Today’s customers are different. They aren’t swayed by simple sales pitches or a big billboard or a flashy newspaper ad. Consider for a moment that Facebook alone generates more ad dollars than all of America’s newspapers, according to a recent article in The New Yorker. It’s proof that customers are online and connected more than ever.
Needless to say, outdated types of advertising aren’t cutting it any longer — plus, who reads a newspaper anymore? Isn’t that now considered an archaic form of communication, like a carrier pigeon?
Nowadays, customers are much more demanding. The creation of the internet and the rise in smartphones has given nearly everyone access to multitudes of data. News, social media, stocks, and more are right at their fingertips, which means customers are digesting a lot more information. According to a 2018 Nielsen report, over half of American adults spend more than 11 hours consuming media each day.
Also, customers are tougher to sell to because they put companies on a whole new playing field. Customers have set a new bar for brands they follow and products they purchase. They’ve done the research, they’ve looked at reviews, and they have even done some price comparisons. So to win them over, companies now need to demonstrate value.
Understanding your customer in today’s online, always-on world can be a struggle. So how do you come to understand your customer and how they perceive your brand?First, get a grip on the buyer’s journey and the customer’s journey.
As defined by HubSpot, the buyer’s journey is “the process buyers go through to become aware of, evaluate, and purchase a new product or service.”
It is broken down into three stages:
In the initial part of the buyer’s journey, customers are assessing a certain problem or challenge. They come to understand that this specific challenge is having an impact on them, and they want to find a solution. Like: I’m a surly sailor who sometimes gets into altercations that are seemingly ridiculous.
Then customers enter the consideration stage, where they weigh their options and approaches. “Do I walk away? Sit down and cry? Angrily smoke? Have a drink first and see where this goes?”
And finally, customers come to the decision stage, where they commit to a decision about how to move forward. Obviously, in the case of a surly sailor, the answer is to eat your veggies because they give you amazing biceps without having to engage in a workout regime.
Possessing a good understanding of these three stages helps you understand the specific challenges that customers are looking to solve with your help. This high-level overview of the buyer’s journey is helpful, but you’ll also want to get into the shoes of your customer to give you a solid understanding of their individual hurdles and roadblocks. That’s where the customer journey comes in.
The customer journey isn’t the latest Disneyland attraction. It’s the path that your customers take from interested visitor to satisfied client. You can navigate this journey through the use of an inbound marketing strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with inbound content marketing, it is a marketing approach where you aim to provide the most educational and useful content to your visitors.
When you embrace an inbound marketing approach, you can help move a potential customer through the customer journey stages by using helpful, informative content. If you are unfamiliar with the customer journey, it has four distinct stages:
Think of the customer journey like the yellow brick road to the wonderful land of Oz: a path along which characters (aka your customers) travel on their way to the emerald palace — which in this case is the final moment when they purchase your product or service. Along the way, these characters interact with events, hit some roadblocks, learn more about themselves, and understand what lies ahead.
However, you don’t have to play the part of the man behind the curtain, frantically pulling levels and pushing buttons to create this smoke and mirrors effect. You can’t shout, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” and hope that your customers will listen. Instead, you need to meet your customers to understand what they want.
Finding out who your customers are isn’t as easy as clicking your heels.
You’ll have to put in some groundwork in order to understand their demographics, their jobs, their challenges, and other factors that can paint a full picture of your ideal customer.
The first step to understanding your customer is to create buyer personas. You might be the type of person who says:
“C’mon, I know my customer already. I founded my company, so of course I know who wants my product. This is a waste of my time!”
Truth be told, skipping this step isn’t an option unless you’re Brian Halligan, Neil Patel, or any of the top ranking marketing gurus. Buyer personas are an absolute necessity if you want to reach the right target audience. Factor in that 93% of companies who exceed lead and revenue goals segment their database by buyer persona, according to Boardview. It’s a part of the equation that is crucial for pinning down your customers.
Buyer personas are fictional representations of your ideal customer. But it doesn’t mean you assign a cutesy name to a photo and call it quits. Rather, creating your buyer personas involves answering a number of detailed questions that will help you understand everything about your potential customer. These include:
Some of the answers to these questions may be hypothetical to start, and you should use your best judgement when completing these personas. But as time progresses and you learn more about your customer, you will want to revisit your personas and update them with new information and insights.
Let me say that again: buyer personas are not set in stone. They are always evolving and can be tweaked as you get more feedback and data on your customers. It is important to revisit them on occasion — or make a habit of looking at them again at the end of each quarter as a refresher.
There are a couple of resources you can use to help you complete your buyer personas:
All of these resources can supplement your buyer personas and might even uncover some characteristics or challenges you might not have thought of.
‘So I’ve done my due diligence and I’ve got my buyer personas. I can start selling to these people now, right?”
Nope. Just because you have your buyer personas in hand doesn’t mean that you’re equipped to take on the front line. You’ve only got a monkey wrench and you want to replace the transmission? No way. You need to understand how your target audience moves through from interested visitor to satisfied customer.
With a customer journey map.
It’s not enough to rely on your buyer personas to guide your content and marketing decisions. You need to take these newfound personas and figure out where the heck they’re going on their way to purchasing your goods or services.
A customer journey map can help you figure out where your potential customers go, how you can keep them from going astray, and how you might be pissing them off.
Customer journey maps contain some key elements, namely:
Ultimately, you want to find out all of the points where your customer is interacting with your brand so you can find them and bring them farther along the journey. This map isn’t something that should be considered or simply talked about — you need to physically draw this out.
‘Cool! I made this super awesome map and I’m feeling like Columbus discovering America. Can I start pursuing my marketing efforts so I can make some money? I’m getting antsy.”
Not just yet. You’re off to a great start, but now you need to understand how your client needs to be coaxed and talked to during their journey, and specifically, what type of content they need.
Your content helps define a lot of things about you: your voice, mission, values, and overall brand appeal. And because 70% of internet users want to learn about products through content versus traditional advertisements, you have to deliver stellar content in many different formats.
While these different content delivery types might be exciting, and you’re likely tempted to start just kicking out content like a machine, you should know that the type of content is important for different stages in the buyer’s journey.
Content is appealing in many different formats, and is especially helpful in moving visitors through the buyer’s journey. According to Demand Gen’s 2018 Content Preferences Survey, 49% of B2B buyers said they now rely more on content to research and make purchase decisions. Engaging, fun content is much more rewarding than looking at some flashy gif or stock models.
You need to know when to use each type of content for a specific stage. Let’s take a look at how content supplements each part of the buyer’s journey.
Content Types: editorial content (like blogs or thought leadership pieces), eBooks, reports, guides
This is the point where you want to educate your potential customer. You’ll want to provide educational content to help inform them of their options. It also gives you the opportunity to show that you understand your customer, their challenges, and their goals. This is where you can find your voice and educate through blog posts on your website. In fact, 55% of marketers say blog content creation is their top inbound marketing priority.
Content Types: videos, webinars, podcasts, white papers, case studies
A potential customer understands their particular goal or challenge, and now they’re in the process of weighing their options. So this is where you need to shine in order to convince them that you’re the best option available! It’s not exactly an easy task, though: over 65 percent of marketers say being able to produce engaging, well-designed visual content consistently is their biggest struggle.
Content Types: free trials, demos, discounts
Here’s where you need to win over your customers as they decide what option or solution will best solve their problem. Ask yourself: What are the pros to siding with you? What are some cons that might keep customers at bay? Is there anything in the way that makes it hard for customers to choose your company? Consider persuading customers through discounts, or maybe even offering a demo of your product to drive them to purchase.
“Sweet! Now I know what content is best, and when to deliver it to visitors and potential customers! I’m gonna start pumping out this stuff and everyone will love me!”
Slow your roll. There’s one more element you need to include in every action, each piece of content, and all customer interactions you have: customer empathy.
You can’t just crank out content and expect your customers to love you forever. While it’s important to be educational in your approach, you should also be empathetic. Otherwise, potential customers will think you’re just coaching them from your high and mighty pedestal.
Start with understanding and embracing customer empathy, which means you’ll have to take a step back from your role. Don’t think of how you want to sell to your customer. Think about the struggles, challenges, roadblocks, and everything that is hindering your customer. Find these pain points and work toward solving them.
Also, when you practice empathy, you may discover some gaps in your processes, or challenges you didn’t consider — all from simply listening to your customer. Filling in these missing pieces can help you create a more inclusive journey for your customer by providing them with the info and service they need to make an informed decision.
As you consistently practice customer empathy, it will translate into different parts of your business. One of the biggest sectors it will affect will be customer service, which is a huge focus for many of today’s brands. Whether it means timely responses to inquiries, an in-depth FAQ section, or even a chatbot, there are many ways to reach (and service) the customer. Even addressing comments and concerns in social media channels is important, given that 59% of Americans believe that customer service through social media has made it easier to get their questions answered and issues resolved.
Great customer service is one of the biggest differentiating factors between good companies and great companies, and the way you can get there is by practicing customer empathy in all that you do.
Now you’ve done it! You made it to the finish line! You’ve got all the tools for your trade, so it’s time to put them into practice: Walk back through this guide and implement each process into your content marketing efforts to win over your customers through a methodical, targeted approach.
About the Author
Sr. Content Strategist
East Coast transplant living and working in sunny Southern California. Content strategist and SEOprofessional specializing in telecom, tech, mobile, and digital media. Skilled in writing, editing, strategy, and web optimization.