How to deliver the right marketing message at the right time in the buyer’s journey.

How to align your messaging with the customer's buying journey.

When you’re shopping, the path you take—from when you realize you need something to when you actually buy the thing you need—is often referred to in marketing circles as the buyer's journey.” Depending on what you’re offering the journey can take from minutes to months.

Traditionally the buyer's journey has four phases: awareness, evaluation, decision, and post-purchase. Sometimes the stages are called by different names, but the meanings are generally the same.

Each phase of the journey is important for getting the customer to ultimately buy your product or service. And here’s the thing: at each phase, the customer is in a different mindset and will respond to a different type of message. That’s why you need a mix of different types of marketing messages in your advertising and communications plans.

What types of messages should you include? We’ll talk about four different kinds of messages to attract customers at each of the buyer's journey stages: category, product, offer and brand. But first, let’s talk about the journey.

Phase 1: Awareness.

This is the beginning of the buyer's journey, when the customer realizes they have a problem to solve or a need to meet. This is also when they determine what kind of product or service they should look for.

Phase 2: Evaluation.

In this phase, the customer is researching, evaluating and comparing different products from various providers. This is when they turn to consumer ratings, online product information, and recommendations from friends, family and influencers.

Phase 3: Decision.

The decision phase is where the customer actually makes up their mind and completes their purchase. This is the phase when a salesperson can be most influential.

Phase 4: Post-purchase.

In the final phase, the customer is using the product or service they purchased. If they engage with customer service, it’s most likely to happen post-purchase.

Next we’ll look at each of the four types of buyer journey marketing messages we mentioned earlier.

A category message isn’t about your product specifically; it’s about the benefits of the overall category your product is in. A category message benefits not only you, but also your competitors—but that’s okay. The idea is to grow the whole category “pie.” Everyone’s slice of the pie will get bigger, including yours.

This is a message about why your product is better than your competitors’. In a product message, you communicate the differentiating benefits of your product. The goal of this type of buyer's journey content is to grow your own market share, so you get a bigger slice of the pie than your competition.

An offer message is typically a time-bound communication of a special promotion; for example, “get 15% off for a limited time only.” This kind of message is used to get customers to buy now instead of waiting.

A brand message communicates the benefits of your brand without mentioning any specific product. Often a brand message is a “feel-good” type of communication. And that’s exactly what it’s meant to do—make customers feel good about your brand’s values.

Mapping the message to the phase.

So why do you need these four different kinds of marketing messages? Customers may respond to any type of message during any phase—there’s a lot of overlap. But a specific type of message can be especially useful for a specific phase. It’s helpful to put yourself in the shoes of the buyer to understand how it works.

Awareness phase—category message
If you’re a customer with a need—say, you’re looking for a Mother’s Day gift—you have lots of choices: flowers, a spa day, brunch, jewelry, etc. How do you narrow it down to a certain type, or category, of product to give as a gift?

Susana owns a bakery that specializes in gourmet cupcakes. On her website is a recent blog post with a category message about how baked goods make great Mother’s Day gifts. The post talks in general about the category of cupcakes as a gift, without touting her own bakery’s cupcakes.

You happen to read this blog post when you’re in the awareness phase of the buyer's journey for your Mother’s Day gift. You’re intrigued by the idea and decide to buy cupcakes for your mom.

Evaluation phase—product message
Now that you’ve got the idea to give cupcakes as a Mother’s Day gift, it’s time to decide which cupcakes to buy. There’s a bakery around the corner from your office; you could get them there. You were recently at a party where an amazing cake was served; you could ask the hostess where she got it, and pick up the cupcakes there. Or you could bake your own. There are lots of choices.

Meanwhile, Susana runs an ad with a product message about her cupcakes that highlights their main differentiating benefit: they’re made with all-natural, locally sourced ingredients.

You see the ad when you’re in the evaluation phase. Your mom is a big believer in shopping local, so the differentiating benefit of Susana’s cupcakes carries a lot of weight in your decision.

Decision phase—offer message
You’re looking at the website for Susana’s bakery to see if there are any good deals on cupcakes for Mother’s Day.

Susana has just updated her site with a special offer message: buy one, get one half price, this week only.

You’re sold. You order cupcakes from Susana’s bakery for Mother’s Day.

Post-purchase phase—brand message
You opted in to receive emails from Susana’s bakery when you ordered the cupcakes online. A few days later, you receive an email with a brand message from Susana, thanking you for your order and briefly explaining the bakery’s back story.

The email makes you smile in admiration of the story about how Susana went from baking cupcakes at home to opening her own little shop. You feel like cheering her on. It makes you feel good about Susana’s brand, and you’re sure you’ll shop there again. The next day you recommend the bakery to a friend.

At any phase of the buyer's journey, a customer may respond to any type of message you put out there. But by ensuring these four types of messages are in your advertising and marketing communications, you’re better able to reach customers at all phases of their journey.

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