The Customer Journey and the power of Intent

Space Rocket
Written by: Ian Haponiev (Content Specialist at Vision Effect)

It’s never been easier to create adverts and content to target people at all steps of the sales journey, as companies are not restricted by the prohibitive costs of yesteryear. Traditional forms of advertising limited companies and marketing agencies due to their expensive nature – TV, radio, newspaper and magazine spots not only cost a lot, but you had limited time and space to work with.

Nowadays, you’re only really limited by your creative ability and imagination, but then so is everyone else. It’s a competitive marketplace out there, so once you’ve got your messaging right, you need to think about where you’ll target your customers in their purchasing journey.

A Quick History Lesson

The concept of sales journeys is nothing new. It has actually been around since the end of the 19th century, when advertising hall-of-famer Elias St. Elmo Lewis developed the first iteration of the sales funnel, designed to market to people differently at the various stages. Lewis came up with the AIDA system, which is an acronym of Attention > Interest > Desire > Action.

Lewis attached six stages to the model:

  1. Secure Attention
  2. Hold Attention Through Interest
  3. Arouse Desire
  4. Create Confidence and Belief
  5. Secure Decision and Action
  6. Create Satisfaction

Though basic and with no post-purchase consideration, from an advertising perspective you can see that he was thinking in the right direction. These principles still hold true today as the basics of advertising are still there, however since the explosion of digital marketing in recent years and masses of opportunities to reach potential customers, there are differences too.

Adverts nowadays frankly don’t need to tick so many boxes on their own; you can split those stages into different campaigns that have specific goals, pairing your advert appropriately with its corresponding stage of the purchasing journey. The best way to figure out how to do this is to consider where the customer is in their unique journey and specifically what they’re trying to achieve.

The Power of Intent

One word that keeps cropping up these days with digital marketing is ‘intent’ and for good reason. As Google’s algorithm becomes more sophisticated, its powerful search engine moves even closer to what the company wants it to do, find the perfect match for its users’ queries.

Keywords alone have always been a somewhat basic tool on this journey because the AI has tended to focus on content rather than context or intent; i.e. what the searcher has keyed in exactly rather than what their intended outcome is. When you look at keywords through the prism of a sales journey, you can get a much better idea of what a potential customer needs at that specific time and how to approach them effectively.

Let’s take a real world example. One of my colleagues is going to start working from home more often and as such, needs to buy a monitor to help her with graphic design and image editing. Purchases that cost hundreds of euros are rarely made impulsively, so there is going to be a fair amount of research and Googling before she’s ready to pull the trigger.

The identification of a need or problem is essentially the first step in the buyer’s journey. In our example the need for a computer monitor is clear from the outset, but what triggers the journey could also be something vague, like ‘I have an itchy scalp’ or ‘I can’t sleep because it’s too hot’. In any case, this is not the time to be attempting a conversion with a hard sell.

The next step of the journey is where the customer looks for a solution to their problem or need. We can call this the consideration step and it’s when things start to get a little more serious.

Consumers will start comparing products, looking at reviews and information about the various options that they have available to them. As the person in question is not really ready to buy yet, this is the stage where you want your product or service to be one of those in contention. If you’re targeting people at this stage of the journey, you need to provide them with information, not just salesmanship because their intention is to find out as much as they can, in order to make an informed decision..

This is a great time to point out, for example, how well reviewed you are on a platform like TrustPilot or provide your potential customer with facts, reasons to believe or the unique selling points of your product. All of these are factors that influence the eventual purchasing decision and the idea here is to make this customer aware of your existence, your product’s advantages and to ensure that they’ll consider you.

Reviews in particular are incredibly powerful because even in the digital age, word of mouth is golden and it doesn’t matter how wonderful you claim to be, other people singing your praises is worth so much more. It’s well known that a company with negative reviews is preferential to one with no reviews, as it at least looks real. Not to mention, if you have negative reviews you can engage with clients, which will not only give you useful feedback about your business, but it will show others that you’re committed to improving or what happened was just a one off. Everyone loves a trier!

Next up, is the decision stage, which is when consumers will select the product or service that they think is the best fit for their needs and budget. From a marketing perspective, there is still an opportunity to change the customer’s mind as there is the potential to bid on the keywords they use even if they directly mention a competitor. You’re perfectly entitled (as per the guidelines) to run an ad with an ‘exclusive discount’, for example, one that may entice customers who had decided to go to your competitor because they were cheaper.

However, this isn’t a technique we’d recommend and for several reasons. Firstly, based on the latest guidelines from Google, it is becoming more difficult to do this; providing the searcher with a different company than the one they were searching for in Google’s results, goes against the principle of the best matches for keywords and phrases.

Additionally, you could trigger a bidding war between you and the company whose name you’re targeting as a search term, so you’ll almost certainly need a bigger budget than them to win, plus you’re going to be at a disadvantage (your ad will almost certainly have a lower ad quality score, which will hurt your ranking – read why here). Finally, it’s not a great idea to antagonise your rivals as they might reciprocate in kind and target you and your products.

The Journey Isn’t Over Yet

The final stage of the sales journey is the post-purchase stage. The mark of a success of a company is a satisfied customer that will come back to you time and again and this can be quantified via your repeat customer percentage. What constitutes a healthy number will vary from industry to industry, but in ecommerce, it’s commonly thought that 25% and up is a decent return rate.

It’s a very good idea to have an email marketing flow set up to reach out to customers who haven’t reviewed your product after a certain period of time. This way, good or bad, you can get their thoughts and show that you’re a company that is genuinely interested in their customer experience. Email campaigns are perfect in the post-purchase stage. Not only are they a great way of getting feedback and reviews, but you’re also targeting people who are your perfect demographic – read more about them here.