Every business needs customers, but customers don’t happen by accident.
They happen because we, as business owners, create products that they want, need, and can afford.
They happen because we create marketing strategies and content that is designed to attract, interest, and convince them to buy our products.
In marketing, timing is everything. Making sure your audience gets the right message at the right time can make the difference between a business that takes off and one that stagnates and dies.
According to Hubspot, "The customer journey is the process by which a customer interacts with a company in order to achieve a goal."
Understanding the Customer Journey makes it possible to put the right message in front of the right people at the right time.
In order to create the content and marketing strategies that get you clients, you need to understand the journey that your customers take from being unfamiliar to being better than customers – they become raving fans.
Understanding it alone isn’t enough though. The journey your customers take is actually one that you need to design.
If you don’t design it, the likelihood of creating a reliable income stream becomes virtually non-existent because you're left to the whims of people without direction.
So if what you want is reliable, stable income from your business, you need to make sure that you’ve spent the time to carefully plot out the path your customers are going to take. You need to plan out their Customer Journey.
Before you can create the path for them, you need to know what their customer awareness is. When you know what their Awareness Level is, you can create content and campaigns that help them get to the next level.
There are 5 levels of Customer Awareness:
Level 1 – Unaware
These people are oblivious to you, your offer, and your solution because they are completely unaware that they even have a problem. They don’t know that a better way exists.
This is typically cold traffic, the kind that might come in from social media ads.
Level 2 – Problem Aware
These folks know there’s a problem but they may not know exactly what it is yet. They’ve never dealt with it before so they have no idea how to solve it of if a solution already exists. Problem aware prospects might have arrived via a search engine or through your social content.
Level 3 – Solution Aware
Solution Aware prospects know they have a problem and know that a solution exists, but aren’t necessarily aware of YOUR solution to their problem, your product. These people probably follow you on social media or subscribe to your emails, blog posts, or podcast.
Level 4 – Product Aware
They know about your product and your solution to their problem but haven’t purchased it yet. They’re not quite sure that your solution is the right solution for them yet and need more convincing before they’ll be ready to buy. These prospects actively consume and engage with your content on social media, your blog, your emails, or your podcast.
Level 5 – Most Aware
Those that are most aware are either already customers or are on the verge of becoming customers. They are aware of their problem and have decided that your product, your solution is the one best for them. They only need to know the deal. How do they buy it? What does it cost? What do they need to do right now to get your solution to their problem? They are your fans, followers, subscribers who aren’t yet clients, or what have purchased from you in the past.
One of the biggest problems I see with new marketing campaigns from inexperienced businesses is using tactics or content in the wrong order or for the wrong audience, completely disregarding the customer journey.
They’ll design a campaign geared towards Level 4 prospects then push it out to an audience that’s only at level 1 or 2. Inevitably, this campaign fails, and they’ve now convinced themselves that whatever strategy they’re trying “doesn’t work.”
And they’re (mostly) right. It didn’t work for them because they were trying to sell a solution to a problem that doesn't exist for the audience.
This would be like your doctor trying to put a cast on your arm when you came in for a check up.
What the hell do you need a cast for? Your arm’s not broken.
The opposite is true as well. If you have prospects sitting at a level 4 or 5, you don’t need to tell them about their problem – they’re already aware.
It would be like going to the doctor with your arm all mangled and the doc, determined to walk you through every step of the customer journey, saying “I think this pain you’re experiencing might be caused by a broken arm. Let’s explore that possibility a bit.” Meanwhile, you’re sitting there in excruciating pain just wanting them to fix it. Odds are, you aren’t going to sit there while he tries to tell all about the problem you already know you have; you’re going to go to the ER and get it fixed.
You can avoid this by making sure that you have the right content for every stage and making sure that you’re pushing that content out in front of the people that need it.
When we’re talking in terms of marketing, the customer journey and the customer awareness levels form the basis of your Sales Funnel.
Most people have come to associate sales funnels exclusively with the digital realm, and maybe even a specific software platform, but they’re really a lot simpler than that.
Your Sales Funnel is your Customer Journey, and your Customer Journey is your Sales Funnel. Depending on who you’re talking to, it might also be called a Sales Journey or the Buyer's Journey.
All these terms mean the same thing: the path your prospects take to becoming customers.
These aren’t new terms and they’re not new concepts. Sales Funnels have been around a lot longer than the Internet – by about 100 years or so. It just took a certain platform to make the term a household name.
And they’re not exclusive to digital marketing. Just like Customer Journey's, every business requires a sales funnel, regardless of where they’re selling their thing.
So when we’re thinking in terms of a Sales Funnel, there are 4 main components, or compartments, that feed into each other.
Attract. Interest. Decision. Action.
This is AIDA.
On your prospect’s customer journey, they must go through each compartment, one after another, to become a customer.
And you are responsible for guiding them through this process by having content ready for them at every stage.
How does this work? What type of content do you need to create to get your prospects through your funnel and finish their customer journey? To get them to take that next step on the path to becoming your customer?
You walk them through each level by planning your Customer Journey.
Level 1 is Unaware. If your target clients are unaware they need a solution, you need to MAKE them aware. You can usually do this through organic marketing strategies, like blog posts or social updates, or paid ads. Using content that calls out the problems and the symptoms of the problems they’re probably facing – the ones they’re not aware of yet.
It's important to realize that these prospects have no intent to purchase. People don’t buy products, they buy solutions, and these people don’t need a solution yet. So when we’re creating content for them, your only goal is to make them aware of the problem so that they start paying attention to your content.
Once they've become aware of the problem, they move on to level 2 and you can start attracting them into your sales funnel. This process happens regardless of whether you’re an online-only business selling services, or a brick and mortar retail business.
- For online businesses, this is where you would get them to opt-in using your lead magnets – something you create specifically for people who have just become aware of their problem. Something that helps them learn a little more about the problem and, more importantly, how to solve it.
- For brick and mortar businesses, this might be something like product-specific offers and promotions; Loss leaders to get people in the door.
The whole purpose of the Attract phase of the sales funnel is to get problem-aware people in the door so you can start making them aware of the solution.
This phase is, in my opinion, one of the most important, and the one that gets screwed up the most. It gets screwed up by our agenda: People get so excited that someone is actually showing interest in their business and their offer that they start trying to sell too soon.
This is NOT the time to start selling. These people barely know they have a problem; they’re definitely not ready for a solution yet.
In the Attract phase, we need to be very careful and conscious of what we’re doing. We’re not there to sell yet. We’re there to help. To guide. To learn more about our audience, and help them learn more about us.
During Attraction, or the first phase of a funnel, Level 1 and 2 prospects are gain-focused. If you want them to pay attention to your content, you have to tell them what’s in it for them. What do they get by acknowledging this problem? What do they get out of solving the problem? Why should they pay attention to you?
During this phase of the customer journey, they’re thinking “I might have this problem. How do I fix it and why should I?” We need to be creating content for them that answers this question. Our ONLY goal is to make them aware that a solution exists.
Once they become interested in the solution, they’ve moved onto the next phase of the funnel - Interest, and their awareness has leveled up to 3.
But they’re still not ready to buy yet. They’re just investigating possible solutions. At this point, they’re thinking “What is the best solution for ME?”
They’re no longer looking for A solution, they’re looking for THE solution. They want something that is right for them personally.
This is where you have to put on your best customer service hat and go above and beyond to really pay attention to their needs so you can wow them.
You need to go back to your ideal client profile and appeal to the person with the problem, not the problem itself.
So in the Interest phase of the customer journey, when your prospects are at Level 3, you need to create content that personalizes the solution you offer.
What does your ideal client need to make a decision? What do they need to feel? It’s your job right now to understand this intimately and give them what they need.
It's also important to understand that some people can make it through all these steps really quickly. Others will take more time.
There are a lot of factors that determine this, but ultimately, it comes down to intent and how painful a problem is for that person. A prospect with high intent and a low pain threshold will make it through quickly, whereas a person with low intent and a high pain threshold, will take more convincing, and therefore more time.
And in this context, a high pain threshold doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re able to bear more pain caused by their problem. It can also mean that they’re not fully aware of the potential pain this problem can cause.
As a marketer, you need to anticipate this and be able to help people move through their customer journey at the pace that feels most comfortable for them.
At Level 4, they’re thinking “Should I buy this?”
They’re ready to make a decision on which solution is right for them, but your product likely isn’t the only one they're considering.
The Internet has opened up more options than we’ve ever had in the past, so you may be competing with businesses you never expected to.
Your job at this stage of the customer journey is to make sure you stand out from all of them. Refer back to your USP. What makes you unique? This is where you want to bring that into your content. You need to be wowing your prospects, appealing to them on a personal level, and providing the content that they need to make their decision.
In the Interest and Decision phases of the customer journey, Level 3 and 4 prospects are pain-focused.
They have a problem. It hurts. They want it to stop hurting. They want to fix it. If you want them to pay attention to your content, you need to tell them how you can make it stop hurting.
If you’ve done a decent job with your content and designing the customer journey, some of your prospects will be ready to take action at this point. They’ll have reached the top level of awareness, Most Aware, and be ready to buy.
All you need to do at this point is facilitate the purchase. Of course, you still need to know HOW your prospects prefer this to happen, which is why you need to have your ideal client profile fully fleshed out.
Do they need to have a sales call? Are they OK with having that conversation over Messenger? Do they need to see a product demo? Or do they just want to be directed to a sales page where they can enter their credit card and be done with it?
Whatever it is they need to push them over the edge and complete their purchase, you need to anticipate it and have it ready.
Selling Too Soon in the Customer Journey Example:
Your car starts making a weird noise one day. You’re not sure what it is yet, or if you’re even really hearing it, so you just turn the radio up and drown it out. You’re in denial that there may be a problem. We’ve all been there, right?
This is you at Awareness Level 1 - Unaware.
But the noise persists and you can’t drown it out anymore, so you call the shop to get it checked out.
You’ve just moved on to Level 2 - Problem Aware. All you’re looking for right now is possible solutions to your problem. You’re not ready to commit to anything, because you don’t know what the solution is yet.
Now imagine your surprise when you bring your car in and the first thing they do is try to sell you a new car. Not cool, right? You’d probably nope right out of there and find a new shop.
You’re barely aware that there might be a problem and are probably denying it a bit. You need time to process, wrap your head around it, research, and get to the point where you accept the problem before you’re ready for a solution.
Your audience is exactly the same way. It’s human nature. It’s how we process things. So when we’re creating content and marketing campaigns, we need to be aware of this.
Customer Journey Pain Thresholds & Intent Example:
Your car is still making that noise, except now you know what the problem is: You’ve got a failing tie rod end and it needs to be replaced.
If you’re Person A who knows a lot about cars, you know what the problem is, what the solution is, and what the consequences are if you don't fix it. Right now, you just need someone to fix it and are ready to pay someone to do that.
But if you're Person B and the only thing you know about cars is that they get you from point a to point b without walking, you’re going to need an entirely different experience.
You’re going to need someone to explain what a tie rod end is, why they think that’s the problem, what the solution is, and what can happen if you don’t fix it. You’ll need someone to walk you through every aspect of the problem and solution until you’re ready to get it fixed.
If you're Person B, you would be a prospect with low intent and a high pain threshold. Your pain threshold is high because you don’t understand the problem.
It’s just a noise your car makes when you turn too sharply, right? How bad could it really be? Is it worth the $500 or so to pay someone to fix it?
Your answer is going to be no until the shop can do an adequate job of explaining the consequences of NOT fixing it. You’re going to need more time to get through the customer journey and be ready to buy.
But if you're Person A, you're a prospect with high intent and a low pain threshold.
You know the consequences of the problem if you don’t fix it, and it’s not a risk you want to take it. You just need someone to fix the problem. You’ve gone through the customer journey quickly and are ready to buy right now.
If you had to listen to the shop explain all that to you, you’d likely view it as condescending and go find someone else to fix the problem, someone who can meet you at your readiness.
This is why we need to be aware of what our ideal clients need and when they need it. So that we can create a customized experience for them, regardless of how fast or slow they need to move through their journey.
In the Action phase of a funnel, Level 5 prospects are proof-focused. They’re ready to buy, but the trust level isn’t quite there yet. They need proof that you can do what you’re claiming. If you want them to pay attention to your content, you need to provide them with the proof and trust signals they need to follow through on their intent to purchase.
The customer journey is something that happens regardless of the "where" or "what."
If you sell something, it doesn't matter where or how you sell it, your customers have a buyer’s journey.
They are going through each of these steps with or without you, but if you want to guarantee that more of them make it to the end - if you want to create a consistent stream of happy customers and income that fuels your business and your dreams, YOU need to curate this journey for them. You need to know when to direct them and where to point them so they’re never left with questions.
You can do this by planning your customer journey out ahead of time. Where do YOU want them to go? What do YOU want them to learn about you, your business, or your products? What do you want them to buy? How are you going to get them to do that?
If you're not sure how to plan that out, check out this post on how to plan your marketing for the whole year.