Mapping out the customer journey that delivers people to your contact form or checkout page is critical for your company’s success. If you can identify the most common paths that turn prospects into leads and leads into customers and clients, then you can better understand how to help people at every stage of their own personal journey.
In this article we’re going to take a look at two key components to generate more business online and how they overlap: the customer journey and content marketing.
What Is the “Customer Journey?”
The customer journey is someone’s path to purchase. How did they get from wherever they were to writing up a PO, signing a contract, or clicking a “Buy Now!” button? Understand that, and you’ll be able to direct them at every important fork in the road.
If you go online you’ll see that the customer journey can be divided into 3, 5, 9, or even more steps! This isn’t the Empire State Building, people, so let’s keep things simple! I prefer the three-step approach:
- Awareness – I know I have a problem (or an opportunity)
- Consideration – What are the possible solutions to my problem or opportunities I can take advantage of?
- Decision – Which one is best for me?
Now, not every customer starts at Awareness. Due to previous experience, someone might jump right to Consideration or even Decision. But at each step they need to gather the right information to move forward confidently.
So what does this look like?
Whenever I’m getting into something new, I take notice of my own journey through these three steps. Several years ago I wanted to take a month-long roadtrip with my daughters. I like camping, but they don’t. But I also knew that 30 hotel stays was probably out of my budget.
I was aware that I had a problem. I needed a safe and affordable way to travel around the US.
I then begin to consider some solutions. Since hotels and tents were both out, I began to consider some RV (recreational vehicle) options. I began to search websites. Did I want to buy or rent? Did I want a motorhome or a detachable camper? How much weight could my 4Runner tow?
After doing some of this research, I honed in on a popup camper. It was lightweight enough for me to tow it with my 4Runner, but big enough that all three of us would get our own bed. An added benefit was that once we set up camp at a campground, we could drive our car around, something I couldn’t do if I went with a motorhome. The cost of buying a brand new tow-behind–even a popup–was more than I wanted to spend, and renting one for the month of July was also very expensive.
After all that consideration, I determined that buying a used popup camper was the way to go. It was the most cost-effective solution, and because I wasn’t really putting any miles on it, I could likely sell it for just about the same price that I bought it.
I was then ready to make a decision on which model to purchase. I looked at a few websites, including Facebook marketplace, found a few models that seemed to fit my needs, and made an offer. I am still the proud owner of a 2007 Viking popup camper!
I take a similar path for many purchases I’ve made when I start with little knowledge.
- How do I build a deck?
- What tools do I need to build a deck?
- What is a hammer drill?
- What should I look for in a hammer drill?
- How much should I pay for a hammer drill?
- Should I get a cordless hammer drill?
- What hammer drill battery has the longest life?
- What is the best hammer drill brand?
- Why do people hate Harbor Freight so much?
And so on.
Finding the right blog posts, reviews, discussion forums, YouTube videos, and so on, at each step of the customer journey helped me move forward.
As a marketer, you need to do some reverse engineering of the customer journey to understand the questions people ask, the answers and information they need, and where they go for that information, to inform your decision on the type of content you need to create and where you need to place it.
Content Marketing and the Customer Journey
Creating content is hard. Creating great content is much, much harder. So why is this so important?
If you’ve created helpful “roadside attractions” and “information booths” to help your customers along their journey, your brand gets associated with positive feelings. A good blog post can’t guarantee you sales, but it puts you in a better position to win that business.
There are branding opportunities if they’re reading your blog post at your website, or even watching your video at YouTube or reading a post on social media.
If they’re on your website or on certain social media platforms, you can even entice them to join your email newsletter to help them along their journey.
Even if that’s not an option, or they choose not to subscribe, you can use retargeting to continue to stay in front of them throughout the process.
While content marketing can’t guarantee the sale, it gives you plenty of opportunities to build a relationship.
Content Marketing for Awareness
As you start to create content for customers who have just become aware of a problem or an opportunity, you need to think about where they are and what steps they may take.
It’s probable that you have more than one product or service to sell. So, it’s likely that you’ll need to recreate more than one customer path. Even the same product may have different paths that lead to it, so you’ll want to get creative and come up with as many plausible paths as possible.
B2C (business to consumer) Example: You’re a landscaper offering lawn care. What are some of the pain points your customers need to become aware of to start them on their journey? What are some of the questions they might put into Google?
- How do I get rid of weeds?
- How do I get rid of crabgrass?
- How do I improve my curb appeal?
The type of content that you might consider creating here is going to be focused on the problem and possible solutions.
For the weed problem, you could identify some of the reasons for weeds: poor soil, lack of/too much sun, no landscape fabric, and so on. You could share pictures and descriptions of some common weeds, especially in your geography. You could mention some of the treatments, which will move people towards Consideration. You might also include that weeds can be part of a bigger problem that needs to be identified and treated.
You might be concerned that if you create a video that shows people, step-by-step, how to fix their brown spots that you won’t get the business. That’s the wrong mindset. DIYers are going to DIY it regardless. If you don’t tell them how, there are 100s of other videos, blog posts, and discussion forums that will. Or they could drive down to their local garden center and the people selling fertilizer and seed will walk them through it.
Creating this content will help the DIYer, but it will also educate the other, bigger portion of the population who has no time or interest to do this work themselves. Plus, you’ll be signaling to Google that you are an expert in the field, increasing your chances that Google will send you more qualified traffic.
B2B (business to business) Example: You’re a business broker, looking to connect buyers and sellers in your area. What are the questions sellers have?
- What is my business worth?
- How do I sell my business?
- What are business exit strategies?
What questions do the buyers have?
- How do I make an offer on a business?
- How do I find the right business to buy?
- What franchises can I buy into?
Now, you may feel that the last question is off-base, as the prospective buyer is looking to buy into a franchise and not a standalone business. However, they may not have considered buying a non-franchised business, so you could create some content about possible franchises, but also the benefits of owning a company outright.
It’s all about meeting your prospects where they are now.
Depending on the question and the audience, your content might be in the form of blog posts, infographics, a podcast, a webinar series, or YouTube video. You might find the appropriate discussion forums where your best prospects are hanging out and asking these questions, and become a valued resource in these forums.
The goal here is to be of help: to answer questions for people who are in the awareness phase. You shouldn’t be trying to close on people here, as they’re likely not ready to make a decision. However, you should include simple steps to move them forward.
Down below we’ll discuss specific tactics you can use to help move them along.
Content Marketing for Consideration
Once people are aware of their problem (or opportunity), they’re going to start to look for ways to solve (or take advantage) of their current situation.
Looking at our examples above, we can start to guess at the type of questions people are asking and the information they’d be looking for to help them move forward.
B2C Example: Let’s stick with our prospect’s weed problem. Likely, they’re wondering if they can take care of this themselves or if this is a job for a professional. They may also be wondering what their options are for getting rid of weeds.
A roundup (no pun intended) of different weed treatments would work well here. Natural solutions that people have on hand, products available at garden centers, fertilizer and other treatments, the list goes on.
You can also include the pros and cons of doing it yourself vs. hiring a professional.
B2B Example: Let’s focus on sellers, and specifically their concerns around what their business may be worth.
If they’re already aware that they need to determine the value of their company to find out what they should be asking, they may have already seen your (or someone else’s) post on the different methods for valuation.
Their questions now may be about which is the best methodology, or which will be most favorable to them. They may be interested in what similar companies are worth. They may be curious about the steps to go through the valuation process and what documentation they may need.
Additionally, they may be interested in how to make their company more valuable. Like a homeowner wondering if a kitchen remodel or a bath remodel will have a bigger impact on the home’s selling price, they may be wondering where to put their attention. Do they invest in a new website, secure better lines of credit from their bank, or improve their internal systems to make it more of a turnkey solution?
Remember, a quality blog post could take you 6 – 12 hours to create, from planning to researching, writing to editing, publishing to promotion. So, if you’re not sure which one to start with, doing some keyword research or checking out Google Trends, is a good first step to help you develop your priorities.
Content Marketing for Decision Making
OK, we’re in the home stretch! At this point, your prospect has probably decided on a course of action, but there may be multiple providers they can choose from. How can you create content that will cause them to make the right choice…you?
For products that people can buy anywhere, often they’ll go to a site like Amazon, Best Buy, Home Depot, etc. and look at the number of stars. Or they might do a search on “best” bluetooth speakers, table saw for beginners, or sous vide machine. Or they’ll look at reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, or Google.
You won’t have a lot of control over that outside of having a superior product and excellent customer service. You can create a top ten list and put your product at the top, most readers will see it as the self-serving content that it is.
Instead, you’ll want to create and share content that helps reduce the fear of loss and builds confidence that you’re the right choice for them.
B2C Example: Once the homeowner realizes that they need professional help, it often comes down to you and a few of your local competitors. What are the pieces of content that will convince them to pick up the phone and call you, or fill out your contact form?
- A picture is worth a thousand words. Before and after photos will work well here, showing actual customers’ properties.
- Testimonials. Adding testimonials to your website, emails, and social media accounts will also help. Seeing other people talk about how their lawn was overrun with weeds and how all their DIY attempts failed, so they decided to “try” you with great success will give many people the confidence to also try you out.
- Authority matters. Even in our jaded age, authority can make a difference. Do you have some well-known clients, like the high school, Parks and Rec department, or a big employer in town? Their logo/stamp of approval on your website carries extra weight.
- Awards and badges. Are you certified organic? Voted Best Landscaper in your city or town three years running? Approved by the Better Business Bureau or the Chamber of Commerce. Add those badges to your website.
- Guarantees and free trials. Can you guarantee your work? Can you offer a free trial or a coupon code on social media for first time customers? What can you do to tip the decision in your favor?
B2B Example: From a psychological standpoint, a lot of the tactics may be the same from the B2C examples above. After all, businesses don’t make decisions, business people do.
Just keep in mind that in this example, if you’re working with both buyers and sellers you can’t talk about how you extract more value than the company is worth, or how your hardball tactics get people to sell. Instead, you have to talk about your skills at matchmaking.
Here are come of the pieces of content that can help you standout from other business brokers in the region:
- Case studies. Showing how you worked with a business owner to improve their processes and drive up the value of their business will definitely catch the eye of sellers. A downloadable checklist (which doubles as an email capture form) can help here.
- Testimonials. Getting a testimonial from both the buyer and seller from a certain transaction, and showing how they both benefited from the sale and your professionalism can be a very powerful piece of content.
- Client stories. There are many reasons why people buy or sell a business. Sharing a story around exit strategies, retirement, buying a competitor, and so on, will allow different types of clients to picture themselves working with you and gaining the same benefits.
- Free tools and calculators. Can you include a tool on your site that helps someone calculate the value of their company as it stands now? A worksheet that helps them identify some of the key features of a potential business they wish to purchase? Working through a branded tool can help them segue to working with you directly.
Conversion Tactics in Content Marketing
As I mentioned earlier, providing valuable, free content without a way to encourage people to work with you is like fishing without a hook. You’re not fishing, you're feeding the fish.
“Conversion” may mean different things at each step. People just becoming aware they have a problem may not be ready to hire you or buy from you, just like first dates aren’t a good time to bust out the engagement ring.
That doesn’t mean that some people aren’t ready to buy at this stage, but coming on too strongly can scare away many prospects, or leave your content with the stink of desperation all over it.
So include an option to move to your contact form or pick up the phone, but all the content needs to do at this stage is move people to consideration and to look at the content you have for them there.
Beyond helping and educating your prospect, the purpose of content at each stage is only to move them to the next stage. Some things to keep in mind:
- Create links at the bottom of your content under labels like “What to read next >>” or “What to do now that you know you have a weed problem”.
- Get them to download a cheat sheet, workbook, or similar which also adds them to your email newsletter and/or autodrip campaign. An autodrip campaign can be a powerful tool to move people along in their journey, step by step.
- Add retargeting pixels for Facebook, Google, or any other platform where your audience hangs out. This way you can show them ads for the next step of their journey. They may have temporarily stepped off the path, but you can get them back on the road.
Create 1 – 3 paths that your ideal customer might take to find and choose you. Map out the questions they ask and the answers you would provide. Determine the different ways you could create this content: is it a blog, a webinar, a video, or something else?
What are the other assets that you can use as hooks to stay in communication with your prospect? Is it an autodrip campaign? Retargeting on Facebook or LinkedIn? A downloadable checklist or cheatsheet?
Finally, get your assets together and create the information booths and highway signage that will help your customers reach their final destination: hiring you.
If you’re still feeling lost or overwhelmed, we can help. We’ve created content that converts for all types of businesses and entrepreneurs, and we’d love to help you create a better path to your business. Contact us today for a free consultation.
Rich Brooks is founder and president of flyte new media, a digital agency in Portland, Maine, that’s been in business for 25 years. He is a nationally recognized speaker on entrepreneurship, digital marketing, and social media.
He founded The Agents of Change, an annual conference and weekly podcast that focuses on search, social & mobile marketing. He recently co-founded Fast Forward Maine, a podcast and workshop series for growing Maine businesses.
Rich is the author of The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing, a popular and well-received book that helps entrepreneurs and marketers reach more of their ideal customers online.