Updated April 2019

As competition continues to grow for online customers, content marketing is more important than ever before for any growing brand. However, many businesses are still failing to engage with prospects at appropriate times in the sales cycle.

To gain the competitive advantage, brands need to develop a content strategy that is aligned with the buyer’s journey, to attract and engage content-hungry consumers with the right content at the right time.

Put simply, the buyer’s journey is the process a prospect goes through leading up to a purchase. It can vary depending on the brand, its products, and its services, but the fundamentals remain the same: consumers become aware of a problem, consider their options, make a decision, and then judge the outcome.

For content marketers, the challenge is to deliver relevant and engaging content to prospects that are at different stages of the buyer’s journey. Here, we’ll describe these different stages of the customer journey and look at how to create and optimize content for each stage.

We’ll start with an overview of the different stages of the buyer’s journey explore each step in-depth.

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The Four Stages of the Buyer’s Journey

1. Awareness

At this stage, potential customers are realizing some kind of problem or need and are open to solutions. They often perform research to understand the issue better and to define it in more precise terms.

Content types found at this stage in the buyer’s journey include:

2. Consideration

Buyers have now clearly defined their need and are considering available options. Although they may be aware that your business offers a solution, they’re not yet ready to commit. They are still evaluating potential opportunities, comparing prices and determining which are most likely to be able to fulfill their need.

In this stage, the most relevant types of content include:

  • Comparison papers and articles
  • Expert guides
  • Case studies
  • Podcasts
  • Videos

3. Decision

This is the point at which buyers will choose which product to purchase. As they may gather information to reinforce their preferred option, content can now be more brand-specific, highlighting your unique value proposition and competitive advantages.

Typical content at this stage includes:

  • Vendor and product comparisons
  • Product literature and demonstrations
  • Case studies
  • Testimonials
  • Product reviews

4. Loyalty

Finally, your customers have made their purchase. However, this is not the end of your content marketing. Most buyers will be interested in best practices and guides to make sure they continually get value out of your product or service.

The ideal types of content to keep customers engaged include:

  • User guides
  • Product-focused articles
  • Product updates
  • Customer newsletters
  • Promotions and loyalty programs
  • News and event details
  • Surveys 

1. The Awareness Stage

At this stage, potential customers become aware of a problem and begin looking for information on products or services to help them solve it. They may not have heard of your company, so you need to help them find you by delivering relevant content to the right channels. If you get it right, this is when buyers will first discover and interact with your brand.

Where to Connect

Improving your organic search engine rankings remains one of the most effective ways to build brand awareness and drive potential customers to your website. According to a Pardot study, 70 percent of buyers turn to Google while in the research stage. This makes it incredibly important to create content that will improve your Google rankings and overall search engine presence.

At this point, you should be developing your content assets across various online platforms, including your website, blog, and social media channels.

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Creating Content for the Awareness Stage

Content should address industry topics and answer questions frequently asked by your target audience. The goal is to introduce your brand’s personality, inform buyers, and leave them wanting more.

Examples of awareness stage content:

  • Blog posts
  • Social media posts
  • Infographics
  • Gifs
  • Articles
  • Videos and podcasts
  • FAQ pages
  • Educational content
  • Cheat sheets
  • Checklists

By publishing different types of content on your website and social media channels, you’ll establish your company as a credible source of information. This will encourage people to link to your website and share your content, which in turn helps to boost your rankings in search engines.

Optimizing Copy for Awareness Stage Buyers

The first step in creating awareness-stage content is to define your target audience. One effective strategy is to create two or three buyer personas – fictional representations of your ideal customer. Think about what problems they face, their goals, and the terminology they use.

Create an editorial calendar with a variety of content that aligns with the needs and interests of each persona. Every piece of content should be relevant to one of the personas, answering questions they may have.

For every piece of awareness-stage content you produce, try to attach some of the following top-of-the-funnel keywords and phrases:

  • How to
  • When is
  • What is
  • Where can I
  • Best way to
  • Fix
  • Issue
  • Problem
  • Troubleshoot
  • Prevent
  • Optimize

2. The Consideration Stage

Buyers have now clearly defined their need and are considering their options. Although they may be aware that your business offers a solution, they’re still evaluating the competition, comparing prices, and determining which company is the best fit. They may not be ready to make a purchase, but they do want to narrow down their options.

During this stage, smart marketers make effective use of the brand awareness they built by using content tactics that differentiate their business from the competition and build stronger relationships with a more defined group of potential customers.

Where to Connect

According to a Pardot study, 70 percent of buyers use Google at least two or three times while researching during the consideration phase. Prospects are looking more closely at each company’s offerings. They’re paying more attention to reviews and seeking out more in-depth content. As well as optimizing content for search engines, brands should start to connect with potential customers through review sites, social media, and also paid advertising.

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Creating Content for the Consideration Stage

During this stage, your content should be aiming to differentiate your business from the competition and build stronger relationships with a more defined group of potential customers. Base content around all of the pain points customers experience, and follow that up by highlighting the practical benefits of your product or service.

Examples of consideration stage content:

  • Product comparison charts
  • Expert guides
  • Case studies
  • White papers
  • Industry studies and reports
  • Ebooks
  • In-depth blog posts
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Reviews
  • Customer testimonials
  • FAQs

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Social proof can go a long way at this stage of the buyer journey.

According to an eConsultancy survey, 61% of consumers are influenced by peer reviews. Naturally, it follows that review-rich landing pages hyper-focused on reasons to believe will resonate with consumers during this stage of the purchase decision.

  • To effectively take advantage of the power of reviews, you need to proactively acquire and utilize them.
  • Consider using email, and post-sales cart messaging to request them, then send willing customers to review sites.
  • For some companies, like a B2B service, detailed customer testimonials and case studies provide more tangible reassurance to prospects.
  • For more complex products or service heavy offerings, FAQs are key.
  • Once you’ve gathered your reviews and testimonials, take full advantage by leveraging them across your owned channels and sales collateral.

Optimizing Copy for Consideration Stage Buyers

In the consideration stage, shoppers are usually researching and comparing several companies that offer similar products or services. Be clear and concise about how your offering addresses your prospects’ pain-points. You want researchers to find information on the features of your products or services, but it’s important to lead with the solution you are offering.

Create landing pages using relevant keywords about the products and services you sell. Keywords should be placed in titles, meta tags, landing page copy, and CTA buttons.

Buyers are now using less generic keywords when searching online for solutions. Your keywords and phrases need to be more specific and focused on product and service benefits. Try to include some of the following middle-of-the-funnel keywords and phrases:

  • Product
  • Service
  • Companies
  • Solution
  • Provider
  • Supplier
  • Reviews
  • Compare
  • Comparisons
  • Features
  • Benefits
  • Pros and cons
  • Versus
  • Options
  • Choices
  • Benefits

3. The Decision Stage

The next stage is the always critical “decision” stage. This is the stage where a customer chooses which product or service they prefer and makes a purchase.

Although this is the step where business is won (and lost), a lot of the hard work was done in the previous two stages. If you have done a good job of educating a prospect and presenting them with potential solutions in an engaging and respectful way – there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to strongly consider your company when it comes time to vote with their wallet.

On the other hand, if a prospect has never even heard of your company before the decision stage, even the best-designed landing page will have trouble converting them into a customer.

Where to Connect

By this stage, buyers should be familiar with your website and may be signed up to your email list. Therefore, it’s crucial that your website and email content addresses the concerns of decision-stage buyers with appropriate, more targeted content.

This means optimizing your website’s navigation and calls-to-action to drive leads toward bottom-of-the-funnel content. Your email content should also target leads in the later stages of the buyer journey and direct them toward relevant bottom-of-the-funnel content.

Creating Content for the Decision Stage

Your content needs to convince buyers beyond a shadow of a doubt that your product or service is the very best available solution to address whatever need, want, or pain point they have. This is particularly important if your product comes at a steep price.

This may be your last chance to transform a potential customer into a buying customer. Focus on demonstrating why prospects should choose your goods or services, and how you are better than the competition.

Typical content at the decision stage includes:

  • Vendor and product comparisons
  • Product literature and demonstrations
  • In-depth case studies
  • White papers
  • Customer testimonials
  • Product reviews
  • Return policies
  • FAQs

If possible, offer a live demonstration or a free trial to help prospects experience the types of services you have to offer.

The types of content you focus on will depend on your unique business. If you’re selling software to other businesses, product and case studies will be more beneficial. On the other hand, if you’re a B2C business selling kitchen supplies, product reviews and return policies may be more persuasive.

A great way to begin to build this content is to consider Marketing Experiment’s conversion heuristic where each variable can be leveraged to create compelling decision-driving content:

C = 4m + 3v + 2(i-f) – 2a ©

M = Motivation

This is frequently driven by external factors, which is why it’s crucial to have someone on your team who is aware of changes in the market, trends and other macro impacts on your business. It’s not always as simple as a hurricane causing a run on bottled water; it can be a lot more subtle. Motivation can be driven by life events, unexpected endorsements and lifestyle changes (like the sudden increase in gluten-free food interest over the past few years).

Motivation is critical to any purchase decision. The formula for repeat business is ensuring every touch-point of your customers’ journey is frictionless and has added value. You do this by:

  • Building positive emotional connections at each stage
  • Teaching prospects about your offering, the industry, their options, your business and related topics as transparently and objectively as possible
  • Building trust – not only by effectively executing on the first two points but by creating added-value ongoing channels of communication

V = Value Proposition

The importance of the value prop cannot be overestimated. It is used to tell prospects:

  • Who you are
  • What your key benefits are
  • How you are different from (and better than) the competition

Each element of this bite-sized snapshot of your business, your key differentiators and your competitive advantage needs to be user-centric in tone and intent. In other words:

  • Who you are – tell users about who you are regarding the high-level pain point your overall business solves
  • What your benefits are – tell them about your key benefits by laser focusing on ‘reasons to believe’ in your brand and your product
  • How you’re different – differentiate yourself by clearly and convincingly positioning your competitive advantage as a deal breaker in their decision-making process

I = Incentive

Incentives contribute to maintaining motivation inside the purchase funnel and help push users towards the final decision to buy.

Incentive-based content focuses on three core themes:

1. Financial incentives (discounts, specials, free shipping, etc.)

2. Moral incentives (ethically-based, convincing prospects that investing in your products is merely the right thing to do

3. Coercive incentives (highlighting the potential negative consequences of not getting your product or service)

F = Friction

Friction has a negative impact on the decision-making journey and reduces a prospect’s motivation to complete a purchase.

This usually means ignoring best practices when it comes to usability (especially concerning online transactions). Specifically, friction can be:

  • Overwhelming users with too many choices resulting in the ‘dilemma of choice.’
  • Long paragraphs of text-based content that are not skimmable
  • Poor navigation and broken links reducing findability
  • Too much clutter, meaning that a minimum viable experience was not considered
  • Not designed to build emotional connections meaning a dull, dry, non-compelling visual experience
  • Lack of the 4 Cs (compelling, concise, clear content)

A = Anxiety

Anxiety also has a negative impact on the decision-making journey. The effect of anxiety is significant as it frequently only occurs at the cart stage once all other variables have already affected the user with a net positive impact. Anxiety, if it arises at this point, nullifies all the other good that has been done – a very powerful de-motivator.

When it comes to purchasing online, there are two predominant types of anxiety:

1. In-purchase anxiety – fear

2. Post-purchase anxiety – remorse

Here we’ll focus on the former. To dilute (or mitigate against) fear, you need to include clear, highly visible, image-backed content around:

  • How much you value your prospects and their privacy
  • Specific security information and privacy policies
  • Refunds, returns, warranties, and guarantees
  • Positive customer reviews and rating scores (social proofing)
  • Positive authority proofing (certifications, awards, industry mentions, etc.)
  • The common pain points you’re going to solve
  • Your contact information

The perfect mix of the types of content mentioned above will depend on your product and the preferences of your customers. If you’re selling an enterprise software solution, you’ll likely need detailed product comparisons and case studies, among other things, so that potential customers can justify the expenditure to their boss. If you’re selling a more consumer-focused product like kitchen supplies, product reviews, and clear return policies may be more effective and appropriate to get shoppers to hit the “buy” button.

Testing, Always with the Testing

Test, test, test! Optimize, optimize, optimize! With the overload of options and information out there, you’ve got keep the attention of customers, or they will quickly move on.

You need to know what content appeals to them, what content motivates them, what content incentivizes them, what content diminishes anxiety and what content builds positive emotional connections most effectively. To figure out all these moving parts, you need to test the following elements of your landing and cart pages:

  • Design and layout
  • Headlines and messaging
  • Types (and placements) of fear-combatting content
  • Images and CTAs
  • Colors and trust seals

We’re Almost There!

The creation of compelling content for each of the buyer stages we’ve discussed so far (awareness, consideration, and decision) has resulted in a shiny new batch of happy customers.

But, wait! This isn’t the end of their journey, or ours. It’s crucial to your long-term success that those happy buyers stick around, and that means you need to build loyalty.

4. The Loyalty Stage

Customers may have made their purchase, but it’s not the end of your work. It’s crucial to your long-term success that buyers stick around. You need to constantly remind customers of your expertise, encourage loyalty, and generate brand advocates.

Buyers need to be reminded of why they are working with you or supporting your business. It’s about creating content that shows you care about them beyond their conversion into customers.

If we think about the timeline right after purchase (the honeymoon phase), it’s a time of happy expectation, but it’s also a vulnerable time for the purchaser. They may be second-guessing their decision, and you need to nip that in the bud. This is how:

  • The very first thing to do is to email a ‘thank you’ as part of your post sales communication. Reiterate the top reasons to reaffirm the buyer’s decision and include social proof.
  • Don’t dilute the ‘thank you’ message; it clearly says ‘we value you.’ Let them know that you’ll be shortly following up with their invoice, support or service contact details, and links to necessary resources such as guides, demos, instructions, etc.

Where to Connect

Customer care website pages, supportive emails, and social media channels can all be used to reassure customers that you care about their after-purchase experience. For example, steer buyers toward social media channels for customer service queries, or offer exclusive content that helps them make the most of their purchase.

Creating Content for the Loyalty Stage

Content consumed after the purchase is more focused on customer retention, brand advocacy, cross-selling, and referrals. This stage in the process is also key to long-term business success. One study showed that increasing customer retention by just five percent can boost a company’s profits by nearly 100 percent.

A happy customer is not only likely to recommend you to others, they’re also more likely to be a repeat customer, which is often a lot easier to get than a brand new client. There are various types of content you can deliver to keep customers happy.

Examples of loyalty stage content:

  • Blog content
  • Email content
  • Social media content
  • User guides
  • Video tutorials
  • Product-focused articles
  • Product updates
  • Customer newsletters
  • Promotions and reward programs
  • News and event details
  • Exclusive content
  • Contests
  • Surveys

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The creation of compelling content for each of the buyer stages we’ve discussed so far (awareness, consideration, and decision) has resulted in a shiny new batch of happy customers.

But, wait! This isn’t the end of their journey, or ours. It’s crucial to your long-term success that those happy buyers stick around, and that means you need to build loyalty.

Optimizing Copy for Loyalty Stage Buyers

To improve loyalty, you need to continue offering valuable, relevant content to your buyers. Each piece of content should ideally focus on building deeper customer relationships or encouraging repeat business.

For example, most buyers will continue to research best practices, guides, and more to make sure they get the most out their purchase. The challenge is to make sure they continue to find your content without difficulty and can access your content whenever they’re ready.

It’s not only about helping customers gain maximum benefits from your product or service but also about giving away free, genuinely helpful information that keeps your brand front of mind.

Your customers need to continually receive value from your brand, or the value they place on your relationship will diminish and they may turn to the competition.

Create an Engaging and Content-Rich Buyer’s Journey

At every stage of the buyer’s journey, content marketers should seriously consider the purpose of their content. Every business will have their own unique set of customers, so the key is to get to know your unique customers and then create relevant and engaging content at each stage of their journey to inspire them to take further action. You need to know the needs and interests of your audience at each stage of the buying process.

The most successful brands develop a clear content plan, mapping each type of content to a particular stage of the sales funnel. Each piece of content then has a clear purpose and can also be measured in terms of content marketing performance.

To help generate content ideas, imagine if you were in a content marketing funnel. What types of content would you want to consume? Ask yourself what kinds of content you need to find at each stage of your journey toward a purchase.

Talk to real leads and customers too. What do they really want to hear from your brand? What problems are they facing right now? If your business is not able to solve them, your content will always fall short.

If you’re in need of powerful, sales-driven content, you may need to consider hiring professional freelance writers. Start delivering more engaging content for every stage of the buyer journey with Constant Content today.