying journey. Instead, they simply guess about what will interest customers and end up wasting an awful lot of money chasing leads that never become customers.
Just because someone downloads a free PDF or ebook doesn’t mean that they’d be interested in your product. (This disconnect causes a lot of tension between marketers and sales teams).
Smart marketers use buying triggers to create highly relevant offers and content that connects with high-value prospects earlier in the buying journey.
A Catalyst Pushes Buyer to Active Looking
A customer might stay in the passive-looking stage for a very long time. Typically there needs to be some sort of “catalyst” to push the customer from passive looking into actively looking for a solution.
Identifying these catalysts can help you to get in front of prospects sooner via less crowded channels—because unless you have money to burn, finding less crowded channels is hella important.
Once a prospect begins actively looking for a solution like YOURS, that’s when competition gets fierce… and expensive.
Casper may be the original direct-to-consumer (DTC) mattress company and a market leader, but they still don’t rank on the first page of Google when prospective customers search for “buy bed online.”
Because they don’t rank organically, Casper must pay top dollar to maintain the #1 ad placement.
During the active looking phase marketers often pay a hefty price just to get in front of people who are already interested in their product.
A search for “casper bed” shows four ads—three from competitors talking sh*t and one from Casper themselves—before searchers see the first organic result.
Why does this matter?
Well, if you’re not looking at the whole buying journey—including the specific events that trigger people to begin the buying journey and the alternate solutions they consider along the way—you’ll end up spending A LOT of money competing for prospects who have zero affinity to YOU.
When you understand what triggers customers to enter the buying journey in the first place, you can get in front of prospects much sooner and build a connection with that prospect before your competition.
For instance, Casper doesn’t need to compete with other mattress companies when prospects search for “how dogs choose where to sleep.” They’re the fourth result on the page—which gives them the opportunity to be the FIRST option that prospects consider as then begin passively looking for a new solution to their newfound sleeping problem.
Understanding their customers’ buying triggers gives the marketers at Casper an unfair advantage.
This doesn’t just work in the ultra-competitive DTC mattress market. I’ve seen countless examples of companies that used buying triggers to sell more—more condos, more newspapers, more milkshakes, more software, and more tree removal services.
Which means it can absolutely be applied to your business as well.
3 Ways to Action Buying Triggers in Your Business:
1. Create highly targeted ad campaigns
When you understand your customer’s buying triggers, you can use Facebook and Google’s Life Events targeting to show people ads based on life events.
And if you know that there’s a specific time of day when customers are likely to be triggered to consider a solution like yours, you can do what Casper did with their 2 AM ads.
2. Identify unique channels or campaign ideas
While your competitors are duking it out in the obvious channels, you can discover new channels or campaign ideas that aren’t even on their radar.
For instance, Casper knew that many prospects were triggered to begin the buying journey when they moved away from home to go to university, so they created a college student discount that they promoted via university websites. This drove new traffic and having backlinks from “.edu” domains worked wonders for SEO.
3. Get notified when your target customers are likely to begin the buying journey
There are some great tools to help you find the right people at the right time.
You could set up a Google Alert to track specific keywords.
Or you could use LeadSiftBuzz to get notified when a prospects:
- Signs up for industry events
- Wins an award
- Raises funds
- Opens a new location
- Adds new team members
- Launches a new product
Now, how exactly do you identify their buying triggers in the first place?
If you want to identify your customers’ buying triggers, you need to tease out their *stories*
I’m all for being data-driven, but a lot of the stuff that matters to marketers (or product designers for that matter) isn’t easy to track. It’s happening in our customers’ lives and in their own heads.
Analyzing all the touchpoints a customer has with your brand is a start, but it still leaves out 95% of the buying story.
You also can’t just ASK people what their buying triggers are—either in a survey, via chat, or in passing—because oftentimes they honestly don’t know.
As consumers, we rarely think deeply about our buying decisions at the moment. We’re often just acting on impulse or responding to new challenges or opportunities as they come.
As Alan Klement wisely said, “people aren’t databases.” You can’t just query them (aka. ask them a question) and expect them to compile a truthful response. But, because most people want to be helpful, they’ll usually answer your questions the best the can—even if that means that they make something up.
So…. if you can’t rely on data alone or just straight up ask people to tell you, what can you do?
You can interview your existing customers (or your competitor’s customers) and tease out the story about their recent purchase. There are so many golden nuggets buried in your customers’ buying journey—you just need to unearth them.
Learning how to conduct quality interviews and ask the right questions is part art and part science. Like any skill, it takes deliberate practice. But it’s worth it.
And buying triggers aren’t the only thing you’ll learn from talking 1:1 with your customers. You’ll walk away with great product feedback, new “voice of the customer “vocab,” insight into your competitors, and more.