An Introduction to the Customer Journey

An Introduction to the Customer Journey

It’s been four years since Arnie Kuenn (and the team at Vertical Measures) published Content Marketing Works: 8 Steps To Transform Your Business. The initial concept was to provide a step-by-step “how-to” book on content marketing. We knew our audience needed a resource on how to use content to market their businesses, and Content Marketing Works would be that answer for them.

Although we’ve shifted focus to the Customer Journey and Building Your Own Audience, we still use the 8 steps, and find it extremely effective for not only our company, but our clients as well. As quickly as the content marketing landscape changes, we’re proud that Content Marketing Works still holds strong as a go-to resource, offering a valuable blueprint for marketers who are just starting to build their strategies, or looking for ways to convince their bosses to go “all in” on content marketing.

**This is an excerpt from Vertical Measures’ new book The Customer Journey: How an Owned Audience Can Transform Your BusinessDownload it for FREE, here.

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A lot has changed

Back then, Arnie would teach workshops around the country and start by asking his audience a simple question: “How many of you have heard of, or know what content marketing is?” – Less than 50% of the crowd would comfortably raise their hands.

Today, it’s a different story. We have more team members traveling around the country to speak, and more of our audience understands the basics of content marketing and the true value of it. We may get a lot of people to raise their hands for that question now, but when we follow it up with, “How many of you have been successful at content marketing for 12 months in a row?” – the hands drop back down.

Four years is a long time in this industry. A lot can happen. It’s clear that although many marketers get the general concepts of content marketing, they’re still trying to figure out how to fine-tune their strategies to generate the biggest ROI for their businesses. And that isn’t for a lack of effort. Just think about some of the trends we’ve witnessed come and go since Content Marketing Works was published:

  • Google Glass was an epic fail
  • Google+ missed the mark
  • Vine was trimmed by Twitter
  • Digg was overpowered by Reddit’s community

But, there were also some clear winners:

  • Marketing strategies for mobile-first continue to evolve
  • Influencer marketing has shown clear value
  • Paid media promotion is booming
  • Link building still hasn’t died
  • Demand for video and interactive content is at an all-time high

What hasn’t changed?

Want to know what hasn’t changed in four years? People still spend an enormous amount of their time online. MultiView, a B2B digital marketing provider, pulled together some statistics on how your potential customers apply their time online.

Led by CEO Scott Bedford, the agency noted that most users spend a whopping 7 to 8 hours online throughout the day. This can involve a lot of different types of online activity, from checking email at work to commenting on a friend’s most recent poolside selfie. Luckily for marketers, regardless of where they are online, you can reach these potential customers no matter what they’re doing on the web.

Engaging on Social Media: More than 28% of the time, users are using social media to engage with friends, family and businesses.  Keep in mind, more than 80% of this activity is occurring on a mobile device.

Marketing Opportunity: Use digital display ads on social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for your audience as they browse their feeds and engage with brands.

 

Checking Email:  About 24% of the average user’s time online is spent checking and sending emails.

Marketing Opportunity: Believe it or not, inboxes get more engagement than any other marketing channel. Lead nurturing emails and/or newsletters are fantastic opportunities to build a trusting relationship with your audience.

 

Reading Content: Around 23% of a user’s time online is spent reading blog posts, interactive content, eBooks and industry reports.

Marketing Opportunity: Target your specific audience segments on websites they frequent most often with high-quality content that leads them down the sales funnel.

 

Watching Videos: Near 19% of a person’s online time is spent on video each day.

Marketing Opportunity: Video marketing is on the rise. It offers brands ways to reach audiences not just in advertisements, but also video overlay ads and display ads surrounding the player and more.

 

Shopping: Roughly 6% is spent shopping online for new products and/or services. This can include shopping for something small like new shoes, or a big purchase like an in-ground pool.

Marketing Opportunity: Consistently post relevant content to stay top-of-mind with your audience and use efficient calls-to-action to optimize your conversion rates.

 

Researching Information: Only 1% is spent searching for information on search engines (Google, Bing and Yahoo).

Marketing Opportunity: Although this amount of time seems short, it shows that much of the time spent online happens after the initial research. You might be able to ideate and create awesome content that shows up on Page 1 of the SERPs, but if you don’t nurture that traffic and continue to build a relationship, you’ll miss out on a lot of potential business.

Reaching out to customers while they’re using the Internet means that you must engage them in what they’re doing online. From the list above, it’s evident that the critical mass for your digital marketing strategy will center on the top three reasons people are online: to learn, to have fun, and to socialize. The smaller part of the strategy (arguably more important), is to nurture those relationships and move a prospect down the sales funnel toward becoming a loyal customer.

You may want them to shop on your site, for example, but you connect with them by providing some form of useful content that leads them to your site. Users want to engage with the content they find; that is, they want to stay on the page and interact with it or learn from it. If the content doesn’t engage them, solve a problem, or answer a question – they move on (or bounce) and continue searching.

Remember, search engines still have the same goal

The mission of any search engine — particularly Google, the giant in this arena — is to find the best and most relevant content for a person’s search term. Here’s Google’s stated philosophy:

“The perfect search engine would understand exactly what you mean and give you back exactly what you want.”

This is a pretty high bar, but it’s what every search engine tries to do because that’s what users demand. The competition among search engines is driven by the results they can bring back.

Knowing that search engines are going to generate results that closely match a searcher’s inquiry, and sometimes, intent, it’s up to you as a publisher (yes, you are a publisher) to get content in front of them at the right time.

And for this reason, Vertical Measures is taking another stab at predicting a digital marketing trend: Strategizing around The Customer Journey while building your own audience – one you can reach at the time and place of your choosing.

What is the customer journey?

The customer journey is the process your audience goes through to purchase a new product or service. While different marketers have their own detailed versions of the customer journey, Vertical Measures considers four key benchmarks:

How do you define your customer’s journey?

If you don’t have an intimate understanding of your audience and/or prospects, it can be extremely difficult to accurately define your unique customer’s journey.

Consider the following questions as you put together the customer’s journey for your company:

During the Awareness stage, your audience meets you for the first time through traditional and/or digital promotion. To fully understand the Awareness stage for your customer, ask yourself:

  • How do you start the conversation before the customer knows there’s a need?
  • What are my customers asking about their needs or challenges?
  • How are my customers educating themselves about these challenges?
  • How can I provide resources for my customers that address their needs?
  • How do I provide an answer while building a trusted relationship with them?
  • How do I spark enough interest in my product/service to move them to the next stage?

During the Consideration stage, your customers will most likely have a clearly defined goal or challenge. They’re currently researching and evaluating their options before making a buying decision. For this stage, ask yourself:

  • What type of solutions are my customers evaluating and where does my company fit in?
  • What type of content are my customers consuming as they evaluate their options?
  • How are my customers perceiving the pros and cons of each solution to their challenges?
  • How do my customers decide which solution is right for them?

During the Decision stage, your customers have evaluated their options and identified your products/services as a viable option to solve their challenges. They’re deciding on which product or service to purchase, and will soon convert to a paying customer. For the Decision stage, ask yourself:

  • What qualifiers did my customers use to evaluate their options?
  • When customers researched their options, what did they like about my company compared to alternatives?
  • What concerns do they still have with my products or services?
  • What are my customer’s expectations?

During the Advocacy stage, you’ve successfully gained a new customer by directing them through the sales funnel, and becoming a trusted partner. Now it’s time to nurture them to become repeat or long-term customers. As an advocate for your brand, these new advocates entice others to use your products or services based on their own success. Ask yourself:

  • Who is this advocate and how does their journey relate to my current audience?
  • How can this new advocate help influence others to consider my products or services?
  • What questions can the advocate answer for my audience?
  • How can I promote their testimonial to reach a wide audience?

The answers to these questions will provide a greater understanding of each stage of the customer journey. Use each benchmark to ultimately reach the same goal: Lead your audience through the sales funnel, until they eventually become a loyal customer and advocate for your brand. Your website and the content you present has the power to lead them through their journey.

Some journeys are fast, some are slow

It’s important to remember that depending on your industry or mapped customer journey, the time it takes to get your audience from the awareness stage to the advocacy 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). Let’s look at two quick examples of a customer journey from a B2B and B2C perspective:

Intro-to-the-Customer-Journey-Fast-Slow
Short vs. long customer journey examples (B2B & B2C)

For this reason, it’s vital for you to try and understand your own customer’s journey. The importance of establishing a digital marketing strategy (and backing it up with measurement at each stage of the journey) cannot be overstated.

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

Throughout this book, it’s your job to consider your own customer’s journey. While every company is different, you’ll be amazed at the similar habits of people shopping for a product or service online. Although our book focuses on a single B2C customer journey, your company can see the same success from a B2B perspective, as long as the customer journey is properly mapped out.

It’s not how, it’s why

Accelerate! and Content Marketing Works: 8 Steps to Transform Your Business were both bonafide “how-to” books that assisted marketers just beginning to discover the world of content marketing. Our goal for this book, however, is to explain why companies map out their customer’s journey to lead them down the sales funnel.

ROI is important – business owners would argue – it’s the central aspect of investing in digital marketing. In fact, when asked what metrics were viewed as most important when investing in marketing, more than 80% of CEOs said more traffic, leads, and sales were critical toward their making their decisions.

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Most important content marketing metrics (Source: 2018 CMI B2C Trends Report)

In order to generate the type of ROI that would deem digital marketing a success, you need to not only understand how to use content, SEO and paid media to market your brand, but also why you use them to market your brand.

We’ve already written two “step-by-step” books on how to generate the biggest return on your content marketing investment. Now, to provide a better understanding of digital marketing best practices as a whole, we’re going to explain why your customers interact the way they do online. We’re going to explain why they perform searches at different stages; why brands target them the way they do; why you need to reach your audience at each and every benchmark of the customer’s journey.

In other words: You understand how it happens, now let’s dive deeper and begin to understand why it all happens.

Why we chose an MBA as our example

We know a little bit about you. You may have spent thousands of dollars to hear people like us speak for 45 minutes at conferences about what it means to create that awesome content. We put up 20 or 30 slides and tell you what you should be doing and get you psyched about the possibilities. You understand the general concept of digital marketing, and see a clear value in using content to generate more traffic, leads, and sales for your business.

But there’s been a growing shift around digital marketing – most industries know what it is, but few are doing it correctly. You’ve watched the webinars, bookmarked a few resources online, and tried your hand at a digital marketing strategy. After a few rounds of publishing content, you noticed a boost in traffic and felt excited: “Holy crap, this is actually working!” Fast forward a month or two, you’re still following the same best practices we’ve been cramming down your throat, but you’re not generating the same type of traffic, engagement, or leads from that first month of excitement.

You’re most likely experiencing the emotional journey of digital marketing, or nearing what’s known as the “Trough of Disillusionment.”  It looks something like this:

Intro-to-the-Customer-Journey-Disillusionment
Hype cycle for digital marketing and advertising

Our team learned about this path not only by experiencing it ourselves, but also by hearing about it from our own clients. Most of our audience is made up of fellow marketers, and you’ve probably experienced something like the Trough of Disillusionment. You’ve followed the best practices, published a lot of amazing content for your own audience, and aren’t seeing the results you were expecting.

You scream out, “WHY?! I’ve done everything right! I’ve strategized; brainstormed; created content; published; promoted; distributed! What am I missing?”

When the Vertical Measures team came up with the concept for our new book, we knew we wanted to tell a single story that’s easily relatable, and that would allow our readers (marketers) to put themselves in the shoes of our protagonist and example companies. No more jumbled timelines or puzzles to put together. We’re telling one story – from start to finish – about a marketer looking to go back to school and advance her career to become Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of a marketing agency. We will follow her from beginning to end as she researches her education options and eventually has two universities competing for her enrollment.

**Spoiler alert: Only one university is utilizing the customer journey correctly. Will you relate more with the university that’s succeeding, or the one that’s failing?

Eliminating content gaps

In our story, you’ll follow our protagonist as she searches for the university that’s best for her, and even watch her drop off from a competitor’s sales funnel due to a large content gap in their customer journey. We wanted to illustrate, in real time, what it’s like for a consumer to experience a content gap along their journey to becoming a loyal customer. Your business cannot afford to have these content gaps. If you do, 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 digital 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, there’s a misalignment between your available content and the customer journey. Properly mapping content to your customers directly affects the success of any digital marketing campaign.

John Bertino, founder of The Agency Guy, Inc. believes content gaps are easily identified by search engines, “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.”

Answer questions people are actively searching for in Google

It doesn’t matter how cool you think your products or services are, or what you believe people should read about… if your audience isn’t actively searching for that type of content, you’re already creating content gaps in the customer’s journey. Most of the time, successful content has nothing to do with your writing skills, or how many longtail keyword phrases you can stuff into the copy. Great content depends on thoughtful ideation (brainstorming) and actually answering your audience’s most common questions.

As disappointing as it may sound, search engines are not going to recognize your verboseness, nor will the content rank higher because it showcases groundbreaking products that are sold on your website. Instead, they are designed to match up results based on relevancy, which makes creating content around what people are actively searching for vitally important. What we see, more often than not, is content efforts failing because people are simply not searching for what you’ve created.

So, the (common) question is: How do you create content people are actually searching for?

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.

Remember the numbers we listed previously: only 6% of the time spent online is used for making buying decisions. There is a lot more research, engagement and nurturing that takes place before reaching that lower funnel content. Consider this guideline:

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Nurturing content rule by Vertical Measures

This rule separates top, middle and lower funnel content so that you can be sure most of the content you’re publishing casts the largest net – reaching the most people. As you continue building relationships with your visitors, your focus (and the content) will narrow to that lower-funnel content.

How do you know what type of content to create?

Let’s refresh your memory on some ideation basics:

One of the easiest ways to generate awesome content ideas is by utilizing the wealth of knowledge already at your fingertips — your employees. For example:

  • Ask your staff or sales representatives what questions they get asked every day. Feel free to include anyone who talks to current or prospective clients.
  • Look through company studies and/or surveys that might help identify what your customers are most concerned with.
  • If you actively participate in trade shows, talk with those who worked your booth to see what topics were most prominent in their conversations.

How can organizations make it work?

Top-down buy-in is still critical, especially for small businesses. Key executives in your organization need to recognize that a content marketing strategy is crucial to their success on the Internet, and they need to understand that they, too, will have to participate. Once the top has bought-in, you can get the rest of the staff involved. There’s a place for everyone to help create content and reach your audience at each stage of the journey.

Above all, top-down buy-in means that you can look to anyone and everyone to provide inspiration and new ideas to reach your audience. Foster a fun environment where creative expression is valued. The more you encourage creativity, the more you can gain from your content marketing strategy. And always remember, just because you wrote it, took a picture of it or shot a video, it doesn’t mean you have to publish it. But you must start creating content with the intent of using it. Your content will do nothing if it sits on your desktop.

Without further ado

We’re excited to take you on this journey, from frustration to success with digital marketing. We’re confident that by the end of this book, you’ll have an expert understanding of the customer’s journey, and why applying these principles to your evolving digital marketing strategy is the key to success.

Let’s begin our journey and meet our protagonist, Sophia…

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Brad Kuenn
bkuenn22@gmail.com

Brad Kuenn is the co-author of The Customer Journey: How an Owned Audience Can Transform Your Business and Content Marketing Works. As Marketing Director at Investis Digital, Brad manages internal inbound marketing and acts as senior editor for the website. Brad’s responsible for ensuring that content efficiently reaches established goals, delivers optimum results, and aligns with Vertical Measures values. Follow him @BKuenn +Brad Kuenn