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Identifying your customer’s next move: the buyer journey, and why it matters
The buyer’s journey is the process your potential customer goes through when making a purchasing decision – from realising they have an issue or a need in the ‘awareness’ stage, through researching and educating themselves further on the available approaches or options during the ‘consideration’ stage. Finally, they will compare and shortlist before making their final purchase ‘decision’. A variety of content and brand experiences will influence their choices during this entire process and the resulting purchase will be awarded to the brand that adds the most value, incites the most trust and uses the right incentives.
Of course you want that to be your brand!
Ultimately your customer’s buyer journey is essential knowledge for creating effective, targeted inbound marketing campaigns that deliver results.
Ultimately your customer’s buyer journey is essential knowledge for creating effective, targeted inbound marketing campaigns that deliver results.
It’s not a highly complex piece of work, but it does require a certain level of thought and consideration. The more you put in, the more you will get out – and there are no short cuts! You will need to start ‘thinking’ like your ideal customer – exploring the challenges that they face and the thought processes that they may go through when researching a product or service to meet their wants and needs. Consider the type of questions they may be asking – and ‘where’ will they be searching and looking for this information? Understanding which types of content to use and through which channels at each stage of their journey will mean that you are better aligning your marketing efforts to increase your chances of conversion.
In this blog post, we will explain in more detail what the buyer journey is, along with the different stages, and how your business can benefit hugely by putting it at the heart of all its inbound marketing activity.
The importance of understanding the buyer journey
Good marketing is all about being in the right place, with the right content, at the right time for your target buyers. To be able to do that, you need to start with knowing who your target audience is, their pain points and challenges, what drives them, and piece together what their specific buyer journey might look like. Doing this well will enable you to produce high quality and relevant content that will successfully resonate with your audience, and consequently, you will become a trusted and reliable provider of the information they need to empower their purchase decision. The intention is that this will push them further down the sales funnel.
The type and value of the product or service that you are offering will determine the length and complexity of the buyer journey. For example, buying a house involves multiple stages, requiring more than one purchase decision when you consider that there is a provision of legal services, finance, as well as the house itself. Equally, a capital purchase such as a major piece of industrial equipment can often involve more than one person during the decision-making process and will need to satisfy the budget and agenda of each department head represented on the board. This type of ‘committee’ based purchasing can often take months and even years to complete!
At the other end of the spectrum, you have fast-moving consumer goods and commodities such as clothes and food, where there is a necessity that drives the purchase without much thought involved in the process. Regardless of what type of product or service you are offering, it is still essential to understand your customer’s journey so you can market to them successfully and consistently.
The different stages of the buyer journey
The typical buyer journey is made up of three key stages:
What do these stages mean? And what content should you be creating at each stage?
The awareness stage
The buyer journey begins when a potential customer becomes aware that they need or want a product or service and are ‘open’ to various solutions and advice. At this stage, the buyer is likely to turn to search engines to educate themselves about their problem and the potential solutions – so the informational content on your website, routed in longtail keyword research, is essential here. Being ‘found’ in search for the topics and areas that they are looking, at this stage, is a fantastic start to building a relationship which is likely to progress.
In terms of language and tone, in the early stages of the customer journey, it is crucial to be informative and as impartial as possible because the purpose here is to educate and build brand trust with your potential customers. The awareness stage is not the right time to be promoting sales messaging or offering financial incentives. It is about addressing their initial challenges and issues and providing answers to the questions that they will be asking.
Content types that perform well in the ‘awareness’ stage:
- Long-form blog posts
- Industry insight and data pieces
The consideration stage
When entering the consideration stage and following initial research, the user has a clearer idea of what they want to achieve and is committed to finding the right solution. However, they are yet to identify what that solution is. Whilst more ‘qualified’, the user is still not ready to buy, so sales jargon and incentives are to be avoided.
Rather they may still be weighing up potential opportunities, comparing prices and exploring which brand is most capable of fulfilling their need. So here, your goal is to make it onto the shortlist of suppliers and brands they are considering – therefore you must stand out. It is vital that you continue to add informational value for the consideration stage user, continuing to build trust and demonstrating your authority and expertise.
This stage is particularly apposite when it comes to higher-value transactions.
Content types that perform well in the consideration stage:
- Features and benefits-focused informative video or detailed product/service data sheet
- Relevant tools such as calculators or product finders
- Expert guides
- Case studies
- Landing pages for lead generation
- Content offers
- Webinars and podcasts
The decision stage
The decision stage is crunch time. You’re on the shortlist and it is the moment when all of your hard work will hopefully pay off with a conversion.
Your prospective customer has chosen which solution category is best suited to their needs and they are ready to determine which supplier to use. At this point, reviews, testimonials, price points, and other incentives will influence their final purchasing decision.
In terms of messaging, if desired, now is the time to introduce more salient language – further highlighting your features, benefits USPs and provide an incentive suited to your target audience.
When you are producing your content plan, one of the most important parts of the process aside from researching your customer profile and developing the buyer journey, is in the product or service ‘benchmarking’ against your nearest competitors. By knowing who your competitors are, what they are saying, and how they are positioning their products or services, you can take a more informed approach to position your offering and having the most impact at this stage for a successful outcome.
Remember that being competitive is not all about price – it is often about value and experience.
Content types that perform well in the decision stage:
- Competitor product comparisons
- Product demos and training videos
- Product reviews
- Detailed quotations or pricing plans
- No obligation trial of products or services
- Customer testimonials and case studies
Buyer Journey Example: Buying a car
Let us introduce you to Chris. Chris is a potential prospect for a car brand. He is 32, happily married with a baby on the way and employed as a finance adviser for a high street bank. He is passionate about music and loves technology. His beloved sports car is not suited to the family lifestyle that is fast approaching, so he needs to find the best next car for the family, at a reasonable price.
What might his buyer journey look like?
The example above of Chris’ buyer’s journey from sporty car to family car may have been simplified, but it gives you a good understanding of the vast array of different content types and information that a user may want from various different platforms in one singular purchase decision process.
TOP TIP: Remember, with the increasing use of different devices, users are accessing websites 24/7, a user journey is no longer a linear structure. Chris may move into the consideration stage in looking at reviews of a certain model of a car to then discover it’s not what he’s looking for and go back to the awareness phase again in search for a different make and model for his growing family. As a brand, you need to be there offering advice for every potential option – think tailored call to actions, content offers and clear contact us details. And think about what is important to people like Chris who are buying a family car; the first things that come to our mind are boot space, safety and roadside assistance!
How to map out the buyer journey
It is all well and good knowing what the stages of the buyer journey are, but how do you discover and inform them?
There are a couple of key bits of information you need to know in order to accurately map out your buyer’s journey, which can be obtained from simple pieces of marketing research.
- Define your buyer personas
To establish a coherent user journey, you need first to have a clear and accurate understanding of your target audience. Creating buyer personas is the best way to do this. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional character created to personify the data insight you have gathered about your target audience(s). It is best practice to have at least 3 but no more than 5 buyer personas; any more can lead to over-complication.
- What obstacles are your customers likely to face?
Given you are an expert in your industry, you should have a pretty good idea of the types of issues your potential customers may face on their buyer journey. Think about the questions they may have, the information they are likely to require. There are specific pieces of research you can do to help identify what your target customers need.
The first is keyword research. Use the power of search to discover the types of queries, usually starting with ‘how / what / which / why’ your customers are searching for and allocate these to the relevant customer journey stage. Secondly, use your customer service and sales teams – those who speak to and interact with your customers and potential customers every day, to find out the questions they are frequently asked. Ensure these questions are answered by providing well-written, informative content for your website.
- What are the possible solutions to these obstacles?
Put yourself into your persona’s shoes, and when planning for the consideration stage, think about all of the possible solutions that your potential customer might be considering. Is there a DIY option they could try? Are there varying services or product levels that they need to choose between? Is there a significant price difference between what you are offering compared to your competitors, and does this need to be explained? All of these issues need to be carefully considered so that you can deliver the right type of content, with the relevant answers, in your consideration stage planning.
- What other companies offer your solution?
It is always important to be aware of what marketing activity your commercial competitors are doing. Especially when it comes to content – as it is one of the easiest things to track. Looking at competitors’ content may highlight to you questions they are being asked, and topics you need to cover too. It is also worth visiting competitor websites in the mindset of a consumer – do they offer something additional to you, do they highlight different elements of a service or product to you and if so, why? Is there a gap in your content that needs to be filled?
- Identify points of friction in the buyer journey
Once you have mapped out content for each stage of your buyer’s journey, revisit it and consider any points of friction. It is important to remember that as the digital world continues to evolve, more and more information becomes available via a multitude of channels and platforms. This makes the buyer’s journey increasingly complex, as they try and cut through the noise to seek out what they need. You need to make their job easier.
Revisit your first draft and think about what might stop customers moving through the journey you have mapped out. Is there anything left unclear that may cause them to deviate elsewhere for their information? What challenges may they face moving from one stage of the journey you have mapped out, to the next? This step is critical in ensuring your buyer journey will work with the desired effect.
- How does your current content fit the buyer journey?
Now you have lists of questions/pain points and content that slot into each of the three buyer journey stages it is time to work out what content you currently have that you can utilise. Do you have an old blog post from two years ago that with a bit of a restructure will answer a pain point perfectly? Great – get working on it. It is far more time-efficient to do this than to create new content every time.
- Create new content to fit the gaps
The chances are that even if you have some historical content that attends to some of your customers’ needs along the journey, there’ll be moments throughout the journey where there are gaps. You will need to create new content to fill these gaps and any others that arise in the future.
Plan this out in order of priority – whether it be based on a high average monthly search volume or the question that the sales team are sick of answering. Then work your way down the list.
Top tips for customer journey mapping
- Don’t overcomplicate things. Yes, customer journeys can be complex, but in isolation, the questions they are asking should be well within the capability of your business to answer. Content needs to be clear and concise, so don’t be tempted to overcomplicate your copy either. It needs to be user friendly and helpful. No jargon.
- Use data. Any data you can use, such as persona data or keyword data, to inform your buyer journey takes away any element of question. As marketers, we know it’s unlikely you’ll get things 100% right, 100% of the time. But using data to inform your approach to customer journey mapping will increase your chances of hitting the nail on the head sooner.
- Amend as you learn. Your customer journey is a fluid element of your marketing activity and is likely to change frequently due to things such as technology, changes in your industry and external factors that are often out of your control. So, don’t just create a buyer journey map and then leave it there. Revisit it regularly to help you identify any new gaps that you need to fill with helpful content.
- Tailor your CTAs to achieve your desired result. It is important to use active language in CTAs, that is commonly understood. But, where you can, personalise and customise the CTA on each page to the stage at which it is likely to fall in your user’s journey. Using tailored CTAs increases the chances of your potential customers moving steadily into the next, desired stage of their journey with you.
So there you have it, everything you need to know about the buyer’s journey; what it is, why it is essential to understand it and how to shape your inbound marketing efforts around it. Keeping your customer journey in mind when creating content will increase its performance as you build trust and strong relationships with your target audiences in their time of need, putting you first in their mind when they arrive at that all-important decision stage.