No one wakes up in the morning and decides, “I’m going to buy something today.” Instead, they go through a path to purchase that includes research and evaluation before committing to a sales call.
That journey is called the buyer’s journey. Because consumers are more informed and empowered than ever, it’s important to deeply understand your buyer persona and their journey so you can create content that helps them along that path while positioning you as an authority in your space.
In this post, we'll cover:
- The Buyer’s Journey and What It Means in Marketing
- Why It’s Important to Create Content for Each Stage of the Buyer’s Journey
- Content Ideas for Each Stage of the Buyer’s Journey
Understanding the Buyer’s Journey in Marketing
In most cases, with the exception of impulse buys, an individual begins their journey in an “unaware stage.” This individual likely fits the demographics of your ideal client, also known as your buyer persona, but they are unaware of your product or in need of it.
However, they may experience a triggering event that changes their situation or pain that needs to be solved. This kicks off their buyer’s journey.
Let’s say that an individual wants to kick off a personal fitness journey. They may not immediately decide to purchase a gym membership. This individual may take to the internet to learn more and make decisions as they progress through the following stages in their buyer’s journey, and it’s our job to assist them in that decision-making process.
In the awareness stage, the buyer is experiencing a problem or symptoms of a pain, and their goal is to alleviate it. They may be looking for informational resources to more clearly understand, frame, and give a name to their problem.
An example of a search query a prospect might begin with is: "How do I get stronger?" In the awareness stage, they are not yet thinking about solutions or providers; it’s much too early for that. Instead, they’re looking to contextualize their problem first. As a content marketer, you’ll want to show up in search engine results, even in these early stages, to establish your authority and gain the trust of buyers who are starting the journey.
In the consideration stage, the buyer will have clearly defined and given a name to their problem, and they are committed to researching and understanding all of the available approaches and/or methods to solving the defined problem or opportunity. In other words, they are considering potential solutions.
An example of a search inquiry a prospect would make at the consideration stage is: "What’s better: going to a gym or hiring a personal trainer?" In the consideration stage, the prospect is not yet ready to buy, but they are deciding on the potential solution for them. Your goal will be to consider your indirect competitors and educate them on the pros and cons.
Once they’ve progressed to the decision stage, the buyer has decided on their solution strategy, method, or approach. Their goal now is to compile a list of available vendors, make a short list, and ultimately make a final purchase decision.
An example of a search inquiry a prospect would make at the decision stage is: "Planet Fitness vs. Gold’s Gym." Now they’re ready to spend money, and they’ll likely go with a provider that they like, know, and trust so long as that provider can meet their needs.
Why Creating Content for the Buyer's Journey Is Important
As in all marketing disciplines, it’s essential to understand your audience: how they think, the answers they seek, and the path they tend to take to find a solution. From that research, you can begin crafting a documented content strategy that maps your content to the various stages of the buyer's journey.
When you don't completely understand your audience, a disconnect is created between your business and your potential customers. For content marketers, this usually means you're putting out content that your readers don't really relate to, which can cause you to lose them.
To avoid this, you'll have to consider the stage they're at in their journey, how to meet them there, and the best channels to put the content in front of them. The internet has made it easier for marketers (and salespeople) to engage customers at the various stages of their journey using content marketing. That’s one of the main reasons that 60% of marketers consider content as 'very important' or 'extremely important' to their overall strategy.
However, it can be challenging to create the right content, for the right people, at the right time.
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Building a content strategy starts with identifying the types of content you’ll need to reach your audience according to their progression through the buyer’s journey, and we’ll guide you through it in terms of both the marketing flywheel.
Creating Content for Each Stage of the Buyer's Journey
Once you have an idea of your buyer persona and how prospects move closer to purchase, you can begin creating content for your buyer at different stages and tailor that content per channel.
Doing so can help you map your content to the relevant stages of the buyer’s journey to make a marketing funnel.
- Awareness Stage: The stage where people look for answers, resources, education, research data, opinions, and insight.
- Consideration Stage: The stage where people are doing heavy research on whether or not your product or service is a good fit for them.
- Decision Stage: The stage where people figure out exactly what it would take to become a customer.
Your journey may look very different depending on your industry, business model, product, pricing, and audience. Some B2C customers, for example, spend very little time in the middle of the buyer’s journey compared to B2B customers that require far more nurturing, engagement, and relationship development before a purchase is made. A $50 pair of sneakers, for instance, requires a lot less hand-holding when it comes to making purchase decisions than a $10,000 business software investment.
Content Ideas for Each Stage of the Buyer's Journey
Because audiences can vary widely based on industry and intent, persona research is of the utmost importance. By understanding their unique process for awareness and evaluation, you can create a truly effective content marketing funnel and strategy packed with custom content that best supports their journey toward making a purchase.
So let’s take it from the top and start from the beginning of the buyer’s journey.
At the awareness stage, a buyer is trying to solve problems, get an answer, or meet a need. They’re looking for top-level educational content to help direct them to a solution, like blog posts, social content, and ebooks. Their value as a lead is low because there’s no guarantee that they’ll buy from you. But those who find your content helpful and interesting may journey on to the middle of the funnel.
The ideal channels for the awareness stage may include:
- Search Engine Marketing
- Social Media Marketing
Let’s run through the different content formats best suited for these channels.
Content Formats for the Awareness Stage
- Blog Post
- Social Media Post
- How-To Video
- Kit or Tool
- Ebook or Tip Sheet
- Educational Webinar
1. Blog Post
A blog post is an ideal piece of content targeting the awareness stage. By targeting a pain, problem, or topic your target audience wants to discover and then posting it to your website, you’re creating a brand asset that’s crawlable by Google and discoverable by search engine users. You can also promote your blog content across other channels.
Arel="noopener" target="_blank" hrefs is an excellent example of a brand that does blog content right. They include original data and informational advice to create long-form articles that serve their audience.
Featured Resource: 6 Free Blog Post Templates
2. Social Media Post
Social media is a channel that can be used to promote your other content, and you can also create content specifically for the channel. According to Pew Research, 72% of the public uses some form of social media, so your audience is likely native to this channel. Unlike blog posts, social media posts are likely in shorter form, and video consumption is also on the rise.
In the above example, HubSpot Agency Partner Yokel Local shares attractive customer marketing tips on the LinkedIn platform. SlideShare formats are popular on LinkedIn, so the content is created to be snackable with short-form take-aways.
A whitepaper is an organization’s report or guide on a particular topic. Whitepapers are especially useful as downloadable offers when readers want to go more in-depth on a specific subject they’re reading about. For whitepapers, it’s essential to provide information that can’t be found elsewhere so that your audience understands the report's value and is compelled to get it.
Every year, HubSpot publishes a survey on the state of marketing to provide helpful guidance based on thought leadership to marketers, sales professionals, and business owners. Inside, readers find statistics from a broad survey and industry experts’ opinions on what the data means and where the industry is going.
For complicated tasks with many moving parts, individuals may simply want a blueprint that spells out what they’re supposed to do to achieve their end goal.
Buying a home is a perfect example of this, and Opendoor meets its audience’s needs by providing a handy checklist (in infographic form!) for the reader that spells out all the steps that need to be taken. The graphic is aesthetically pleasing and even allows room for a few tips along the way.
5. How-To Video
Sometimes, the best way to solve a pain or problem is to learn a new skill. Sure, a purchase of some kind may be required along the way, but the audience may need to become more informed about the problem and how to solve it. That’s where instructional video content comes in.
HubSpot Marketing has a series of videos dedicated to teaching viewers about where SEO principles are broken down to the audience in easy-to-understand language and visuals. Knowing that SEO is a complex subject, the Marketing team aims to make it accessible to viewers.
6. Kit or Tool
Informational content provided to a broader audience may not always be enough for your buyer persona to make a decision or take action. In some cases, they may require a little more utility or personalization. That’s why kits and tools are a great piece of content to create to help the reader along their path to purchase.
Nerdwallet creates content around several financial topics, budgeting being one of them. It can be challenging to create a budget, though, so they developed a calculator that allows users to provide their own numbers to receive a customized recommendation.
7. Ebook or Tip Sheet
Like whitepapers, ebooks and tip sheets are great options for downloadable content. In contrast, they tend to be shorter form and more actionable.
CoSchedule combines a few tactics by promoting their headline analyzer tool with a blog post about writing great headlines that drive traffic. On that blog post, they include a great tip sheet of powerful words to include in headlines if you want to catch a reader’s attention.
Featured Resource: 36 Free Ebook Templates
8. Educational Webinar
A webinar is a web seminar where information is typically provided through video. A webinar can be prerecorded or streamed live, which opens up many possibilities to disseminate information to an audience who wants more visual and auditory content.
SEMrush makes webinars a key part of its content marketing strategy, often running a valuable topic multiple times to get more mileage out of the content.
Moving on from awareness stage content, let’s delve into the next stage of the buyer’s journey.
When someone moves into the consideration stage, it means you’ve captured their attention. They know they have a problem that has to be solved, and now they’re trying to discover the best solution. The need for a future purchase commitment creeps up as they’re evaluating their options.
This stage is typically a point of extended engagement where you’re nurturing a lead, building a relationship, and establishing trust between the audience and your brand.
The ideal channels for your consideration stage may include:
- Website or Blogging
- Search Engine Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Social Media
Let’s go through the best content formats for this part of the buyer’s journey.
Content Formats for the Consideration Stage
- Product Comparison Guide
- Case Study
- Free Sample
1. Product Comparison Guides
In the consideration stage, the buyer persona still considers solutions to their pain or problem. For this reason, product comparisons are a great way to help them decide.
Verywell Fit provides such a comparison to help their readers choose between high-intensity workouts vs. steady-state cardio, providing the pros and cons and use cases for each.
2. Case Study
A case study can be used in both the consideration and decision stages simultaneously by convincing the reader that the solution works by establishing that the provider achieves results for their clients by administering the solution. A good case study will appeal to the emotions and logic of the persona by providing detailed information and quantitative data on the final solution.
HubSpot Partner Agency Blueleadz tells a story about their client and their problems while providing a detailed account of how they solved them.
Featured Resource: 3 Free Case Study Templates
3. Free Sample
A free sample is another example of content or an offer that overlaps between the buyer’s journey stages. Consider this: An individual wants to paint the inside of their home but doesn’t know what color.
As they consider which color (the solution), they pick up paint chip cards from their hardware store. A provider creates these cards based on their individual solution. When the individual falls in love with a color, they already know who the provider is that makes it.
SILKCARDS taps into this buying behavior by offering samples of their unique printing methods on the content that they create. They know their business is tactile, and digital content alone is not enough to close a deal. Once their prospective customer holds the sample in their hands, other business cards are put to shame.
So now that you’ve provided content to help customers list out or sample their options, it’s time to move them into the decision stage.
As prospects near the end of the buyer’s journey, they’re evaluating providers down to specific or specialized offerings.
Marketers, in turn, want to go above and beyond their expectations and provide an easy and frictionless customer experience that can win them over their competitors.
Handling objections, remove hesitation, position ahead of comp
The ideal channels for your decision stage content may include:
- Email Marketing
- Live Chat and Chatbots for Service
With your prospects getting increasingly interested, let’s go through the content formats that can help them get closer to purchase.
Content Formats for the Decision Stage
- Free Trial or Live Demo
- Consultation Offer
1. Free Trial or Live Demo
What better way to know if you want to purchase a product than take it for a spin? Car dealerships have used the “test drive” tactic for years because it works. If the product itself checks all the boxes the buyer has, all the sales team has to do is handle their objections and make the close.
Dropbox Sign does this well. Though they have a free option with limitations, they know that offering a free trial upfront is the key to getting clients into their larger tiers. Their pricing page sets the prospect’s expectations and points them to the free trial.
2. Consultation Offer
A consultation is another example of providing just a little bit of service in exchange for the opportunity to close the sale. The best consultation reduces the anxiety of entering into a sales conversation by promising something concrete they can walk away with (a strategy or actionable advice) in exchange for their time.
Blk Bld & Co.’s consultation offer is a great example because it reduces the friction of scheduling a consultation. By removing friction, this organization increases the chances of conversion.
A coupon appeals to a fear of missing out (FOMO) mindset. By reducing the price by a certain amount, a coupon is handing a price objection while convincing the prospect that they’re leaving money on the table if they don’t use the coupon. This inertia is enough to win the prospect’s business.
Fragrant Jewels does this well by gamifying its coupons. By spinning the wheel, the website visitors have the chance to get a coupon before checking out the products. They’ll likely evaluate the products that are a good deal with the coupon they won.
In addition to decision stage content, you should create content to delight your existing customers. This may include FAQ and knowledge base content to make the customer experience more accessible, coupons for the opportunity to upsell, and additional educational content that deepens their understanding of a topic.
Mapping Content Across All Stages of the Buying Cycle
Every business offers a unique buyer’s journey that can’t necessarily be replicated from one business to another. When creating your buyer's journey, you must understand your audience and develop a strategy that maps custom content specific to each phase of their journey through the process.
If you do it well, it can have a significant impact on your customer relationships and lift your overall conversions.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in August 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.