Whatever product or service your company provides, it should solve a problem for your customers. Problem solving is the basis for all consumer interactions.
Sometimes the problem can be minor, even trivial - “I’m thirsty and tired!” Three guys from Seattle came up with a solution to this problem, and in 2015 they made almost 3 billion dollars solving it.
You might be using their solution right now, but even if you’re not you certainly know its name - Starbucks.
Sometimes companies create a problem as a marketing ploy designed to increase or kickstart sales of a product (chronic dry eye disease, anyone?).
The point is that whatever your company does, at the heart of that product or service lies the solution to a problem.
You’re no longer selling a product, you’re providing a solution. This changes the role of marketers and the types of content produced.
The buyer’s journey* helps you provide the right content at the right time, helping people find your solution to their problem.
The Three (Four?) Stages of the Buyer’s Journey
Traditionally, there are three stages to the buyer’s journey:
- Awareness, where the buyer realizes they have a problem that needs to be solved. In this stage, marketing consists of describing the problem to buyers and presenting solutions.
Buyer - “I’m thirsty.”
Marketer - “Drinking beverages reduces thirst.”
- Consideration, where you present your solution to the problem. This stage is about letting the buyer know why your solution is the best.
Buyer - “What type of drink do I want?”
Marketer - “Starbucks coffee is fair trade and we have locations everywhere! ”
- Decision, where you’ve hooked the buyer, and now it’s time to reel them in. This is where the buyer lives up to their title and makes a purchase.
Marketer - “Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccinos are 50% off!”
Buyer - “I’m going to Starbucks right now!”
It doesn’t end with a purchase, however. There is a fourth stage to the buyer’s journey:
- Loyalty, where the buyer becomes a return customer and shares their experience with others.
This can be the most important stage of the journey. Satisfied buyers will leave good reviews, tell their friends, and become loyal customers.
Loyal Customer - “We should go to Starbucks for coffee. I got a Unicorn Frappuccino yesterday and it was delicious!”
The loyalty stage of the buyer’s journey turns the journey into a cycle, moving from decision to loyalty and right back to decision again.
Nonlinear Buyer’s Journey
These four stages represent a traditional marketing funnel, but in reality a buyer’s journey can begin at any point in the funnel.
A loyal customer isn’t going to go through the first two stages every time they’re thirsty, they’re going to head straight to a Starbucks.
An impulse buyer acts much like a loyal customer, skipping right to the decision stage when they see something they want.
In addition, buyers can move in and out of the funnel at any point. Someone at the decision stage might see more reviews and move back into the consideration stage.
A buyer might leave during the awareness stage and return at a later time.
A loyal customer might consider trying a different brand after a competitor releases a new product, returning to the consideration stage.
No matter where a buyer enters or reenters the journey, a marketer’s job is to provide the right kind of content for that particular stage.
The Right Content at the Right Time
The right kind of content is about more than what you say, it’s about how you say it. The format you choose for your content must match the stage of the journey that the buyer is in.
- In the awareness stage, buyers are looking for higher level material. This material should be the broad strokes, outlining the problem without getting into specifics.
The goal of this material is to entice the buyer into becoming a lead, and your job is to interest people enough to join your email list.
Examples include blogs, social media posts, videos, and checklists.
- The consideration stage material gets into specifics. This is where more detail is required, with the goal of convincing the buyer that your solution to their problem is the best.
The goal of this material is to build trust and nurture leads, and your job is to demonstrate expertise on a topic.
Examples include webinars, live streams, product demos, and whitepapers.
- Decision stage material is where you convert leads into actual buyers. This is the time to show that your solution works. The goal of this material is proof of concept.
Examples include free trials, coupons, and case studies.
- Loyalty stage content is designed to keep your brand front of mind with your customers and to encourage their repeat business.
The goal here is to turn customers into brand ambassadors, proselytizing on your behalf to their network.
Examples include loyalty programs and special offers.
Making sure your content is tailored to specific stages of the buyer’s journey will help ensure that you’re providing the right content at the right time.
Landing Page Content
Your landing page content can be just as important to creating and converting leads as your deliverables.
Landing page content should be designed with the buyer’s journey in mind, tailoring content to a specific stage of the journey.
- Awareness stage pages include the home page, about page, and blog pages. These pages should be higher level, general information pages accessible to anyone.
- Conversion stage pages include F.A.Q.’s and product information pages. Here, you want to present more detail about your specific solutions.
- Decision stage pages are CTA landing pages whose intent is to seal the deal. Design is important here - pages should have only one CTA and the viewer’s eye should be drawn to it.
Don’t forget to remove the navigation bar on this page! Studies show that conversion rates increase when choices are eliminated at this stage.
Making sure your website visitors are presented with the right on-page content can lower bounce rate, increase CTR, and improve user experience.
Who Gets the Credit?
The biggest problem nonlinearity presents is one of attribution. If buyers are constantly moving in and out of the funnel, then how do you give credit to the correct source?
Originally, the buyer might have engaged with your brand through the blog. If they leave the funnel and then return weeks or months later through social media, who gets the attribution?
With so many points of entry and exit to and from the funnel, the argument could be made that any channel getting traffic should be given some credit for the conversion.
However, marketing budgets aren’t limitless, so decisions still need to be made and priorities need to be set.
It seems to make sense to use a version of the position based model as a starting point, shoring up weak points along the path and optimizing your best performing pages.
In the end, you need to be A/B testing and comparing results. Trial and error will show you what works and what doesn’t.
Once you’ve found a solution that works for you, keep testing! Oh, did you think you were done? Think again. The testing never ends, ever.
The market is constantly evolving - you need to evolve right along with it.
You should constantly be creating new and different types of content. See what works and what doesn’t. Try again, and then try again.
The buyer’s journey is a journey to discovering the solution to a problem.
That solution may no longer follow a linear path, but that doesn’t mean that the buyer’s journey has lost its way.
All four stages of the journey require specific types of content written for specific buyer personas.
Knowing what stage of the journey a buyer is in can help you provide the right solution for their problem at the right time.
* Speaking of who gets the credit, thanks to Hugh MacFarlane, the creator of the term the Buyer’s Journey!