Try and name a concept that’s more foundational to inbound marketing than the buyer's journey…we’ll wait!
It’s a concept etched into marketers’ minds — and for good reason. Understanding your buyers’ needs in the awareness, consideration, and decision stages helps you create marketing content, messaging, and processes to reach them.
If you’re just starting your content marketing journey, this framework is useful, and you can look to HubSpot’s content creation resources for ideas about the sorts of content that map to each journey stage.
However, just like with buyer personas, there’s a layer of abstraction between the framework and the real thing. In reality, the lines between journey stages are blurred, and most users don’t go through the funnel from start to finish like we’re led to believe.
In this article, we’ll talk about creating content when your buyer’s journey isn’t three distinct phases.
What is a seamless buyer’s journey?
On an individual level, the buyer’s journey doesn’t always map to the three distinct buckets we know: Awareness, consideration, and decision. Instead, think of it like a spectrum that blends each of those major categories together.
In reality, one buyer might dive straight into a case study and feel ready to request a consultation. Another might ping back and forth between awareness and consideration-stage content for months before reaching a decision. Another might think they know what kind of solution they need, yet arrive at the decision stage in need of education about their actual problem.
These buyers could potentially be the same persona with identical pain points — they just take unique paths to becoming customers. The point is, assuming each buyer moves in a linear direction is a mistake!
So if the traditional buyer’s journey isn’t as concrete as we once thought, what should content marketers be doing to reach their audience?
Tips for creating content for a seamless buyer’s journey
1. Make content that suits multiple funnel stages
Let’s be clear: Content does not need to perfectly map to buyer journey stages.
A single piece of content can actually have awareness, consideration, and decision-stage content built into it. That might sound complicated to create or confusing for the reader, but you encounter this all the time, perhaps without realizing it.
Consider a website homepage, which discusses the problem a company solves, how they solve it, and how to get in contact with them. If you already understand the problem, you don’t think “this content isn’t for me” — you simply scroll down to find more relevant content.
Much in the same way, a blog post, pillar page, whitepaper, or other piece of content can contain information for audiences at different stages of the journey. Just give users the choice to skip to the content that’s most relevant to them using navigation features, like clickable tables of contents and anchor links.
We’ll show you what we mean with a pillar page we created for DDC FPO.
The pillar page features a prominent table of contents, allowing users to locate the content they’re most interested in. This example includes “What is customs brokerage processing” (for awareness stage audiences) all the way down to “What to look for in a partner” (targeting audiences in the decision stage).
It’s easy enough to embed this method into your own content marketing. With it, you can ensure content is relevant no matter a user’s ‘stage’ or how they move between them.
2. Create a great library and let users select their own content
Following a traditional content marketing funnel, there’s always a risk that you’ll accidentally serve the wrong content to the wrong user.
A classic example of this is creating a linear marketing email workflow that starts by promoting awareness-stage blog posts, then moves into consideration stage one-pagers, then decision-stage case studies and CTAs. It’s a formula we’ve seen rinsed and repeated by many B2B companies.
But what about users who only read the last email? And what happens to users who were already in the decision-stage to begin with?
A better approach is to focus on creating quality content that lives inside a library where users can self-serve the material that’s most appropriate for them.
To do this, you should focus on topic-based, rather than format-based navigation.
UX research tells us that generic format labels like “videos” are too vague to help users. Most users don’t care what format your content is in, only whether it can answer their questions.
So rather than categorize content on your website by “blog”, “whitepapers”, “videos”, and so on, build your resource library around topics, and serve content in all formats related to that topic.
To illustrate this point, check out the content library we created for online tutoring provider, ArborBridge.
Notice how the library applies several navigational strategies to help users find the most appropriate content for them. They’re given the option to select recent posts on key topics, or if they prefer, view a list curated to their persona (via the sidebar or scrolling down the page). Users get to decide what’s relevant to them.
Similarly, you can also build landing pages devoted to specific topics of interest that serve content at all journey stages related to that topic.
By focusing on a great user experience in your content library, you can frictionlessly let buyers choose the content that suits their journey, rather than guessing.
3. Provide clear and simple next steps for all journey stages in all content
It’s easy to mistake the recommendations about calls-to-action (CTAs) and buyer’s journey stages. Ask the internet, and they’ll tell you too many CTAs confuse users.
So many companies publish content with only one CTA, in the false hope it will capture every reader's interest. Take, for example, a typical awareness-stage blog post with a consideration-stage whitepaper CTA at the end. You’ve probably published a few yourself.
Except nobody ever said you can only have one CTA! In fact, best practice dictates it’s more effective to include CTAs for all funnel stages in all of your content. Just make sure these CTAs are simple and clearly set expectations on what will be found on the other side of the click.
For example, check out a recent blog post we wrote for our client, DDC FPO.
If you have a quick glance over it, you’ll see the post covers awareness-stage information, and yet, it contains:
- a decision stage CTA (“Contact Us”) in the main navigation,
- an awareness stage CTA (“Subscribe”) in the sidebar,
- a consideration-stage CTA (case study) in the middle of the post, and
- another decision-stage CTA (“Contact Us”) at the bottom!
While we wouldn’t recommend linking to three other pieces of content, having simple and clear CTAs like “Contact us” and “Subscribe” helps ensure there’s a clear next step for everyone, regardless of their journey stage.
Modernize your content marketing
Like we said before, the buyer’s journey is a useful framework in theory, but users don’t actually progress through it in a linear fashion.
Remember that bouncing between awareness, consideration, and decision-stage content is to be expected. But with our tips, you can create seamless journeys that help buyers progress exactly as they want to.