Updated: Feb 8, 2022
Mapping your marketing content to the buyers' journey can seriously improve your sales funnel. But what exactly is the buyers' journey in relation to content marketing? What stages does it have? And what sort of content should you be producing for each stage?
What is the buyers' journey in marketing?
The buyers' journey is the process someone goes through when they decide to buy from you.
Sometimes it’s very fast (see chocolate, want chocolate, buy chocolate). Other times it can take months of careful research and consideration. Especially if you’re dealing with B2B buyers, who tend to be less impulsive than your average chocoholic.
The buyers' journey recognises that people have different information needs at different stages:
Awareness stage – identifying a problem and searching for solutions
Consideration stage – articulating a specific need and considering their options
Decision stage – moving from shortlisted products to a final purchase
Advocacy stage - support to use, love and advocate for your products
It’s a really helpful framework for planning content.
It lets you create content that captures people’s attention, even if they’re not ready to buy yet. And it nurtures them towards making a purchase when they're ready.
What are the stages of the buyers' journey?
The awareness stage is when your potential customer – we’ll call them a prospect – doesn’t know your business or what you offer. They might not even know what product or service they need. But they do know that they have a problem they want to solve.
At this point, let’s meet our three prospects. We’re going to follow their progress through the buyers' journey.
Small business Sandra wants to improve her website performance
Aunty Emma is sick of her dreary dining room
Your neighbour Nihal is considering going camping for his first staycation
These people have all identified a need. But they don’t know what to do about it. So they turn to Google and start searching.
At this stage, they aren’t searching for specific products. They’re searching general terms to help refine their problem. For example:
How to improve website performance for a small business
Why is my website not making sales?
New look for dining room
Design ideas on a budget
Essential kit for first-time campers
What do I need to go camping?
But even though they’re not searching specifically for your product or services, you can still get on their radar.
By providing helpful content at the awareness stage, you:
attract people to your website
introduce them to your brand
establish yourself as an expert in the field
This means that when they ARE ready to buy, you’ll be a brand they know and trust.
The aim isn’t the hard sell here. Your awareness stage content shouldn’t reference your products at all. It’s all about answering your prospects’ burning questions. Think of yourself as a generous sage, sharing your wisdom selflessly for the benefit of others.
Imagine your radiator has sprung a leak (full disclosure, mine has and I'm waiting for a plumber as I type this).
You're willing to roll up your sleeves and try to fix it. So you go online and search for 'how to fix a leaky radiator'.
Two hours and ten soggy towels later, you finally concede defeat. Who you gonna call? Probably the business that shared the helpful content you just consumed.
During the awareness stage, your prospect gathers information that helps them:
better understand and articulate their needs
identify possible solutions (products and services)
discover potential vendors that could help 🖐
Good to know
Awareness stage is also sometimes referred to as the ‘discovery stage’ or ‘top-of-funnel’ content (ToFu for short).
Awareness stage content doesn't just have to live on your website. Here's some nifty ToFu content from Goodmove. It's designed to hitch a ride on the nation's latest bandwagon and secure third-party coverage. It got picked up by a range of other publications - something known as 'digital outreach' or 'digital PR'.
The consideration stage is where you try to make it onto your buyer’s shortlist of options. You can do so by giving them the extra information they need to make a decision. Content at this stage can still include articles, blog posts and ebooks. But it might also include things like:
Let’s look at our prospects, what they’re searching for now, and what content might catch their eye.
Sandra has realised she’s got low website traffic and wants to explore SEO more. She’s searching things like ‘Can I do SEO myself?’ and ‘Who can help with SEO?’.
Good content for Sandra could include a downloadable SEO checklist. Plus a table comparing the pros and cons of DIY SEO. If she decides not to do-it-herself, she knows where to turn.
Emma has decided to tackle her décor and wants a statement wallpaper. She’s Googling ‘Statement wallpaper UK’ and ‘Eco-friendly wallpaper’. She finds your website offering the perfect pink flamingo print. But will it really go in her room?
An augmented reality viewer – that lets her see the wallpaper on her own walls – could convince her to shortlist your product.
Nihal’s narrowed down what he needs for his camping holiday. searches include ‘What to consider when buying a sleeping bag?’.
He’s still reading articles. But, worried about the British weather, he’s found a tog-tastic tool that lets him type in his accommodation, the time of year, and whether he typically feels the cold – and it recommends the best sleeping bags for him.
After these interactions, your prospect should be moving closer to deciding on what to buy. And – thanks to your helpful content – you should be top-of-mind when they do.
Now that your prospect has finished researching providers, they’re deciding which offers them the best possible solution.
At the decision stage, your content marketing efforts should focus on directly selling your wares. Also known as the ‘conversion stage’, it’s all about nudging your prospect over the finish line and making that sale.
Content at this stage might include:
Case studies/customer success stories
Customer testimonials and reviews
Free trials/proof of concept offers
Live demos or webinars
In-depth product information
Product benefits and USPs
Here are some examples of decision stage content.
Customer service/advocacy stage
The advocacy stage isn’t always included in the buyers' journey. But it’s important.
Imagine Emma buys your wallpaper but can’t work out how to put it up. She struggles, fails, and is left with a soggy mess and broken heart. She leaves a blistering review on your website about how terrible your product is.
Customer service content could have prevented this outcome. For example
video tutorials online about how to measure, cut and hang your wallpaper
a list of local installation partners who are experienced in fitting your products
ways to get in touch and resolve her problem – through advice, offering a replacement product, or refunding her money – BEFORE she leaves that review
With the right post-sale content, Emma could have turned into a passionate advocate for your product, driving more sales through valuable personal recommendation and word-of-mouth. What a wasted opportunity!
Is the buyers' journey different in B2B and B2C?
Yes and no.
Generally speaking, B2B buyers need more information - and take more time - to make a purchase decision. So, the content you produce for B2B audiences may need to be more thorough and take longer to convert.
But, the stages of the journey are the same for both audiences. Take a look at this article on the differences between B2B and B2C marketing to understand the nuances of each,
How do search terms change during the buyers' journey?
As prospects move through the buyers' journey, their searches become more focused. Content marketers often refer to this as ‘search intent’.
Types of search query
You can predict where someone is in the buyers' journey by the search terms they use. And you can target those specific search terms with stage-appropriate content.
Generally, there are three main types of search query:
Informational – broad search terms looking for general information – awareness stage
Navigational – search terms looking something specific – consideration or decision stage
Transactional – describing an action related to making a purchase – decision stage
Let's see how Nihal’s searches become more specific as he narrows down his needs.
Types of sleeping bag (Informational)
Best budget sleeping bags for backpacking (Transactional)
[Brand name] sleeping bags (Navigational)
Outdoor retailers near me (Transactional)
The later searches show clear ‘buying intent’. We can tell that because he’s used words like ‘best' and 'near me'. Nihal has moved from looking for general guidance to preparing to purchase.
These extra words are sometimes called keyword modifiers. By adding additional words to the keywords you're targeting, they become long-tail keywords.
Long-tail keywords tend to be easier to rank for. For example, at the time of writing, here's the search volume (SV) and keyword difficulty (KD) for the following:
Sleeping bags - 329,000 SV / 48 KD
Best budget sleeping bags for backpacking - 1800 SV / 28 KD
Yes, the search volume is way lower on the long-tail keyword. But the buying intent is higher. So you'll be reaching a more relevant, purchase-motivated audience. Cool huh?!
Should I have different calls to action for different stages of the buyers' journey?
Yes. Your calls to action need to be appropriate to the stage your prospect is at.
There’s no point asking people to buy a product or book a demo at the awareness stage. But that’s an ideal tactic for the decision stage. Discover more about how to write a killer call to action.
You want to nurture your relationship with prospects, building trust and authority. It can be helpful to get people engaging with more content. So an appropriate CTA could be directing them to read another related article.
You want to provide more information, to win people around to your product or services, but without any hard sell. Inviting them to sign up for a newsletter or download further information provides them with additional info. Plus - with consent - you get their contact details for further follow-up.
You're all about closing now. You want to wow your prospects with everything your brilliant business has to offer. So invite them to do a demo, take a virtual tour, or speak to your sales advisors. Don't forget to include a way to make an immediate purchase, if that's relevant to what you offer.