Buyers are on a journey of discovery. Does your content help them find their way?

Dave KustinCo-founder, Content Bacon - Strategic Partner

A guide to buyer's journey

  • The buyer’s journey commonly has a trio of stages.
  • What you share with a customer is their problem, not your solution.
  • Do you have a sufficient amount of storytelling in place to snag the awareness of prospects?

He created Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He wrote Treasure Island and Kidnapped. Robert Louis Stevenson may be known more for his contributions to literature, but he also rewarded us with a masterful marketing gem. “Everybody lives by selling something,” explained Stevenson. Just what did he mean by that?

We marketers don’t have this sole responsibility. Everyone exchanges things of value, in both the literal and metaphorical senses.

There’s a journey involved in that exchange, whether we’re a buyer or a seller. It might be fair to say that this journey is invisible to most people, but it’s important stuff for marketers because it’s our job to create marketing messages that move people along. It’s a tasty morsel that compels someone to take a next step, or directional pin on the map we’re using to navigate the journey.

What gets exchanged varies, but success is measured when the buyer and the seller both feel they’ve received equal value. If you’re a seller, you need to know the framework of this buyer’s journey, because it must align with your marketing. The buyer’s journey commonly has a trio of stages.

Three stages

What transforms a total stranger who knows nothing about your product or service into a customer? It’s a well-documented process. First, they become aware of you. Then, they evaluate you. Finally, they commit to the purchase of your product or service.

Let’s get back to Robert Louis Stevenson for a moment. His observation is spot-on because marketers know that successful marketing is storytelling. At each point in the buyer’s journey, we must share the right part of the story to bring people along as they deepen their relationship with your product or service.

The buyer isn’t oblivious to what’s going on. As prospects, we know when someone is trying to sell us. It’s got to happen, but it has to happen on our terms. And we’re pretty good at ignoring the process when it doesn’t happen this way, or we’re not pleased by it. LinkedIn recently published an article about the growing number of ads we’re exposed to. By their reckoning, it was about 500 ads per day in the 1970s. Fast-forward to today and it’s about 5,000 per day.

We’ve got some help with tamping down that buzz. Nearly 90 million of us use ad blocking software, swatting away about $20 billion worth of paid messages. That begs the question: Which ones do we remember?

  1. Those relevant to a problem we believe we have – which deepens the awareness stage of our buyer’s journey.
  2. Those which might help us consider and evaluate solutions to the problem we’ve validated.
  3. Those which provide us with information to make a buying decision.

We forget the rest. Or worse. We’re angered by their intrusion and we’ll never consider their product or service. Why do some seem to just magically jump out of the noise to grab our attention? They’re relevant, and they capture our attention because of their importance to the first step of the buyer’s journey.

The awareness stage

This is the one most sellers want to ignore, but they do so at their peril. Your solution might be perfect, but a total stranger probably doesn’t care. At this stage, they’re seeking out more information about their problem.

Don’t tell me what I need. I’ll decide if your solution is what I need, but first I want validation that I understand my problem.

Buyers at the awareness stage don’t care much about the features and benefits of your product or service – or your competitors’, for that matter. They’re more interested in figuring out the actual problem they have today. They’re looking for perspective. They want to be educated on what to look for to determine the next step in their journey.

Your storytelling for people at this point in their journey must be problem-centric. It has to give them education and perspective. It has to be relevant.

The consideration stage

Buyers are looking for advocates. They crave information that proves you understand their problem. Can you share with them a story about your own experience with that problem?

You cross the line when you do this. You accompany them to the next step in the process. Your marketing content has educated them. It’s provided perspective. And it was all about the problem – not a solution. At most, it offered suggestions on how to explore and decide upon a solution.

Thanks for walking beside me and helping me understand the problem. Now I’m ready to evaluate the best way to solve my problem.

This buyer has crossed over into the consideration stage. Now your storytelling changes to provide informative and educational information about solutions. What specific features should they look for? Why are they important?

If it sounds like the initial stages of selling, it is. Because at this point if your product or service has the specific feature a buyer should look for (which, of course, it does!) you’re going to point this out.

The decision stage

This final stage becomes a no-brainer if you’ve nailed the first two stages of the buyer’s journey. You proved you understood the problem and validated their need to solve it. You educated them about how to solve it. Now, along this last part of the journey, you’re a welcome voice. You are actually invited to tell the story of how and why your product or service should be their purchase choice.

Thank you for not chasing me. I appreciate your help and information. I also feel like I’m the one who found you. With your content, you told me what to look for – and it turns out that you offer exactly what I should get. Imagine that!

The power of inbound marketing in the buyer’s journey

Successful marketers know that we prefer to sell ourselves. This preference is at the heart of inbound marketing. When done correctly, it provides storytelling – also known as content – that accompanies people and helps them traverse each stage of the buyer’s journey.

Here’s the thing about the buyer’s journey. It never ends. After the purchase, there are further steps in the journey which also involve storytelling. More content helps you to retain customers while inducing them to become your advocate. Who better to sell for you than your satisfied buyers?

Dissect any of Robert Louis Stevenson’s epic stories and you see there’s a variation of the buyer’s journey at the core. The protagonist encounters conflict and becomes aware of a problem. The protagonist defines the problem and considers solutions. And, finally, the protagonist decides to act on the solution.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into the psychology of these elements.

Learn how to use content to generate traffic and leads.

Is your content focused on problem-solving?

A customer mindset is the collection of ideas upon which they base what’s acceptable. As a whole, your mindset determines likes and dislikes, as well as what you’re open to hearing – or completely ignore. And remember, there’s more than ever before to tune out.

Marketers have learned the futility of attempting to get someone with an incongruous mindset to pay attention – let alone become a customer. While it’s remotely possible to change someone’s mind, it’s a challenge that seldom provides a return on the investment. It’s much easier to find and cultivate customers who already share your beliefs. It’s why, in 2019, Facebook replaced its existing Relevance Score with three more granular relevance metrics. Google calls it the Quality Score, but then defines it as, “How closely the elements of your ad campaign match want a person seems to be looking for.”

What you share with a customer is their problem, not your solution. As a marketer with an active sales funnel, you have a variety of content created to communicate different things to people at specific points as they move from prospect to customer to advocate. How deep is your first level of content? Do you have a sufficient amount of storytelling in place to snag the awareness of prospects?

Who’s the chaser?

It’s time to reconsider your role – or at least what you think you’re supposed to accomplish as a marketer. Your awareness-oriented content for this part of the buyer’s journey might cast a net. At this point, your net doesn’t mean much. If your goal is relevance, you want to end up in the prospect’s net. You want them to be pleased with their discovery.

It’s their journey. You need to be invited to come along, and then ultimately be promoted to become the guide. Prospects want you to prove that you really did experience the same frustration – or even pain – that they’re currently feeling. And for one specific reason. If you can’t prove you’ve been there too, why should a prospect believe your product or service can provide a solution? Your storytelling needs to do three things to get that invitation.

Attract, Engage, and Delight

Inbound marketing is the digitally enhanced Yin to traditional advertising’s analog Yang. It positions you as a blip on the radar screen when a prospect searches for the solution to their problem. It’s not about push. It’s about pull. It’s about telling stories creatively crafted to be at the right place at the right time in the buyer’s journey to attract qualified prospects, convert them to customers, and delight them so they come back for more – and bring others with them.

Attract

Not everybody’s going on this journey. If you’ve done your buyer persona homework, you know precisely what the perfect customer looks like – which also means you know what they’re searching for as prospects.

The content you create to attract them and raise your awareness is highly focused and relevant. It makes no apologies for being uninteresting to most people – but it’s likely they’ll never see it, anyway. It’s attractive because it’s about the problem your brand solves. It educates and offers perspective. It’s an inbound journey. This accompaniment for the buyer on their journey attracts them to you because of what you share with them. It’s the problem. Not your solution.

Engage

You’ll transform a prospect into a customer by offering more content that converts and closes as you move along the buyer’s journey. Your content for engagement must be interactive.

Think of the concept of engagement as a conversation that encourages people to start taking your brand and the solution it offers for a test ride. They’re no longer strangers because you’ve already demonstrated that you understand their problem. What’s more, you’ve shared content with them which explains why you are an expert on the subject.

You’ve earned the right to ask them for a certain level of commitment so you can provide them with even more relevant information to help them decide on the best solution. The more information they share with you, the more personalized experience you provide for them when they visit your website.

The relationship has matured the point where you’ve earned the right to talk about yourself. The content you’ll share becomes more valuable, too. Your content can pivot to become solution-centric. It helps people put your solution into their worldview by showing them how others have done it. It’s a generous offering of whitepapers, ebooks, case studies, and webinars. Every offer has the ultimate objective of deepening trust and widening the opportunity for two-way communication.

Delight

The sales funnel isn’t dead yet, even though some reports may say as such. But you should be prepared. There is something better than the sales funnel.

Remember the discussion about flywheels from your high school physics class? It’s a heavy wheel used to increase and maintain momentum. Flywheels store energy and prevent stalling. They also make much more sense than a funnel for marketers.

After all, you’ve accompanied the buyer on their journey all the way from stranger to purchaser. Do they just fall out of the bottom of the sales funnel?

It makes more sense to consider that your role in the journey continues. Just as it is more efficient to be problem-centric, there’s a higher ROI in being relationship-centric. That’s the beauty of converting your sales funnel into a flywheel. You have the opportunity to remind customers that you both once shared the same problem. How else can you help them? What else can you offer them? How can you show them that you are just as delighted as they are about the relationship?

Make sure this content is sharable. It’s time to capture some of the energy that went into attracting, engaging, and delighting – and divert it to the flywheel. Customer delight converts efficiently into word of mouth recommendations – which might as well be the perpetual motion machine of marketing.

Walk in my shoes

The buyer’s journey becomes a well chronicled tale over time, especially when your accompaniment is relevant content that helps them complete that journey. Like great literature, the story of that journey gets shared by those who undertake it. Your content is what powers the flywheel which in turn generates opportunity for others to be introduced to the adventure.

Read more tasty stories about content marketing.