How to create content that follows the buyer’s journey

Kyle’s note: A common mistake content marketers make is only creating content to attract and support new customers. But most don’t create content for the whole buyer’s journey. This post from Michelle Nickolaisen gives you a strategy to design content for each step of the Buyer’s Journey. Over to Michelle.

The buyer’s journey isn’t a complicated concept. The name tells you everything you need to know: it’s the journey a person goes on as they become a buyer. Traditionally, it’s been split up into three areas:

  1. Awareness: Everything up to and including the customer becoming aware of their need and starting to research options—hopefully, finding your business in the process of their research.
  2. Consideration: During this stage, customers have typically narrowed their options down to 2-3 choices, and move on to researching each of them more in depth (and directly comparing pros/cons). For larger B2B transactions, this is also the stage when the person doing the research may have to present that research to higher-ups for buy-in.
  3. Purchase/Decision: Naturally, this would be where the customer decides to buy, based on their research (and possibly, interactions with your team via email, phone, or social media).

Given that customers are, on average, 57% through the sales process before they even contact a sales rep, it’s obvious that having useful content on your site is a must-do. But if you’re only basing your content marketing strategy on that three step journey, you could be missing out.

Older material will show the buyer’s journey as a straightforward process, but as the sales process has become more complex and multi-touch, the path your buyers take has, too. This maze-like graphic from Lori Wizdo at Forrester has a representation of what the new buyer’s journey often looks like, from inbound marketing to becoming a buyer or influencer and everything in between. Even this more linear version from Business2Community isn’t a simple three step process:

beyondPersonas_10steps

And, of course, there’s the fact that the journey a customer goes on doesn’t end when they become a customer. If you stop creating content for people after they become a customer, you could be ruining your retention or making customers feel like you left them in the cold as soon as you got their money. With that in mind, for this article, we’ll be talking about a bigger buyer’s journey that covers everything from the pre-purchase stages to becoming a repeat customer.

Related: Understanding the buyer’s journey

Developing content for people in the pre-purchase stage

To get started creating content for people who aren’t customers yet, but should be, you can talk to your current customers. Ask questions like:

  • What questions did you have before you purchased?
  • Was there anything that made you hesitant to purchase, or made it difficult to make up your mind?
  • Did you have a hard time finding answers to any specific questions about the product/service?

How to create content that follows the buyer's journey

This will give you a decent jumping-off point for on-site content, whether it’s blog posts or FAQ/knowledgebase entries. You’ll want to be careful about constructing too many blog posts specifically about your product and its benefits/differentiators, though. Nobody wants a hard sell on a company blog and as soon as they get the merest whiff of blatant self-promotion, they’ll click away. (Click to tweet)

The Content Marketing Institute also has specific suggestions for types of content that work well in the pre-purchase stage. Digital agency Adido has some suggestions, too:

Case studies are a great tool to use at any stage of the process, and this stage is no exception. You can contact current customers to see if they’d like to be featured on your site (which, of course, they probably do!). Once they say yes, you can send questions that include the above questions—but also talk with them about what they’ve done with your product or service.

Remember: customers don’t care about what differentiates your product until they see how those differences help them. (Click to tweet)

You can see this strategy in action at the Buffer blog, with these case studies from Hubstaff and Canva. Note that using Buffer is a part of the process, but it’s not the full focus of the posts. And make sure to check out the below resource from Neil Patel at QuickSprout, which covers the lessons he’s learned in using case studies to grow sales.

Related: Case Study: How I Used a Case Study to Grow My Sales by 185%

Developing content for current customers

Content marketing isn’t just about acquisition. It can also be a powerful tool for retention when used to engage with current customers and make them more successful. When creating content for people in this stage, you’ll move past the more 101 level topics and talk about specific strategies or tactics they can do to reach their goals.

Again, you can get a lot of ideas from talking to your customers. See what problems or questions they have now that they’ve become customers. Are they using your product but not getting the results they want? What’s causing that? Review your support tickets for commonly asked questions. You can create tutorials for your blog based around the information you gather, and you can also add entries to your knowledgebase/FAQ with that same information.

Related: Does Content Marketing Help Retain Current Customers?

When creating case studies for this stage, you’ll focus on how customers have used your product to grow their business or make their lives better. There’s a decent amount of overlap here with case studies created for people in the pre-purchase stage. The main difference is that the case studies you create for people specifically in the post-purchase, putting-the-product-to-use stage, will cover more advanced topics.

A great example of a company that works in case studies for current customers is KISSmetrics. Their blog is widely acknowledged as an industry leader in the realm of online marketing and conversion optimization, and most of their posts are geared towards a wider audience. But about one in every ten posts is an in-depth tutorial on how to use KISSmetrics to get specific results, like this one on how to find and attract your most loyal customers using their product.

Another example would be this post I wrote for Bigcommerce, showcasing the steps one of their customers took to use A/B testing effectively. Note that everything in the post is tailored to Bigcommerce users, but the tools and strategies discussed are still applicable to non-customers—making the post more likely to be shared.

Related: How to design customer success into your content strategy

Developing content for long term/advanced customers

This is very similar to the previous section, but you’ll be able to go much more in-depth with case studies, tutorials, and other content you create. Here, you’re creating content that helps customers get past the “my results are good enough, but they could be better” plateau. If your product is set up with tiered options or subscriptions, you’re creating this content for the people who need the more advanced feature set. If not, you’re creating it for customers who have been around for a while and have the basics down pat.

Again, the example of KISSmetrics is a good one. Their tutorial posts are a healthy mix of posts geared towards beginner friendly features (like viewing traffic sources) and posts that wouldn’t be as useful to beginners or people just starting their business, like the aforementioned customer loyalty post.

How to decide on your ratios

Okay, you have a list of content ideas for each of these stages. How do you figure out what the correct mix of content is? Should you have more advanced content, or more beginner content? There isn’t a one-size-fits all rule here, but you can create a data-based theory about what will work best by:

  1. Reviewing your current customer base. You can do this by the age of the customers (as in, new customer vs. customer for a year vs. customer for 2+ years) or the tiers of your product (beginner features, intermediate features, advanced features), depending on your business. For example, if 50% of your customers are using the advanced features, that indicates you need to tailor your content strategy accordingly.
  2. Reviewing your current content and results. If you have analytics installed on your site (and you should), you can look at your current content to see what gets the most engagement. Don’t just look at pageviews—look at conversions to email subscribers or purchasers, too. Even if you don’t have a huge archive of blog posts, you can look at how people interact with the answers on your FAQ page. If people are more interested in or engaged with content that speaks to current customers, then your content marketing strategy should lean that way.
  3. Looking at the overlap and differences between one and two. By comparing and contrasting these two data sets, you’ll start to notice some patterns that can be applied directly to your content marketing. You’ll want to have some beginner content, no matter what—it keeps new people coming to you and converting to customers. But by looking at what people are actually reading, and what your customers currently look like, you’ll know how much intermediate and advanced content to start adding into your strategy.

Once you’ve figured out the ratios you should aim for, based on this information, you can go back through the sections above and brainstorm topics for each category. The result? A content marketing strategy that helps people in every stage of the buyer’s journey—from research to getting the most out of your product.

In short, here’s what you need to know:

  • Your customer’s journey doesn’t end when they become a buyer. (Click to tweet
  • Because of that, you need to create content for every stage they go through—from pre-purchase to repeat customer.
  • To create a content strategy that does that, take into account your current customer base (and where they’re at in their business, and how long they’ve been customers), and review your analytics to see what content is getting engagement and results.
  • Then, look at the overlap and the differences between the two—and use that as a guide for building in more intermediate and advanced content into your marketing.

About

Michelle is a freelance writer and business owner living in Austin, TX. She writes about business all over the web, and about productivity for freelancers and entrepreneurs at Bombchelle. Follow her on Twitter at @_chelleshock.

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