In the ever-changing conversation about marketing, much of the focus tends to be on businesses that offer tangible goods. It’s easy to think the same rules and ideas apply for service businesses, but that’s not necessarily the case.
People research services for one main reason: to solve a problem. And to effectively market to these people, it’s crucial for service businesses to understand more than just demographics and buyer behavior. They also need to focus on customer intent.
What is Customer Intent?
The immediate questions to ask yourself when marketing a service business is: What questions are my potential customers asking, and what problem are they trying to solve by asking those questions? While you certainly don’t want to abandon demographic analysis and past behavior when planning your marketing, these metrics are now just a starting point.
Customer intent, on the other hand, digs deep into the motivation of your customers, uncovering what their search keywords are really driving at. In a nutshell, you’re asking “What do they WANT?”
There are three main types of customer intent:
- Navigational — the user is looking for a specific website
- Informational — the user is looking for information
- Transactional — the user is looking to purchase something or take some other specific online action
Because search engines are getting better at context and semantics, they now will return results not based just on keywords, but based on the specific questions implied by those keywords, attributing user intent to each one.
If you are a dentist, for example, it’s important to know that search engines now typically read the keyword “dentist” as an informational query for “dental offices in my area”, as opposed to “dentist jokes” or “how to become a dentist”.
Applying this knowledge to market your service business requires some research. Demographics and behavior are useful in that they tell you who your customers are and how they behave. But by focusing on customer intent, you begin to uncover what problems they have that your service business is able to solve — and can create content that clearly addresses those problems.
How to Discover Customer Intent
The first step is to figure out what search queries are bringing visitors to your site (or to your competitors’ sites, if your business is still new and hasn’t established a substantial search history). You can do this through basic analytics tools, such as those offered by Google Search Console or SEMrush.
Then, analyze those queries. Are people visiting your site looking for information? Are they looking to complete a transaction? Or are they just doing a straight navigational search for your business?
Once you find out what your customer is searching for, you can plan to provide the content that addresses that need. For example, if you’re an income tax preparation chain, and you see that people are performing transactional queries looking to file their income tax online, you can then create a plan to provide comprehensive and clear tools that make it easy for site visitors to do what they seek to do.
Of course, you can’t be everything to everybody, and need to make certain that what you are marketing is what you actually offer. This requires a deep understanding of exactly what your service is, how it functions, and what kinds of needs it fulfills.
Critical questions that you must be able to answer in order to effectively market a service-based business include:
- What exactly does your business do in detail and why is it important?
- What problems does your service solve or what discomforts does is relieve?
- What are the tangible benefits that your service offers? What does a customer save or retain as a result of receiving it (time, money, resources, etc.)?
- What exactly does your service offer in terms of deliverables to a potential customer, and what should they expect?
Once you answer these questions in detail, you will be able to develop a clear vision of how to best fill the needs of your target market.
How to Market Your Service Business
So far, we’ve discussed three steps to take when marketing your service-based business:
- Identify what the audience really wants
- Identify how you can meet that need
- Create content that clearly meets their needs
And now, customers are beating a path to your door, right? Not quite yet. Once you have those first three steps out of the way, it’s time to direct your attention to the most effective way to get your message across. It’s not enough to just build the content and then wait. By promoting your content across the channels that you know your target audience uses (this is when your demographics and buyer behavior data has a chance to shine), you’re providing them with the answers to their questions … before they even ask the questions.
There are many ways to promote and draw attention to your content, and by knowing customer intent, demographics and buyer behavior, you can tailor your promotions so that they speak directly to the heart of your audience. Here are some ways to attract their attention:
- Customized offers – Everyone loves a special promotion, but tailoring these offers to a specific customer’s needs is especially valuable for service-based businesses.
- Frequent contact via channels your customer prefers – Communication is key, but it’s crucial to contact your customers in the way they prefer. Don’t bombard someone with promotional mailers when all they want is a weekly email.
- Be active on social media and build community – Your social media channels aren’t just for broadcasting, they are the means by which you build a community for your services and your business. Having an engaged voice online and an accessible point of contact lets you better understand your customers, and increases the chances of your content being clicked on and shared. A good example of this would be a realtor who puts effort into her social media, building a community, answering questions and sharing content that makes buying or selling a home easier to understand.
Service business marketing may be challenging at times, but the rewards for doing it well can be exceptionally high. Being sensitive and responsive to your customers’ needs and being able to see things from their perspective will not only allow you to market to them effectively, but will help you serve them more effectively as well.