September 18, 2018

Filed under: Knowledge

How to Create Content at Every Step of the Customer Journey

In our increasingly connected world, there are more touchpoints with your customer than ever before—both online and off. Over 20 years ago, in The One to One Future, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers predicted that it’d be “possible to remember relationships with individual customers—sometimes millions of them—at one time, just as shop owners and craftspeople did with their few hundred customers 150 years ago."

They couldn’t have imagined how right they’d be—we are now more connected than ever before. But in a digital world where attention is at its scarcest, how do you build those relationships with your customers?

One way to build those relationships is to create more personalized, one-to-one experiences with customers through content. Gone are the days, however, of the one-size-fits-all marketing strategy. Lana K. Moore, executive editor at MarTechExec, says "Content marketing is about so much more than just making content…it's about providing value to the right customers, when, where and how they need it.” You have to create value for customers and anticipate their needs with a variety of content—from email campaigns and Pinterest pins to Instagram stories and display ads—at every step of their journey.

Another way to talk about creating the right content at the right time for the right people is known as customer journey mapping—mapping because you effectively “map” the critical path from awareness to bond (or enjoyment) with different pieces of content at each stage in a customer’s path to conversion. Not only does this process help the business identify and relieve points of friction in their customer’s path, it also ensures a consistency and intentionality around the customer’s experience with the brand.

Know thy audience

The first place to start when creating content for each step of the customer journey is this: know and be specific about who you serve. It’s essential to understand who they are, how they think, what problems they have, and how and where they usually find a solution to those problems.

We recommend creating user personas, layering qualitative data with the quantitative data you collect on your existing customers. (Oh, and if you’re not collecting that data—you should be. You need to know how customers get to your site and what they do once they arrive.) This data gives you a more holistic understanding of the customer—and allows you to serve your customers by providing value and removing friction—so you can reach them with the right content, in the right places, at the right time.

The five stages of the customer journey

The customer journey—how people move from initially considering a product or service to purchasing it and then bonding with the brand, according to David Edelman in “Branding in the Digital Age”—is comprised of five stages: awareness, consideration, evaluation, decision (or purchase), and loyalty. We’ll use these five stages as the framework for understanding the how, when, and what of customer journey content marketing.

Stage 1: Awareness

Awareness starts the moment the customer recognizes their need or want. The activity most often associated with the awareness stage is research—the customer knows they have a problem, and they’re starting their search for a solution. Think about your own behavior. If you’re looking for a new bed frame, what do you do? Start a Google search. Create a Pinterest board. Browse Instagram.

What kind of content would you want to see at the awareness stage? So often as marketers, we forget that we, too, are consumers. Creating awareness content—like blog posts, videos, and infographics—should be all about value and education. There’s no guarantee that they’ll buy from you, but if you’re providing valuable content that speaks to their needs, they may “journey” onto the next stage: consideration.

Stage 2: Consideration

During awareness, the consumer is collecting brands to choose from. There is competition here. If you were doing research on a new mattress, for example, you’d likely consider your local mattress store, Casper, Tuft & Needle, and some of the newcomers, like Leesa and Purple.

It’s in the consideration stage where you want to start to differentiate yourself. It’s no longer about creating that high-level content—it’s about becoming increasingly specific. (This is where the funnel analogy comes from: at the top of the funnel it’s at its widest and most general; at the bottom it’s at its most narrow, or specific.)

Stage 3: Evaluation

The evaluation phase is where you can more formally introduce yourself and your products or services. How are you uniquely positioned to solve the problem? Why are you the best fit? What is it about your business, like Everlane’s supply chain transparency or clean denim, that differentiates you from the rest of the market? Landing pages, product demos, email campaigns, and for B2B, white papers and webinars, make the most sense for this stage of content marketing.

The evaluation stage is also—if, and only if, you’ve already provided value—where you get to learn more about your prospects via email capture or a social media follow.

Stage 4: Decision

The decision stage is when the customer is ready to decide or to purchase your product or service. It’s important to eliminate friction as best you can. Find the easiest, most intuitive experience to get your potential customer to a transaction, contact form, phone call, or whatever you define as a conversion. The decision stage is not the time to be vague. Here is where you do the harder selling; you’re convincing the consumer that your solution is the answer to their problem, and you can back it up with content that can support their decision to move forward.

If a potential customer or lead has made their way to the decision stage—or the “bottom” of your marketing funnel—it’s likely they just need that final nudge to get them to make a purchase decision. This doesn’t mean you can’t be attentive to what will help them convert.

The kind of content to create and distribute at the decision stage should most clearly demonstrate the way you can specifically solve their problem or offer them an incentive to purchase, call, or contact: a special offer, case studies, product specs, and cart abandonment emails—to name just a few.

Stage 5: Loyalty

The loyalty stage begins as soon as the decision phase ends. Your best customers are the ones you already have. How do you continue to serve them well?

The subscription wine service, Winc, partnered with Food52 on a post-purchase email campaign. The shipment triggered the email, and the email featured recipes that paired perfectly with the wines for that particular month. It’s smart and offers great value.

Loyalty should feel like a reward—think special offers, early access to sales, surveys, exclusive clubs. Loyalty is how you stay connected and deepen the brand love between you and the customer. Not every piece of loyalty content should sell, either. Sometimes it’s just about checking in or adding value or sharing news about the business.

“While mass-media [spray and pray] advertising’s goal is to acquire new customers, 1:1 markets want to build dialogue with individual customers and establish relationships based on mutual learning.” —Don Peppers and Martha Rogers

The best marketing serves the customers, not the business. Peppers and Rogers said the best marketing pursues a “share of the customer, not just the market share.” When you’re creating content at every step of the customer journey, it’s not about selling as many products as possible to as much as the market as possible; it’s about selling to customers one at a time—increasing the lifetime value of that customer along the way.

Building trust every step of the way

At Belief Agency, we believe good marketing—regardless of customer journey stage—is telling the truth about who you are, what you do, and what your customers can expect. A customer journey only works, i.e., you can only guide people down the path, if you establish trust. Trust requires truth.

If your content marketing strategy doesn’t have a purpose or conviction, you’ll likely resort to manipulation. What can I say to get someone to buy? But manipulation is dishonest, and the market is always smarter than you think. The way you build your audience authentically is by providing the right content to the right people at the right time—at every stage of the customer journey.