2014-16-September-Toward-Los-Angeles.jpgCompanies that are serious about the user experience on their website should already be thinking about buyer personas and the buyer’s journey, two of the most important components of website strategy.

A persona is a made up person that represents one or more of your target audiences for the website. The persona is meant to drive the tone, topics and type of messaging you place on the website for site visitors to read.

While personas are key to messaging the right audience, the buyer’s journey plays a role in how you usher those audiences along the sales process. You can account for the buyer’s journey with two approaches: inward focused or outward facing.

Inward focused is all about benchmarking leads along your sales funnel. Prospects, suspects, percent likelihood to purchase, and similar terminology drives that process.

Outward focused is more customer centric, and my preferred approach. It takes into account the psychological journey the customer goes through from “who is this company?” to “I’m ready to buy.”
In the old way of managing the buyer’s journey, companies had far more control over how the user / customer traveled along the path. New channels like social media and the preponderance of word of mouth have complicated the situation today. The buyer’s journey has ceased to be linear.

What’s a smart marketing mind to do? You have to be there throughout the whole process. Build out the whole buyer’s journey in advance so you can provide what a prospect needs at each step along the way to making a decision. This creates much more work, and should fundamentally change how you look at websites, content and lead management.

Let’s look at what needs to be taken into account to set yourself up for success.

Map the Buyer’s Journey

First, achieve internal agreement on what buyer’s journey model you will adopt as an organization. Will you take an inward or outward focus? This is one of the biggest sticking points. Sales and marketing professionals who are accustomed to the old way of benchmarking buyer’s journey with an inward focus, with a preference for lead scoring over customer centricity, will struggle to adapt to an outward focused model.

Regardless of which model you choose, the steps and thought processes outlined below will help you translate the model into content.

Content: What To Say

Once you have settled on a model for the Buyers Journey, consider what prospects and customers will be seeking at each stage along the way. For example, if they are in the initial awareness period, you will need to talk about the business problem your product or service addresses and how you solve it. If they're already at consideration, think about competitive positioning, ROI estimations, and ease of purchase and implementation.

It’s also important to think past the sale itself. Since the Buyer’s Journey is typically focused heavily on driving to a closed deal, many companies overlook the “closed loop” part -- i.e. how you onboard clients, the support you provide them, and how you encourage evangelism or word of mouth. These all impact repeat purchases as well as referrals, so they cannot be ignored.

Content is the primary driver behind my preference for customer centric models. If your content strategy aims only at how to convince someone to buy, you risk providing the wrong content along the path. Or insufficient content. Or overly aggressive content.

You get the picture -- tailor it to the persona and their specific wants and needs. And have all the messaging you need to not only grab interest, but close a sale and maintain satisfaction and loyalty over time. It is all a continuum that needs to be handled holistically.

Tactics: How to Say It

Once you have the buyer’s journey outlined and messaging spelled out for each of your buyer personas, the next step is to overlay tactics and media vehicles. Some tactics, such as email marketing, can be useful for managing nearly all stages of the buyer’s journey. Others, such as social media, tend to work better when focused on a specific section (e.g. social media can be great at driving early funnel demand, or at building a community of users after purchase).

There are many ways to handle this. An effective method is to build a media matrix, where you map out messages by tactic across the lifecycle / buyer’s journey in a two-dimensional table format. Some buyer’s journey stages will not employ all tactics, but that needs to be a conscious choice made when building out the model.

Remember the Last Interaction

Part of the game with mapping content strategy to the buyer’s journey is to provide the right content for each stage. When the prospect arrives, that allows them to self-service with materials that answer their questions no matter how much research they have or have not completed in advance.

For those with simpler websites and content management systems, this static content approach should suffice. However, bigger companies with advanced content personalization capabilities should consider how to improve the user experience even more by remembering previous interactions.

e-Commerce companies figured this out a long time ago. When you get notices that something is still in your shopping cart, pitching related products, or that say “Customers who bought ‘n’ were also interested in …,” that is exactly what is happening.

This concept is useful for many other types of companies in addition to e-commerce. For example:

  1. If a prospect already downloaded a white paper, can you pre-fill the form if they are interested in contacting you via another means?
  2. What customized calls to action can you use on the home page to quickly direct site visitors back to products or services they viewed in the previous session?
  3. Can you recognize if a visitor is a member of your mailing list already?
  4. Do you have the capability of having them start exactly where they left off on the previous visit using cookies and dynamic content?

The list could go on, but you get the picture. If you can progressively profile and tailor the experience to the prospect’s history with your brand, your likelihood of making a sale and earning loyalty will be increased exponentially.

Know When to Go For the Close

Having worked with hundreds of websites over the past 15 years, I find that marketers often struggle to maintain a balance between informational content and sales content. Many tech companies err on the side of pitching, because they are afraid to put information about their IP or “secret sauce” out for competitors to see. Other companies err on the side of creating content to drive traffic, but underemphasizing conversion and competitive comparison information.

The balance will vary depending on your business model and target customers, but it's important to know what that balance is. If you don’t know, start testing content, CTAs, visuals, user experience and anything else you can to figure it out. Otherwise you risk scaring off customers by pushing for a sale too soon, or losing their interest by never overtly asking them to do anything.

This is where the buyer’s journey comes in. If you map out the stages well, generating suitable content for each stage, and overlaying tactics against the whole model, the time to ask for a close will be clear. Use the model to your advantage.

The buyer’s journey is a fantastic model for helping usher prospects along the sales cycle toward a purchase and future loyalty. If you build a content strategy with the buyer’s journey in mind, you should be able to clearly align content and tactics appropriately to manage the sales process in a customer centric manner.

Is this something your company already has implemented? If not, how much of a change would it be to adopt this approach?

Title image by Dorothea Lange (Library of Congress) part of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information collection - public domain