Knowing the different stages your potential customer goes through before making a purchase is vital to creating an effective marketing strategy. Now, more than ever, selling products or services online gives a business more control in tailoring a customer’s shopping experience.

What is a buyer journey?

Before we jump right in, let’s define what a buyer journey is.

Any time a person wants to purchase something, whether for themselves or on behalf of a company, they go through more or less the same few phases of considering the potential purchase.

Those stages are:

  1.       Awareness stage: Realization that a problem exists.
  2.       Consideration stage: Researching available options and solutions.
  3.       Decision stage: Choosing a solution.

In this scenario, we frame that process from the point of view of a business selling the solution to a customer (or B2C).

Note that the B2B buyer journey is a little different since companies go about making purchases with different criteria in mind.

Understanding the B2C buyer’s journey

By understanding the thought process of a potential customer, their struggles and problems (pain points), the time they take to make a decision, and the methods they use to find a solution, we can perfectly position ourselves and our product to close the sale.

All marketing campaigns play off of the buyer journey in some way or another, such as ads targeting a specific demographic on a specific social media platform, but a really comprehensive marketing plan will include steps to target a customer at each step of the buyer journey.

Since we’re talking about B2C, put yourself in the shoes of a regular person. We like to think that all of our decisions are logical but that’s rarely the truth. Before a problem even crops up you’ve already been influenced by advertising you’ve seen in the past. When researching a possible fix, you’re concerned with not just the most efficient solution but that one that you “like” more for whatever reason.

Here we’re considering emotion as much as rationality. There are pros and cons to that since people are fickle beasts, but it allows clever and agile companies to outcompete competitors based on factors other than price.

B2C buyer journey stages

Say a customer has the problem of his shoelaces constantly coming untied. We are a well-positioned to serve that customer since we happen to be a shoe store. Here’s what that customer’s process looks like, and how we can respond to it.

1. Awareness of the problem

Since the invention of shoes, and much later laces, the things have always been coming untied. It’s not just a hassle – it’s a tripping hazard.

Our imaginary customer has been wearing shoes their whole life, so naturally, they’ve encountered this problem many times. It’s usually just a minor annoyance but a recent debacle, the customer tripping on their laces in front of someone they wanted to impress, has convinced them to take action on the issue.

This is stage one of the buying process – the customer has acknowledged a problem consciously. It’s enough of an issue that they’ll begin to actively look for solutions soon.

As a business that provides a potential answer to the customer’s problem, this is your cue.

Ideally, the customer will be a “warm” prospect. If they’ve already heard of you before, or seen an ad somewhere, your business will be among the first solutions that they consider.

This is why brand awareness is so important – it’s unlikely that your Instagram account will immediately convert viewers to paying customers, but it absolutely puts your brand in the back of their mind.

This effect can be amplified in other ways. Charity, for example. Companies don’t fund 5k’s and donate to disaster relief for funsies – they do it because it’s publicized and their name is then associated with positive feelings. It’s a strategy to infiltrate the subconscious of a customer.

Many of the potential ways to prepare for Stage 1 of the B2C buyer journey are preemptive. After all, the customer hasn’t made any steps towards fixing their problem (and purchasing your product or service).

In our hypothetical scenario, our shoe company would probably use brand awareness as their broad approach to Stage 1. However, we also have the opportunity to create the problem for the customer – or at the very least, make them aware of it.

Whether it be through funny posts highlighting shoelace failures or content marketing posts describing the superior technology of Velcro, you can make people aware of the inadequacies of their shoelaces and they’ll slowly begin to see them as a problem that needs solving.

2. Researching solutions to the problem

The customer has been thoroughly convinced that shoelaces are a scourge on the noble institution of shoes and a solution must be found. When they return home that evening they put on their Googling hat, grab some red wine, and sit down at the computer.

Their searches probably look something like:

  • “alternatives to shoelaces”
  • “my shoelaces keep coming untied
  • “can I just wear my shoes without laces”

In order to predict what their searches will be, and thus what keywords you should be targeting, you need to create a buyer persona to typify your target customer.

Stage 2 can be broken down into two sub-stages:

  1. Customers will likely first look for more information on their problem. After all, they may just be tying their shoes wrong. They will also likely be looking for affirmation; knowing that other people have a similar problem is both comforting and increases the chance that there is a solution.
  2. The second part of Stage 2 is actually looking for a solution. This is where the customer begins to research companies, products, and services that will remove the issue from their lives. They’ll search online, read reviews, ask friends for recommendations, and probably do a little comparison shopping.

It’s finally our shoe company’s time to shine (not to shine shoes, though). Stage 2 is the step at which you make the customer aware of your solutions to their problem.

Create content that informs the customer on how to solve the issue of constantly untied shoelaces. Include several possibilities to avoid sounding biased, even if some aren’t a product or service you offer. Other options beyond Velcro are:

  • A small robot that ties your shoes for you.
  • Tying so many knots in the laces that they could never possibly come undone.
  • Going everywhere barefoot.
  • Switch your whole wardrobe to variations of rubber boots.

Velcro certainly seems like the most affordable and practical solution here, so the customer will naturally gravitate towards it.

Similarly, you can address the customer’s need for affirmation by creating content that empathizes with them. Wax poetic about the tyranny of shoelaces and how many lives they’ve ruined. A useful tool in this respect is the customer testimonial. The potential customer gets a glimpse of a (presumably real) satisfied past customer. It also strengthens your position by providing social proof.

3. Deciding on a solution

The customer is convinced. Shoelaces are a scourge they won’t tolerate anymore.

After carefully considering all their options, they’re pretty sure Velcro is the way to go. It’s easy, stylish, and surprisingly effective. It’s a little harder to find Velcro shoes in adult sizes, but they won’t be dissuaded.

During their research in Stage 2, they saw a few companies that sell Velcro shoes and a couple of pairs of kicks they liked, but they didn’t pay particular attention to them. After all, the customer wasn’t sure if they were going to invest in a Knot-Bot 9000 yet.

Our intrepid customer begins to browse listings on shoe stores, comparing prices and aesthetics to find something that fits their particular needs.

This part of the B2C buyer’s journey is the most important for both the customer and us. They are finally fixing the problem that’s been plaguing them and our company has the opportunity to make a sale.

The customer has decided that they’re going to choose a product or service that you provide, but not necessarily that they’ll choose us. We are just one of many shoe companies out there that sell Velcro products.

In order to capture the sale, we need to present options to the customer and then convince them that our shoe company is the best candidate. We can accomplish this in a few ways, but the most common one is to simply create content comparing yourself to other companies.

Here’s a tip: Don’t bash them. It looks petty and unprofessional. It can also create bad blood between the two of you. Instead, say something to the effect of “My competitor is great, but I’m even better.” It makes you appear not only gracious but a superior version of good service.

This content we’re creating to convince the buyer should add value to their decision-making process. It’s extraordinarily useful and uncommon to have built-in comparison tools, product visualization tools, videos or the product in use, or friendly and available customer service to field the inevitable questions.

Bottom line

Intimate knowledge of the B2C buyer journey is crucial to creating a cohesive and effective content strategy.

Once you’ve identified the target customer and built a persona around them, you can walk through each step of the process in the (Velcro) shoes of the buyer and understand their problems and motivations.

You can then guide a real customer along the same path, convincing them of the problem, your solution to it, and that you’re the best fit to provide that answer.