What is Journey-based Advertising?

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Ben Donahower
Ben Donahower



Advertising is a great way to bring qualified traffic to your site quickly. But what happens when your advertising efforts start to plateau? How do you get to the next level?

Woman atop a rock looking at the journey ahead

You, the advertiser, have the power to make campaigns more engaging and, in the process, lower your cost-per-click (CPC) to get more results. It sounds like magic, but it’s not: it’s called journey-based advertising.

Journey-based advertising is your key to standing out in a saturated online space. Traditional pay-per-click (PPC) ads are kind of spammy and unhelpful, and you’re likely paying an arm and a leg for ads with modest or any return on investment (ROI) anyway.

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Why the Buyer’s Journey Matters

We can’t do journey-based advertising unless we first understand the buyer’s journey itself. The buyer’s journey is a three-phase process your leads go through to (ideally) become a customer.

Journey-based advertising is powerful because it adapts your advertising strategy to the buyer’s journey. You can map the awareness, consideration, and decision phases to paid advertising offers and ad copy — as well as the structure and strategy of your paid advertising campaigns. For example, offers and keywords related to case studies, demos, and coupons may fall flat for your buyer personas in the awareness stage but are compelling offers when they are in the decision phase.

Buyer’s journey stages are also the basis for an ad account structure. You can create campaigns for each buyer’s journey stage and choose ad formats, bids, and more based on how much your buyer persona knows about their problem, the possible solutions, and your organization.

Sure, it’s still advertising, but this advertising is informative, useful, and meets your buyer persona where they are. It might disrupt the user experience, but in a way that’s aligned with your buyer. Say you were about the buy your dream car online and right before you hit submit, a door-to-door salesperson knocks. You answer the door and are offered the same car for $5,000 less and a better warranty. If you weren’t worried that your house was bugged, you’d probably invite the salesperson in for coffee to hear more. The same scenario but only after you received a bill from the mechanic that was higher than you hoped and you wouldn’t give the salesperson the time of day.

Bottom line: journey-based advertising uses the buyer’s journey to inform your advertising content, formats, and campaign settings. It’s the key to a better user experience and optimizes ads for performance. If you need to get more advertising ROI, it’s time to focus on buyer needs through journey-based advertising.

How to Map Journey-based Advertising to Your Ad Campaign

That sounds well and good, but how do you make journey-based advertising happen in the wild? We recommend creating 3 campaigns: one for each stage of your buyer’s journey (Awareness, Consideration, and Decision). This way, you can create hyper-focused ads tailored to what buyers need to see, when they want to see it.

Dive into the buyer’s journey to see how you can make journey-based advertising a reality for your campaigns.

  1. Awareness stage
  2. Consideration stage
  3. Decision stage

During the Awareness stage, your buyer realizes they have a problem. At this stage, it’s critical for advertisers to understand buyer pain points and deliver ads addressing those pain points.

For Awareness content, write ads that position you as a trusted authority in the space. Don’t jump straight into promoting your product pages. Instead, promote free resources like blogs, whitepapers, and any other helpful piece of content that your buyers want to see right now.

In this stage, focus on engagement metrics like impressions and click-through rates. Your best bet for attracting Awareness stage buyers is through display ads, video, native social media promotions, and boosted posts.

Next is the Consideration stage. This is the point at which your buyer persona considers broad categories of solutions. The buyer looks at comparisons and general information about individuals solutions to help them make a decision. They aren’t ready to buy yet, but your brand is on their radar as a potential contender. This is your chance to come in with hyper-relevant ads that deliver value.

Not sure how to distinguish Awareness buyers from Consideration buyers? On many ad networks, it’s all about keywords and other targeting methods. Instead of focusing on high-level keywords like “what is marketing,” Consideration-stage campaigns should focus on more pointed keywords like “inbound versus outbound marketing” or “example digital marketing campaign plans.”

At this stage, your PPC ads should share content comparing your products and services to other solutions. Retargeting is a great way to put this content in front of interested buyers who saw you during the Awareness stage, too. Sponsored content in social media newsfeeds and retargeting campaigns are especially effective in this stage.

The final stage of the buyer’s journey is the Decision stage. This is the point where your buyer whips out their credit card and chooses a solution to their problem.

You want to target keywords that focus on pricing and product features. Focusing on keywords like “near me” or “buy” targets Decision stage buyers, too. Ads with coupons, demos, promotions, and consults sweetens the deal for your potential buyer.

At this stage, you can get a little more disruptive and promotional. Try non-skippable ads, prominent display ads, call ads, and retargeting to connect with more Decision-stage buyers. Now’s the time to do a hard sell on your features and pricing.

The Bottom Line

Advertising ROI is every advertiser’s goal, but sometimes advertisers focus so much on last-click attribution or targeting decision-phase buyers that we forget there’s a human being on the receiving end of our ads. This old way of thinking about paid ads doesn’t work very well anymore. But applying the principles of inbound to PPC gives you the power to step in and help buyers when they want to hear from you.

Help buyers make better decisions and net yourself more loyal customers by giving journey-based advertising a try—it’s worth it.

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Topics: Buyer's Journey

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