By George Stenitzer published May 9, 2016

Sharpen Your Content Marketing: 4 Ways to Model the Buyer’s Journey

4 Ways Model Buyer's Journey

The arc of your buyer’s journey is like the arc of a story. Each buyer, each story is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all model of the journey.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use buyer journey models to optimize your content marketing. The right model for your buyer’s journey adds tremendous clarity and insight to your content marketing strategy.

You can visualize your audience, where they are in the process, what information they might need at that time, and which information advances them to the next level. That means you can deliver relevant content to your prospects when they want it, the way they want it – and isn’t that what every content marketer strives to do?

If you are looking for a buyer’s journey to emulate, here are four models to consider.

1. Easy-to-convince model

Simpler models reflect purchases that require less consideration, such as:

  • Impulse buys driven by reflex or habit
  • Purchases by brand loyalists
  • Buys from one decision-maker

For example, Andrew Davis’ model of the buyer’s journey adapted from McKinsey reflects a cyclical, nonlinear buyer’s journey.

The Client Journey Model

A moment of inspiration leads to a trigger. That trigger may lead to an immediate purchase. If the customer experience is positive, then a loyalty loop may be created – which manifests as a subscription or as repeat purchases.

For easy-to-convince buyers, content marketers succeed by generating moments of inspiration, then reminding buyers of those moments to trigger purchases. For example, Red Bull creates inspiring content on extreme sports so when users see extreme sports, they thirst for Red Bull.

In more complex purchases, triggers lead buyers to add a brand to a small set of sellers they’d be willing to buy from – their considered set. Buyers actively evaluate these sellers and choose one to buy from. Note that 57% of corporate executives reach a decision before they contact sales, according to a survey by the Corporate Executive Board.

What I like about Andrew’s model is that the buyer’s experience from the first purchase clearly informs all future purchases. Many buying journeys are like this: cyclical and repeatable.

2. Before-and-after model

MXM uses a straightforward linear model for its customer journey, which reflects six stages.

Click to enlarge

This buyer’s journey model adds a layer to represent the buyer’s information needs at each step, including company and product brands, relevant content, influencers, pricing, product, store locators, and so forth.

Carefully considered purchases call for even more rigorous models of the buyer’s journey. When consumers buy a new house, car, or investment plan, most of them put in lots of research, time, and effort. After all, they’re making some of the biggest financial commitments they’ll ever make. They research everything online. They ask their families and friends for opinions at each step.

Yet business buyers may be risking even more – their reputations, jobs, or careers. That’s why the stakes are so high in carefully considered, big-ticket B2B purchases.

This model also adds peripheral vision. It extends beyond the purchase – adding the buyer’s experience and loyalty to the customer journey. That’s important because, when customers have a good user experience, they are far likelier to make repeat purchases. By the same token, bad user experiences may derail future purchases.

3. Circular model

The model from Anthony Christie at Level 3 shows six stages in a B2B customer’s journey. Its cyclical process fits carefully considered, big-ticket sales of products and services purchased repeatedly, for example, telecom services that connect companies to cloud-computing resources.

Level 3 Circular Model

This model emphasizes what employees need to do at each step in the buyer and user journey. I particularly like that the model:

  • Speaks in the simple language of the customer, not in marketing jargon
  • Makes customer expectations clear to employees in sales, marketing, customer service, operations, and accounting – all of whom play key roles in the customer’s journey.

In big-ticket B2B sales, marketers need to supply crucial content to nudge the buying committee forward. To address the differing needs of various committee members, you may need to build separate buyer’s journey models for each key member.

Remember that each member has different priorities, worries, and pressures affecting their decision. For example, the users of the product want maximum performance, IT wants good technical support, and the purchasing team wants the lowest price. It takes different content to satisfy each of these information needs.

That’s why it’s critical to understand the personas of each member on the committee – and be clear about who holds decision power and which content is relevant to each.

When you’re selling to individual decision-makers, your job is easier – since you only need to understand and serve one buyer persona. Determine which information that buyer needs at each step, which media they prefer, and then deliver content accordingly.

4. Consistency model

Consistency in content over time is the path to winning credibility. However, it’s tough to maintain consistency of message in B2B marketing for big-ticket products or services. That’s because a purchasing process may last months or years, especially for things that will be used at least five years – such as infrastructure, process equipment, a headquarters building, laboratory, or manufacturing plant.

Consistent messaging helps get all the members of a large buying committee aligned around your offering. Expect members of the committee to compare notes about what you said when you’re not in the room.

That’s when inconsistency in marketing messages leads to questions and delays. Those questions and delays frequently lead a committee to postpone a purchase decision.

Consistent messages make it far smoother to pass muster in a large buying committee.

Cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Carmen Simon found that when your message stays consistent over time, people’s brains store it in their “place cells.”

Place cells store information about things that don’t move (like your home). Unlike other memory storage in the brain, place cells never run out of capacity. That’s why consistent messages are much more likely to be remembered and believed than inconsistent messages.

If your company uses too many different messages or changes them frequently during a months-long buying process, your brand is less likely to be remembered and believed. That makes it much harder to achieve the trust needed to close a big-ticket sale.

Your brand is less likely to be remembered & believed if you don't have consistent messaging. Click To Tweet

Here’s a buyer’s journey model I designed to help you keep your message consistent throughout a long buying journey undertaken by a large buying committee.

Buyer's Journey Model

Click to enlarge

This model takes a linear approach. If your business is based on subscriptions or repeat purchases, you can adapt this model to cyclical purchases.

This buyer’s journey includes four layers:

  1. What are buyers trying to accomplish at each step? As they move forward with a purchase, they do four things – recognize needs, evaluate options, resolve concerns, and negotiate contracts.
  1. What are buyers’ behaviors during each step? Buyers ask certain questions or seek confirmation at each step to move forward toward making a deal.
  1. How can marketers nudge buyers forward? Help buyers recognize problems, compare and differentiate solutions, reduce risk, and reinforce their decisions.
  1. Which content marketing tactics do buyers prefer at each step? Deliver your content in the formats that your buyers prefer. Remember, these preferences change during the buying process.

(Note: The tactical preferences in the fourth layer are based on the 2015 Eccolo B2B Technology Content Survey, which applies to big B2B technology purchases).

Conclusion

These four models are designed to help you think through what’s happening in the hearts and minds of buyers as they take each step in the buyer’s journey. By identifying the most helpful model for your buyer journeys, you can create and deliver content that will resonate with your buyers at their particular stage in the decision-making process.

Expand your content marketing journey with CMI’s 2016 Content Marketing Playbook.

Cover image by Negative Space, Unsplash, via pixabay.com

Author: George Stenitzer

George Stenitzer founded Crystal Clear Communications to create inventive answers to your marketing challenges. Earlier, he served 13 years as vice president – marketing and communications at Tellabs. CMI named George Content Marketer of the Year for thought-provoking content. BtoB magazine twice named him a Best Marketer. George’s weekly Simplify Marketing blog appears at www.crystalclearcomms.com and he tweets as @riverwordguy.

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  • Meg Cooper

    LOVE this! Thank you so much for outlining the customer journey in so many different ways.

    • George Stenitzer

      Thanks, Meg. We need multiple viewpoints since every customer takes his or her own path to purchase.

  • Daniel Taibleson

    “Note that 57% of corporate executives reach a decision before they contact sales, according to a survey by the Corporate Executive Board.” – 57% of the way through the buyer’s journey, not made a decision. (CEB member :P)

    • Daniel Taibleson

      That being said, I think this is a fantastic article if only just to force marketers to stop pretending that this is a game of paint by numbers. Once you have solid organizational structures and processes in place you really do need to hit the drawing board (white board?) and determine your customers custom buying journey. And the truth is….dun dun dun…your customer is unique! Just like your business (otherwise you wouldn’t be in business); so the way they are going to purchase from you is…you got it, unique. Full circle – getting everyone in a room to white board the process is just as helpful if you end up agreeing after two hours that you’re going to stick with the most simple plan in the book. It’s all about the process and exploring all of the possibilities. That’s why I love marketing, because we get to try and come up with stories about what we think people are doing and why and then we get to go figure it out in real life! And as you know, life is always stranger than fiction.