For many organizations, there is usually a disconnect between the brand and its customers. They want consumers to buy their products, invest in their services, and to use their tools, but unfortunately, many consumers are not aware that they even exist. Even if consumers are aware of a brand, they may not be aware that the brand solves the pain point or that their problem needs to be solved.
How can consumers engage with you if they don’t know that you can solve one of their problems?
You don’t necessarily need more marketing tactics or a new website. Instead, you need to align your organization’s digital presence with each step of the customer’s journey.
No matter if you want to generate more leads/users, improve retention, increase your visibility, etc. It all comes down to being the resource consumers need you to be at each step of their journey.
The Customer Journey
The customer’s journey (also referred to as the buyer’s journey) is the process that a consumer goes through from having a pain point (problem), discovering a need and ultimately finding a solution. It can also include the process they go through to repurchase or to become an advocate of a brand.
Think back to the last item you purchased, or service you hired out (outside of a last-second splurge buy). What was that experience like? Were you at first unsure of the products available? Did you have to do research in order to find the best option? What ultimately led you to make the decision you made?
This my friend, is the customer journey in practice.
The customer journey can be broken down into 4 stages (or 3, or 5, or 7 depending on how the organization views the journey. We have identified 4 stages and feel this fits the best without overly complicating the process or ignoring important aspects of it.) Understanding these stages will help you better understand the needs of consumers as they look for solutions.
The 4 phases of the customer journey
- Decision / Purchase
- Post Purchase
These 4 stages help organizations map the elements of their strategy (digital presence, marketing, sales, customer service, real-life connections with customers, etc.) with what the customer needs at that time.
By following these stages of the journey, businesses can know what conversations they should be having with clients and when, the type of content they need to create, and what digital solutions they should have in place.
In short, if you want to reduce friction in the buyer process and help consumers find and engage with your brand, then you need to create solutions throughout the customer journey.
Aligning your digital presence with each touchpoint in the journey
The purpose of aligning your organization with the customer journey is all about reducing friction in the buying process. You are helping a consumer learn and make decisions how they want to do it.
As a consumer yourself, do you buy from companies that provide value and make it easy for you to buy or do you enjoy digging and searching for a solution that’s only accessible by contacting a sales professional?
No matter how long you have been an industry leader or staple in your industry, if you are not in alignment with where and how people buy, you will watch your market share diminish.
That’s where knowing and aligning yourself at each touchpoint of the customer journey comes in. Let’s break it down.
In the awareness stage, the consumer has an issue or potential problem and is beginning to diagnose their needs. At this point, the consumer is not yet aware that a certain product or service meets their needs. They may be searching the internet for your product or may not even know there is a solution for their needs.
Here is the state of mind of the consumer:
- No idea they even have an issue
- Have a problem but are yet to put a name on the problem
Consumers in this stage are not ready to buy a product, so don’t offer it. If they haven’t even been able to name their problem then offering a solution is not beneficial. During this stage, you want to educate them and introduce them to information that will help them identify their actual problem.
Examples of the awareness stage
Your HVAC system is making strange noises. Is it broken, is it just old, or is something stuck inside of it? You’re not yet sure what you need or what to look for but you know something is going on.
Perhaps you want to grow your business or department but you’re not sure where to start. If you are on social media, listening to podcasts or reading blogs (like this one!) then you may be in the awareness stage of the buying process yourself!
Positioning your organization in the awareness stage
It’s important to understand where the client is coming from during this stage but it does you no good unless you position yourself to connect with them.
From the previous information, you should now understand that the people in the awareness stage don’t yet know that you are a solution for their needs. So at this stage, it’s important for you to get in front of them in order to give them a name to their problem. You can do this in a couple of different ways.
- Utilizing influencers and testimonials
- Providing helpful content around pain points
All of these things can introduce a consumer to your industry and the solutions that are available. Their next step is to consider whether this is the right solution for their pain point.
When a consumer is in the consideration stage, they are wondering if a certain product or service is right for them. At this point, they are doing product research. They may be comparing various solutions or taking a deep dive into one solution to see if it is the right choice.
Here is what your buyers may be thinking during this stage:
- Should I do this or that?
- Will this solution work for me?
- Is this the best way to solve my problem?
- What are some examples of people who have succeeded this way?
- I need more information on this.
- Is this worth it or is there a better way?
The consideration stage is often the most vast stage in the customer journey and can be where most consumers spend most of their time. This depends on the individual and the product of course. But, because there are so many different things to consider and so many questions that can be asked, it is often where consumers spend most of their time and need the most resources.
Examples of the consideration stage
An individual is looking into investment options. Should they buy real estate, invest in mutual funds or IRAs? All of these could be good options, but they are deciding what is best for their goals.
Boxers or briefs? No one likes getting stuck with uncomfortable underwear which leads many men to consider if changing their underwear style can help. Maybe they are running and need more support, maybe they want to prevent chaffing, maybe they want to prevent the ride up. They are considering the different options based on their needs.
Here’s one more that follows the example of improving your business from before. You may be considering if a certain marketing strategy or a new web design is right for you. You may be wondering if you should do this or do that. Should we outsource, do it in-house, or a combination of both? What are the various financial and time commitments vs expected ROI of different initiatives? If all of these things are going through your mind then you’re likely in the consideration stage yourself.
Positioning your business in the consideration stage:
At this stage, your potential buyer is considering the best product or service for their problem. It’s not your job to sell them on what’s best, but rather provide the necessary resources for them to decide for themselves what’s best. To help buyers in this stage, you should focus in on a couple of different areas:
- In-depth written content on your website
- Testimonials and stories of how people had X problem and how Y solution solved it.
Providing resources such as these helps a consumer better understand how their problems can be met via different solutions. As they do their research they will eventually come to the conclusion themselves as to which product or service (if any) is right for them.
Once someone has decided what they need, the only thing left for them to do is determine where to buy it.
During the purchase phase the buyer wants to make sure they are making the right choice. They already know to some extent what they want to buy or do, but they first want to identify the best brand and the best product for the job.
Now that your soon-to-be customer knows they want to buy, here is what they are thinking:
Where to buy
How to buy
What will provide the best experience from my purchase
In addition to finding the best place to buy, consumers also tend to buy from those who are easiest to buy from. They are looking for the best. Not only the best price, or the best option, but the best experience as well.
Examples of the purchase stage
You know you want to exercise and get healthier. You have considered all the solutions (home gym, dvds, etc.) and decided that a gym membership is what you want. Now, you are deciding whether you want a membership from your local rec center, or the planet fitness.
During your organization’s planning, the team decided that a new website is in order to meet your business goals. Should you hire a local web designer or find a national company who specializes in web design for your industry? Do we work with a web development only company or hire a marketing company who can help in other areas?
Positioning your business in the purchase stage
During the purchase stage, your buyer is primed and ready for you to offer your products and solutions. They actually want to hear why you are the best.
Make it easy for them to see why your solution may be the best for them by providing what they are looking for. Such as:
- Part of the process all along
- Ease of purchase
- Free trials
While you should position your organization properly for this stage, you are not selling anything. Make it easy for them to understand who you are the best for and then make it easy for them to buy, but don’t try to sell your product to someone who is not the right fit.
As an organization, you want to ensure you are generating the right business. Not only does that save you from headaches down the road, but because the customer journey is not over. There is much more than the initial sale. And if you position yourself for the right buyers, then the next stage of the buyer’s journey can bring even more value than the purchase stage itself.
The customer journey doesn’t end once someone buys your product or uses your service. As an organization you want to build loyalty which leads to retention but you also want to ensure customers are aware of other post purchase opportunities.
Do you have accessories that go with your products or additional services that can bring more value to your customers? What about processes that make a customer’s experience a better one such as onboarding or joining a community?
During the post purchase stage, you want to ensure you stay front of mind for your customers.
Examples of the post purchase stage
You bought a new grill or smoker but now you need accessories to go with it. Not only do you need accessories but you need a community to provide tips and ideas. You may also be inclined to leave a review.
Your organization has had a new website built but you need training. Perhaps a website was only part of the marketing plan and now you need additional marketing services to help achieve your marketing goals.
Positioning your organization in the post purchase stage
The post purchase stage is going to look a lot different depending on the organization. For some, their product is a one time solution, others provide commodities, while some have complex services they offer. This stage is going to look different for everyone but there are similar processes you can take;
- Invite them to join a community
- Ask them for a testimonial or review
- Educate them on the additional solutions you offer
You may have additional services that buyers need, if not, they may know someone who can benefit from your solution or at least be able to influence more individuals who are interested.
Either way, when this stage is handled well, it can lead to more value than the initial sale itself.
Where to get started?
This whole customer journey process can feel like a lot. How can you hold a buyer’s hand through the entire buying process? Omnichannel marketing can be a challenge but it’s a necessary part of ensuring you are providing what your customers really need.
The good news is that you likely already have some of these pieces in place. The best thing for you to do is build a solid foundation, find the biggest immediate wins in the customer journey and then begin working through the process.
- Understand your consumers - don’t make assumptions
- Owned 1st party data
- Create somewhere for them to learn - educate with content
- Social media
- Plan how to get the right information in front of buyers at the right time
- Social media
- Email marketing
- Make it easy for them to buy when ready
- Online portals
- Website payment systems
- Make it easy to share (post-purchase)
- CRM / Integrated back-end systems
The best part is that most organizations don’t have to start from scratch. While some need additional digital assets like content or a new website, many simply need direction on how to put the pieces together. That’s where the benefit of working with a creative solutions agency comes into play. A creative solutions agency can help give you direction but also build the foundations for success.
Aligning your organization with the customer journey is a necessary step for all brands big or small, local or international. Without this alignment your potential customers may never find you!