A Deeper Look At The Buyer's Journey
Buyer Journey Research Process
Understanding The Research Stages Your Customers Go Through
A Deeper Look At The Buyer's Journey
Posted on Nov 20, 2016 by Emily Tomlinson
Reading Time: 5 minutes
In the first part of this series Part 1 - Customer Focused Mindset we talked a lot about gently shifting our attitude toward customers experience and trying to consider their perspective when strategising content campaigns and marketing. We summarised that by being smart about content we can attract people to our website and attempt to solve their problem or help them in some way with a view to politely marketing our services to them.
In the first part of this series we talked a lot about gently shifting our attitude toward customers experience and trying to consider their perspective when strategising content campaigns and marketing. We summarised that by being smart about content we can attract people to our website and attempt to solve their problem or help them in some way with a view to politely marketing our services to them.
In this post we are going to build upon that knowledge and look at the Buyer Journey in relation to our Customer Personas and the content we produce. In Part 1 we left off with a rather fuzzy statement 'solving customer's immediate problem without necessarily selling to them' - we'll start by parsing this out and defining it better.
The Customers Problem
We presumably have some form of product or service that as a business we want to sell, and there are people in the world who are experiencing a symptom or desire that your product would address or satisfy. As businesses you're generally solving one or more commercial or consumer problems for people. It might be that you're a baker and someone needs a cake, or you could be a lawyer and someone needs representation. We describe this as the buyer problem, although it might not always be a problem in the strictest sense, and could perhaps be described as buyer desire, opportunity etc - whatever works best for your business, as long as the concept makes sense it doesn't matter too much.
With that definition out of the way, let's broaden our thinking on buyer problems and get into the Buyer Journey.
The Buyer Journey And Search Intent
So 'needing a lawyer' is a very basic definition of a problem and doesn't really give us much to go on, but this is the point where a lot of content marketers stop! We can get ahead by thinking about this in more detail. For a start, the basic definition doesn't really take our customer persona into account, or give us any entry points for our content and SEO.
If we think about the customer persona we identified in part 1, CEO Jenny, what might this problem look like from her perspective and how might she go about solving it herself? For the sake of example we'll say that in Jenny's role she often needs legal advice, so she may be involved in a new building project and she wants to get everything in order. The last law from she used may not have been as good as she'd hoped, leading her to seek another solution.
We'll assume like most of us, that she would do some preliminary research on the internet using a search engine like Google. This is essentially where the Buyer Journey starts for us as online marketers and can be broken down into three research stages that people typically go through prior to a purchase.
1) Awareness Stage
Jenny knows is aware she has a problem, but has yet to get a good definition of it. An example web search Jenny might perform to expand her awareness of the problem in Google is 'legal considerations when exporting jam to Australia'.
2) Consideration Stage
Jenny understands her problem better and is considering and researching available options. Example web searches Jenny might perform to research options in Google are 'Australian import law basics' or 'food import authority Australia'.
3) Decision Stage
Jenny has decided on an approach to her problem and is shortlisting solution vendors. An example web search Jenny might perform to finalise her solution in Google is 'Australian law specialist'
We can see that at each stage of the buyer journey the searches Jenny performed were quite different and reflect her evolving understanding and search for a solution - the search intent was different.
A lot of the time businesses only create sales heavy content that applies to the last stage (decision) and miss out on the other two stages, which as we've outlined are actually really good entry points to attract users, help them progress through to the consideration stage. Jenny is going to find the first and second stage answers she needs somewhere, so it maximises our chances if she finds them on your website. Potentially you can create content that is first page on Google for all three stages of buyer stage search intent, rather than just content marketing for decision stage.
Awareness Stage Search Intent
Imagine if Jenny on her awareness stage Google search had come across an SEO optimised blog post on your website explaining all of the things she needed to consider in order to export jam to Australia. That would be a great opportunity for your content to help Jenny expand her early stage understanding but not present her with sales heavy marketing. Its possible that Jenny might stay on your website but she might go back to Google to do next stage searches, but the point is that you have a chance to attract and help her early on.
Consideration Stage Search Intent
Lets imagine that after getting a better awareness stage understanding of her problem from reading your website's introductory blog post on the subject, Jenny goes back to Google to explore her options by performing further exploratory searches when low and behold, once again, your SEO optimised website presents content that is relevant to her current buyer journey stage - consideration.
Jenny has come across your content again, but this time it is a comparison review, video or some other buyer stage tailored content type that helps her move through the consideration stage towards making a decision. Thats great isn't it? Your content has been contextually relevant to Jenny at both early stages of her buyer journey and you haven't tried to sell her anything!
Not only that, but over two sessions, Jenny has started to perceive your website as a genuinely helpful resource for her role, especially because its not marketing heavy and covered in banner ads. Jenny trusts your advice and signs up for email updates using her email address. She even tells a coworker about your blog advice. Great!
Decision Stage Search Intent
Its not beyond the realms of possibility that Jenny, having made a decision approach to her problem returns to Google in order to research and shortlist vendors to contact and that for a third time, your SEO optimised content is presented to her on the first page of her search results. In this case you'd be in a good position to make a conversion or sale because Jenny has already come across your website twice before - she trusts the advice that your content promotes.
Whilst this is an oversimplified and convenient example, it highlights that you have multiple chances to attract and engage users with content that is contextually relevant to their customer persona problem and genuinely helpful to their stage in the buyer research journey.
Working with buyer stage insight
For many businesses, acknowledging and working with this buyer stage insight can increase leads significantly because you essentially have three bites at the cherry, and although relaxing marketing styles to be less sales pushy and more towards informative seems counterintuitive at first, like many human interactions, loosening up and playing the long game for mutual benefit is actually easier to sustain and much more rewarding.
You'll notice that at each buyer stage Jenny is searching with different terms that reflect her evolving understanding of the topic. This is an important notion to incorporate into your content and SEO because we need to connect your content with Jenny via search engines and social media platforms.
Using our customer persona knowledge we can work towards matching search phrases that are realistic and likely to be used by our persona with content. For early stages when people are exploring their problem they are unlikely to use industry specific search terms or terms that are beyond their current level of understanding on the topic. In short, the complicated product and service names we often promote in our content marketing are unlikely to be searched for - we need to optimise content for the kind of language people actually use. Early buyer stage searches would be more likely to be along the lines of 'cheap air conditioning firm' rather than 'deltron 3030 air-master installer' - a seemingly obvious point but often overlooked.
Back To Your Customer's Problem
With our new understanding of the buyer journey we can now ask more detailed questions when strategising and creating content within our business.
"How does this content help CEO Jenny with her awareness stage import law questions?".
"How does this content help CEO Jenny narrow down her consideration stage options on legal issues when importing natural produce".
By now you can see how this is starting to hang together. We're combining targeted customer research, aspects of behavioural insight, inbound marketing, sales process knowledge, buyer stage contextual content creation and SEO - Phew!
It seems like a lot but please ruminate on this for a while. Understanding how this search intent / buyer journey aspect works is important in order to really take on later concepts. At this point you should be getting into envisaging the buyer research steps your customers personas go through and how you can intersect that empathetic insight with smart content creation and distribution.
In Part 3 we'll zoom out for a bit and look at some more overarching principals of inbound marketing Attract, Convert, Close and Delight as well as starting to thinking about how different types of content can suit certain stages of the buyer journey better than others.