All marketing springs from your knowledge of your customers.
For modern digital marketers – especially those who embrace the inbound way – that starts by gathering all your knowledge about your customers-to-be.
No matter whether you call it a buyer persona, customer avatar, or Steve, you’ll usually start by figuring out who the customer is and what is important to him or her.
This is a great start, but it only tells part of the story.
To grasp how prospects act in the real world, you’ve got to find a way to put that prospective buyer in motion. The buying process never stands still: There’s always something happening, even if some of it is behind-the-scenes.
The buyers journey is where that movement happens.
In theory, the buyers journey includes everything from the moment the prospect knows there’s a problem that needs to be solved until shortly after the purchase.
To turn the buyers journey into a practical tool for planning marketing campaigns, we can see it in terms of three steps: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision.
No matter how wacky and wild the buying process gets – what websites they check, how many options they compare, or whether they ask for advice from Crazy Uncle Morty – all prospects will reach these three milestones.
Let’s look at the steps – and the core questions to ask for each one.
Awareness starts when the prospect realizes there’s a problem he or she should address.
It could be a big, complex business problem – like ensuring end-to-end tracking for components throughout the supply chain. Or, it could be a simple and personal problem: Not being able to fall asleep at night despite being tired.
When awareness strikes, most modern consumers go online right away.
Everyone knows that when they want to solve a problem or answer a question, the Web provides them with unparalleled resources. In fact, the vast majority of purchases start with a generic search stating the problem as the prospect understands it.
At this stage, they’re a lot more interested in figuring out what’s going wrong than they are in looking at their various options for fixing it. They’re likely to click on whatever content seems to be relevant, only evaluating the quality of the source after reading.
Awareness lasts for about as long as it takes the person to define the problem in more specific language. Once they have better words for what they’re dealing with, they’ll move on to the next phase. Luckily, this is usually obvious from a marketer’s perspective.
Why? Their search queries start to use more domain-specific language.
That is, they start to apply the jargon that goes with their problem.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
- How do people first discover they have a problem we can help with?
- What terms are they likely to use when they first notice the problem?
- What sources – online or off – will they go to for reliable input?
- What misunderstandings are they likely to have on the subject?
The Consideration phase begins when the problem has been defined.
Imagine you come from an alternate universe where the common cold is, well, uncommon.
You could have all the regular symptoms – coughing, sneezing, congestion, and more – and not know exactly what the dilemma is. What’s more, you’d be bound to encounter many alternative explanations of your symptoms that wouldn’t help you at all.
Once you had the weird, specialized word cold, you could drill deeper.
And that’s exactly what people in the Consideration phase are doing.
They know they have a problem and now they want to know how they can solve it. This usually means starting to gather a list of potential actions they could take ... which, in any situation more complicated than scratching an itch, usually means learning about vendors who can help.
But: They’re not just learning about the different companies that offer solutions to their challenge.
They’re also establishing buying criteria, ways of knowing what kind of outcomes they should expect and what features they need. If you’re buying a certain category of goods or services for the first time, this information is absolutely essential.
Smart marketers can help prospects go straight from Awareness to Consideration without ever leaving their own website. They do it with helpful, informative inbound marketing content that guides the user through the buyers journey steps seamlessly.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
- What solutions are prospective buyers likely to gravitate to first?
- What are the major advantages or benefits compelling to buyers?
- What are the major concerns or disadvantages that put buyers off?
- What factors persuade a buyer that a solution is right for them?
In the Decision phase, prospects know what type of solution they need. They’re clear about their buying criteria. They even have a list of potential vendors. That list isn’t likely to be exhaustive, however: It consists mostly of companies that have helped in the journey so far.
Now, they apply the buying criteria to make a final decision on what to buy.
This can be the shortest and easiest step, or it could drag on seemingly forever. In large, complex decisions affecting a whole enterprise, stakeholders might revisit the inputs to the Decision phase many times – and even retreat into the other two steps temporarily.
Content at this stage should show buyers not just why your solution works, but why it will work for them. That means social proof like testimonials as well as thought leadership content: Case studies, on-site demonstrations, and discovery sessions.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
- What helps one offering stand out from another?
- What kind of “proof” are prospects looking for?
- Who needs to be involved in the final decision?
- What pre-implementation preparation is needed?
Remember, any buyer behavior fits within the 3-step buyers journey. Keep your process simple and streamlined by laser-focusing on them and you’ll see how they consistently clear things up. That leads to repeatable planning processes for new products and new personas in the future.