By Jeff Kline


Understanding Your Audience's Decision-Making Process

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

If you were with us last week, you learned how to create a persona for your nonprofit’s target audience. Personas are crucial to effective content marketing—if you know exactly who you’re talking to, you can create much more relevant content.

But personas are just the first step to creating relevant content. The second step is understanding the process through which your target audience makes their “buying” decisions.

The Decision-Making Process

Relevancy isn’t just about the subject matter (e.g., writing about volunteerism in order to attract college students who are interested in giving back).

Relevancy also has to do with CONTEXT—providing the information your audience needs for the stage of the decision-making process they happen to be in (e.g., writing a blog post titled 10 Reasons You DO Have Time To Volunteer With Habitat For Humanity to attract college students who have an interest in volunteering but are hesitant to commit).

To create truly relevant content, you have to consider your audience's interests AND the different stages of the decision-making process that will lead your audience to volunteer, donate, join, or whatever your goal is.

Different people within your target audience will be at different levels of the decision-making process, and they will have different informational needs.  I really like the way Powered By Search explains the decision-making process by dividing it into three stages:

Awareness fa-long-arrow-right Evaluation fa-long-arrow-right Purchase

By understanding your audience’s informational needs for each stage of the decision-making process, you can create content that is relevant in subject matter and context.


Defining Your Target Audience’s Decision-Making Process

Persona Digital Agency CEO Doug PressWith your persona in mind, determine your target audience’s informational needs for each of the three stages.

Remember our example persona Doug Press from last week? Doug is a persona for a chamber of commerce, and they are trying to attract him to become a member. I'm going to continue using Doug this week to demonstrate the decision-making process.


People in the Awareness stage:

  • Are performing preliminary research. They have a challenge or a problem, but they don’t know what the solution is yet. Our persona, Doug Press, is thinking, I need to acquire more customers.
  • Have never heard of your organization (or, at least, they haven’t considered it as a solution). 
  • Might have no current desire to commit to an organization, and are simply performing a Google search.

Informational Need: Educational content that answers general questions relating to your industry.

Doug’s informational needs would be answers to questions he has about generating new customers to grow his business. Content that attracts Doug to the chamber website might be: 

  • A blog post titled 10 Creative Ways To Get New Customers
  • A free downloadable ebook titled Growing Your Company: A CEO’s Handbook
  • A free webinar featuring a local CEO (who is also a chamber member) sharing how she successfully grew her business

The Awareness stage is all about getting found in search. You should be providing content that answers common search queries about your industry. This will attract a relevant audience to your website and introduce them to your organization.

example google search

There should be NO sales language during the Awareness stage.

Some people (the ones with no current desire to commit to an organization) might remain in this stage for weeks, months or even years. That’s okay. If they keep coming back to read your blog, download your ebooks and attend your webinars, that means you are building credibility and trust—and staying on their radar. Along the road, when they are ready to commit to a nonprofit, you’ll be top of mind.


People in the Evaluation stage:

  • Have identified the type of solution they need.
  • Have realized YOUR organization could be a solution to their challenge.
  • Haven't totally made up their minds—they have questions. Is it worth it to join/donate to this organization? Is there a better solution out there? Is there another organization that could better serve me?

Informational Need: Educational content that answers questions about your organization.

In the Evaluation stage, your goal is to prove to your target audience that your organization is the best solution for them. If your nonprofit has competitors, this is when you need to demonstrate why your organization is better. If you’re like most nonprofits, your only competition is Doubt—the consumer’s doubt. They wonder, Is it worth the monthly dues to join this organization? Will the money I donate actually make a difference?

For charitable nonprofits, this stage is a great time to share the powerful stories of people who benefit from donations to your organization.

Digital Agency CEO Doug might be wondering if joining his local chamber of commerce is a smart investment. To convince him, the chamber could create the following content:

  • An FAQ page
  • Testimonials from current members
  • A webpage listing Membership Benefits

The Charlotte Chamber has a great Member Testimonials page:

Charlotte Chamber member testimonials


People in the Purchase stage:

  • Have decided that your organization is the perfect solution for them.
  • Are almost ready to make the transaction—they're just a little apprehensive.

Informational Need: A final bit of reassurance or encouragement to commit to your organization.

This is the stage where you can finally use your sales pitch! Your goal here is to provide sales-centric content that closes the deal.

Digital Agency CEO Doug Press has decided that joining the chamber would be a great way to get more exposure and attract new customers. But he's still the tiniest bit apprehensive about filling out the membership application and, if we're being totally honest, joining the chamber has fallen to the bottom of his busy To Do list.

Content that would encourage Doug to finally fill out the membership form might include:

  • A membership levels page that reiterates the benefits (with a Join Now form included on the page)
  • A networking event for prospective members (with an iPad available so attendees can fill out the membership form right then and there) 
  • A free one-on-one webinar with the Membership Manager to discuss the perks of joining the chamber (with a strong sales pitch at the end)

The Greater Austin Asian Chamber has an entire Members section of their website that includes a list of membership levels and a Join the Chamber button:

Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce Membership Page


Mapping Out Content For Your Personas And The Decision-Making Process

Now that you understand the three stages of the decision-making process—Awareness, Evaluation, Purchase—you can begin mapping out content for each stage.

I have provided a content mapping tool that incorporates personas and the decision-making process. This tool is very helpful for figuring out where you are missing content.

Download the Content Mapping Tool



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