25 Jan 2018

How to Map Your Content to the Customer Journey

We’ve all heard the same common synonyms when describing the process customers experience when converting into a lead or sale:

  • Customer journey
  • Buyer’s journey
  • Sales funnel
  • Marketing funnel
  • Customer-purchasing-decision-buyer’s-journey-sales-funnel

Ok, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.

Why do we keep hearing these buzzwords year after year? Because understanding your specific customer journey (or whatever term you prefer to call it) is vital to the overall success of any content marketing strategy. Without fully understanding your customer’s journey, it’s impossible to create the right kind of content for your audience, let alone map it correctly to each stage.

First, here’s a quick refresher on the customer journey

Although different marketers have their own variation of the customer’s journey, Vertical Measures considers three key benchmarks:

  • Awareness: This is the beginning of the journey when someone first discovers your brand/product/service for the first time. This is what most of your content should center around. It’s top of the funnel, focusing on capturing their attention and convincing them to come back to your site.
  • Consideration: At this stage, your content will dive a little deeper into how to help solve your audience’s problems and answer their questions. When appropriate, mention how your product or service can help solve that issue, as well.
  • Decision: Your lead is at the final stage of their journey. They’ve finally come to a decision about your offerings and it’s now the right time to make a sales pitch. Use targeted content to relinquish any shadow of a doubt they might have about spending money with you.
How-to-Map-Content-to-Customer-Journey-Pipeline
Examples of content's role and tools for each step of the customer's journey.

Do you understand the needs of your audience?

Similar to that lifelong, philosophical question, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, that same concept applies to your content. If you publish a bunch of content on your blog, but no one can actually find it, is it really making an impact?

Keep in mind, 72% of B2B buyers are turning to Google to begin their research. And according to GroupM, 86% of searchers conduct non-branded queries to begin their research. That means that your audience is looking for answers to the everyday questions they have or a problem they want to solve.

They aren’t looking for your brand because they likely don’t know your brand, yet.

A typical customer does not start their journey with a search for your brand, product or service, regardless of whether they are B2B or B2C. Take off your company’s branded-thinking-cap and put yourself in your target persona’s shoes. Treat them like an actual person and not just a sale. What questions, pain points, needs, interests do they possess that might not have anything to do with your specific products or services?

If you’re shrugging your shoulders right now, then you need to go back and develop detailed personas to help your content creation process. You can’t create content for an audience if you don’t understand their needs and/or questions.

What type of content should you create?

Once you feel like you have a solid grasp on your audience’s common challenges or needs, work on developing content that your audience is actually searching for in search engines.

And remember, the content doesn’t have to directly tie back to one of your products or services. Your audience will appreciate the helpful information, but more importantly, they’ll quickly embrace a relationship with your brand. When it come’s time to make a purchase, you will be top of mind as the trusted partner.

Let’s look at this customer journey progression through a content-lens:

Good Content Examples:

AWARENESS

“What are the best road trip games to play with kids?”

CONSIDERATION

“Best New Technology Features in 2018 SUVs”

DECISION

“Why the C-Class XYX is the Safest Vehicle for Your Family”

Bad Content Examples:

AWARENESS

“What are the Best New Features from the Latest XYZ Vehicle”

CONSIDERATION

“Why Car Model A is better than Model B”

DECISION

“Top 5 Reasons Customers Are Happy With Our XYZ Vehicle”

When looking at the content examples listed under “Bad Content Examples,” it’s not that those ideas are lousy topics altogether. It’s just emphasizing that those topics are not a good fit for those specific stages of the customer journey.

This is important because your audience has different needs at each stage of the customer journey. Using the example above, your audience is likely not interested in a specific car-model at the awareness stage of their journey. Instead, they are looking for answers to their most common questions – buying a car might not even be on their radar, yet.

But as their journey continues, your brand establishes a trusting relationship by putting content in front of them at the right time. Your audience has an endless array of questions scattered throughout each phase of their customer journey. And, if at any point during their research, they cannot find the answers on your website, they will go to someone else’s site that does have them. Plain and simple.

Just as different topics work for the three stages of the customer journey, so does the type of content your audience likes to use:

Map-Content-to-Customer-Journey-HS-Buyers-Journey
Recommended Content Types from HubSpot

Need more help on creating awesome content? Review this helpful guide for more ideas.

How do you eliminate content gaps?

Your business cannot afford to have content gaps in the customer journey. Otherwise, potential customers will have no choice but to leave your company behind and find solutions to their challenges elsewhere.

So, let’s assume you’ve started your own content marketing strategy. You’ve got plenty of traffic to the website, you’ve got a few leads coming in, but you can’t seem to close the sale. This is a common struggle for businesses and their sales teams.

What’s happening? Most likely, it’s a misalignment between your available content and the customer’s journey. Properly mapping content to your customers directly impacts the success of your content marketing campaign.

John Bertino, CEO of The Agency Guy, Inc., believes content gaps are easily identified by search engines:

Map-Content-to-Customer-Journey-John-Bertino

“Google and other search engines want nothing more than to serve up results that fully and completely answer user search queries. There is arguably no better way for marketers to achieve this than by being crystal clear about what our various audience personas are thinking about and asking about during each stage of the buyer’s journey. Effectively answering those queries by getting the right content in front of the right persona at the right time is essentially the holy grail of SEO.”

Joe Bertino, CEO, TheAgencyGuyInc.

The sales person in all of us wants to focus immediately on getting prospects to shop on your website. We get it. It’s difficult to sacrifice time and effort to create content that doesn’t directly sell your product or service. However, by only publishing the “close-the-deal” type content, you can actually hurt your chances of converting visitors because they simply aren’t ready to make a buying decision.

Nurturing-content-funnel

Although not set in stone, a good rule of thumb is to allocate at least 80% of all content you create to the awareness and consideration stage. Then, you can utilize the remaining 20% to help the audience make a buying decision.

Remember, some journeys are fast; some are slow

Depending on your industry or mapped customer journey, the time it takes to get your audience from the awareness stage to the advocate stage may vary. In fact, each journey may be different depending on what type of content you have available and how it’s promoted (whether digitally or traditionally).

The importance of establishing a digital marketing strategy (and backing it up with measurement at each stage of the customer’s journey) cannot be understated.

You cannot improve, change, or build your customer’s journey without measuring the successes and failures. Measure how your content is performing at every stage, and adopt the mindset that measurement is absolutely critical to the success of your company.

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90-Day Content Marketing Course-Correction Plan

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