Online search has changed everything.
Years ago, acquiring a customer online was easy: reassure the potential buyer your product is the best on the market and push for the sale.
Today, consumers can research a product online, compare brands on cost, reputation and more, and decide which provider is best for their needs.
This progression—from becoming problem-aware to making a purchasing decision—is called the buyer’s journey…
…and it’s one of the most important marketing concepts you need to be familiar with.
With 67% of the buyer’s journey now completed digitally, it’s become more important than ever to mail campaigns that educate, inform and most importantly, nudge your prospects into taking action (read: purchasing your products).
Identifying the buyer’s journey is a real challenge for most marketers.
A recent survey by DemandGen found 61% B2B business owners cited developing targeted content by buyer stage/interest as one of their greatest challenges in nurturing leads:
Much has been written already about mapping the buyer’s journey to content marketing and paid traffic, but nothing, to my knowledge, has been written about what to do after a visitor has subscribed to your email list.
So, in this article, I’m going to show you how to map your email marketing campaigns to the buyer’s journey, how you can match the right offers to the right prospects at the right time, and of course, how to develop lifelong relationships with your existing customers while doing so.
What is the buyer’s journey?
According to HubSpot, the buyer’s journey is the active process buyers go through to become aware of, evaluate, and purchase a new product or service.
This journey, depending on whom you ask, ranges from three to fifteen stages. In this article, we’re going to focus on the three most important stages:
The buyer’s journey (otherwise known as the customer journey) is often represented as a funnel-shaped process that comprises the above stages, from lowest purchase intent (awareness) to highest (decision).
In the image below, it’s further expanded in six stages, with the first (awareness), third (consideration) and sixth (purchase) stages corresponding with the three in the image above:
It’s important to mention here how you communicate with your prospects will vary depending on which stage of the buyer’s journey they’re in.
What’s more, depending on the market you’re in and how far along a prospect is in your funnel, a potential buyer’s journey can last anywhere from three months to a year.
Offering potential buyers exactly what they’re looking for according to how far along they are in the buyer’s journey gives you the highest potential to convert them.
Let’s discuss how to do that.
Part 1. Awareness
Imagine, for a moment, you’re experiencing back pain.
Unaware of what’s causing it, you turn to Google and type in, “Why do I have a bad back every morning?” Your goal, at this stage, is to educate yourself as much as possible and put a name to your ailment.
After reading a few articles online and confirming with a chiropractor, you discover your bad back isn’t the real problem. Rather, it’s a symptom of a bigger problem:
You have a bad mattress.
Having given a name to your problem, you become aware and begin actively looking for a solution.
This is known as the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey. And it’s where each potential buyer begins their journey before becoming a customer.
Often, a prospect discovers your brand either through organic search (they clicked on a piece of content in the search engine results pages) and/or paid traffic (they clicked on an ad).
Some e-commerce businesses, like Birchbox, utilize content marketing:
The goal, having acquired a new lead, isn’t to push for a sale (that is unless they’re at the decision stage of the buyer’s journey). Rather, it’s to educate, entertain or inform through interesting and relevant email campaigns.
On a deeper level, it’s to encourage engagement (e.g. increase opens, clicks, etc.), segment new visitors by interest (and where they are in their journey), and increase top-of-mind awareness (TOMA).
Metrics to be aware of at the awareness stage include:
- Sessions – This is especially important if you’re driving traffic to product pages on your site.
- Percentage of old visitors vs. new visitors – Are prospects returning to your site, thus, becoming more familiar with your brand?
- Engagement – Put simply, are readers opening and clicking through on your campaigns? If so, you’re obviously doing something right (well done, you!).
It’s important to mention here not all goals or challenges have urgency.
You might feel like you deserve a new pair of designer pajamas (who doesn’t?), but it’s unlikely to take precedent over something relating to your physical health (like a painful back).
There are a few things to consider before creating awareness emails.
Let’s discuss each briefly.
1. Identify triggers
Think of a recent problem you experienced.
Nothing major. A minor one will suffice.
What happened before you experienced that problem?
If you’re like most people, it’s likely there was an event that occurred before it happened.
This, in marketing, is known as a “trigger”: the event that begins your progression through the buyer’s journey.
If you’re running an online retailer, for example, a trigger might be your prospect has a black tie event coming up and needs to learn how to tie a bow tie:
To identify triggers, login to Google Analytics.
If you’re using Google AdWords as an acquisition channel, click Acquisition > AdWords > Search Queries:
Or, if you’re using content through organic search, click Acquisition > Search Console > Queries:
Your prospect is often identified by the type of queries they’re making such as what, who, where, when, why, and how (e.g. “How to tie a bow tie”).
It’s important to exclude brand queries when doing this because you want to identify potential buyers who aren’t yet aware of who you are.
Analyzing search queries will offer insights into your ideal buyer and help you craft email campaigns that are relevant to their needs and interests.
72% of buyer’s turn to Google during the awareness stage, so it’s important not to neglect the importance of identifying what you’re already ranking for in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
2. Survey your existing customers
When researching your existing customers, it’s worth gathering a combination of quantitative and qualitative data.
The former is measured in numbers (e.g. the number of purchases a customer makes per month). The latter, on the other hand, is only observable (e.g. the reason a customer didn’t renew their subscription).
While quantitative data is easier to generalize, qualitative data provides more insight into why your existing customers are buying from you rather than a competitor.
Using software like Typeform, you might ask customers:
- How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
- Where exactly did you first hear about us?
- What’s the one thing we’re missing?
- What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing right now?
- What are the top three things that nearly stopped you from buying from us?
- What will happen if you don’t overcome the challenge you’re experiencing?
As a rule of thumb, aim for a minimum of 100 completions. Remember, the more data you have, the easier it is to identify what your customers want to move away from and move toward.
To learn more about surveying and its best practices (including whether to incentivize or not), read my article on e-commerce email marketing.
3. Create a buyer persona
With enough quantitative and qualitative responses, recurring patterns will (hopefully) emerge in your data. With that information, as well as your own understanding of your market, you can create buyer personas for each of your ideal customers.
A buyer persona, also known as a customer avatar, is a representation of your ideal customer:
Having one—or many, depending on how many products you have—will help you determine what kind of content you need in your email campaigns, the tone and style of your copy, as well as where your audience gathers information and their preferences for consumption.
For a more in-depth dive into creating buyer personas, read our interview with Zeph Snapp.
Part 2. Consideration
Let’s return to our previous mattress example, for a moment.
You’ve clearly defined your goal (to replace your mattress) and are committed to addressing it as soon as possible (remember, not all pain points have urgency).
At this stage, you’re evaluating the different approaches or methods available to solve your challenge, which, in our example, involves researching mattresses online.
Otherwise known as the evaluation stage, the consideration stage occurs when your prospect has clearly defined and given a name to their problem and is committed to researching and understanding all of the available methods for solving it.
You’re not asking for a purchase, yet. You’re simply inviting further engagement, albeit with more investment from your potential buyer.
Anyone who’s clicking through to read customer reviews or attend a webinar is more likely to become a customer than a recipient who’s only opening emails.
Metrics to monitor closely at the considerations stage include:
- Returning visitors – Are certain recipients opening and clicking through on consideration emails more than others? If so, that’s a good indication they’re close to moving down your marketing funnel.
- Webinar registrations – If you’re running an evergreen webinar, the number of registrants should be consistent, if not increasing over time (providing you’re continuously capturing and converting leads, of course).
Part 3. Decision
At the decision stage, your prospect has defined their solution and is whittling down a long list of potential vendors in their given solution strategy.
Specifically, they’re looking for information on how your product works, how others like them have been successful, and what their experience might look like if they decide to move forward with your company…
…and that includes what happens before they make a purchase.
Take, shipping, for example.
You wouldn’t think it was that important, right?
According to a recent survey by Baynard Institute, 61% of shoppers cite extra shipping costs as their reason for abandoning their cart during checkout (even if they fully intended to make a purchase).
It’s no surprise, then, that most ecommerce businesses have cart abandonment emails, specifically for prospects that were close to making a purchase, but need a final nudge of reassurance.
Asics, an athletic equipment company, reiterate the benefits of their free shipping policy in their cart abandonment email, in the event the prospect wasn’t aware of it, to begin with:
Of course, not everyone at the decision stage will make it as far as your checkout (especially if they haven’t decided which vendor to purchase from).
This is in part because many potential buyers want to try your product before making a purchasing decision.
In fact, it’s why companies like Lemonstand offer a free 14-trial with their product:
Campaigns geared around free shipping, free trials, case studies and more, are perfect decision stage emails.
When the offer is too good to say no to, it’s usually for a good reason. A company like Dollar Shave Club knows its customer lifetime value (LTV), thus, can afford to take a hit on the front-end when making this type of offer.
The secondary goal, at the decision stage, aside from making a sale, is to:
- Optimize funnel conversions – Can you increase email open and click-through rates, reduce cart abandonment, and more by writing better subject lines?
- Maximize revenue – Can you increase average order value by offering tiered pricing, upselling, and more?
Metrics you need to pay close attention to include:
- Customer lifetime value (LTV) – As mentioned above, knowing your customer LTV will allow you to make irresistible offers (such as free shipping), thus, getting to yes quicker and more easily.
- Customer cost per acquisition (CPA) – This is especially important if you’re using paid traffic as an acquisition channel (e.g. Facebook Advertising).
Get the above metrics right, and it’s possible to earn $38 for every $1 you spend.
So, make it count.
Beyond the Buyer’s Journey
It’s tempting to believe the buyer’s journey ends when a prospect becomes a customer, but the reality is you need to continue delivering value after they purchase.
Aside from reducing email unsubscribe rates and improving customer satisfaction, consistently offering value after purchase helps turn customers into evangelists for your business…
And that’s something every business can profit from.
Have you mapped your email campaigns to the buyer’s journey? Leave a comment below.
About the Author: Sam Thomas Davies is the content marketing manager at Sleeknote: a company that helps ecommerce business owners capture and convert more leads without hurting the user experience. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.