Understanding the 5 Stages of the Buyer's Journey

I want to start this off by telling you a little story about how I ended up at the University of Westminster for my masters. I had just graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and knew I wanted to get my masters in London. I began researching schools in London with marketing masters, and came across the University of Westminster and a few others. I wrote a pros and cons list for each of these schools before finally landing on Westminster. I attended the university for a year before graduating in November 2019. Now, I like to consider myself an ambassador for the school as I have written articles, reviews, and other materials to share my experience with potential students. 


The story I just layed out can be considered my Buyer’s Journey with the University of Westminster. I started by becoming aware of a need or want (going to a masters program in London) then considered which school to attend to now becoming an advocate for the university.


What is the Buyer’s Journey? 


According to Henderson (2018) the Buyer’s Journey is, “the process buyers go through to become aware of, evaluate and purchase a new product or service.” There are 5 main stages to the Buyer’s Journey which include:

  • Awareness,

  • Consideration, 

  • Purchase, 

  • Service,

  • Loyalty.

It is important to realize that each of these stages requires a different communication strategy and customer service. For example, if someone is considering your services you do not want to send them an email asking for a referral, and if someone purchases your product you will want to continue to build a relationship with them to encourage repeat purchases.


Awareness 


The awareness stage of the Buyer’s Journey is when a person is realizing that they have a need, want, or problem they wish to solve. Creating strong brand awareness can make this stage easier, however it's easier said than done. For example, I wanted to obtain my masters in London, but had which universities were in London let alone which ones offered marketing programs.


Types of content that are great at this stage are:

  • Word of Mouth 

  • Public Relations 

  • Blogs

  • Online Ads 

  • Organic/Paid Social Media Posts

  • Out of Home

  • Sponsorship Marketing

  • Events

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Remember that you want to position your business as the solution to the customer's pain point, which is why it is important to understand what those pain points are for your target audience at this moment. 


Consideration 


During this phase, the potential customer has a better understanding of what their needs are and are now considering various options. When researching which university I wanted to attend in London, I was in this stage. I was reviewing all possible options, thinking about which one worked best for me, and what services they would provide me. I researched topics such as; academics, location, tuition fees, various societies, and so on, which are all keywords that the university's marketing team should be aware of. If I had Googled, 'tuition fees for universities in London', 'London universities', 'marketing masters in London', etc the University of Westminster would want to make sure that the school was showing up at the top of the search engine results page with either an ad or their organic website link.


It is also important to understand that you won’t be the solution for everyone. Find what you are really good at and stick to it! This means that you can create personalized and tailored content strategies during this stage. 

  • Landing Pages

  • Emails

  • Direct Mail 

  • Testimonials

  • Social Media

  • Events

  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

  • Out of Home


Purchase 


This stage in the Buyer’s Journey is pretty self explanatory, however this is the moment when the customer decides what they will do. They have chosen the business they believe is able to solve their problem. In my university example, this is the moment when I decided to apply for the University of Westminster. I believed that they had most, if not all, of the major components for me. 


At this moment in the Buyer’s Journey you need to promote your business services/products, since this is the moment of the purchase decision. Make sure to fully explain why your business is the best solution, and why someone should pick you. Moreover, if your products are in-store, think of your point of sale displays and how you are making an impact on the shelf. If you are interested in how shelf space impacts a marketing communication strategy, check out my case study of Mug Shot's Win a Share of £50,000.


Some content strategies and customer services that should be considered at this stage are:

  • Point of Sale

  • Website 

  • Call Center 

  • Automation

  • Online Ads


Service 


This phase of the Buyer’s Journey is when your business delivers on the promises you laid out to the customer. The service that the University of Westminster provided me lasted from September 2018 to November 2019, the duration of my masters program. During this phase there are multiple content and customer service strategies that can be implemented:

  • Emails

  • Call Centers

  • Automation Bots on Websites or Social Media

  • Notifications on Apps 

  • Events

  • Text Updates 

Remember that customer service is key to a great customer experience. Think about when you go to a theme park. My first job was at The Dollywood Company, which is a theme park located in East Tennessee. This is were I first learned that a fantastic customer experience can only happen if all employees are on the same page. As the winner of the Golden Ticket Award for Best Guest Experience 2019, Friendliest Park 2018, 2017 (and many more) it is no wonder why they pride themselves on training their staff to the best of their abilities.


Think about how you can incorporate a customer service strategy into this stage of the Buyer's Journey. No matter how great of a product/service you have, if you can't create an experience around it then some customers may not make it to the next stage.


Loyalty 


The final stage of the Buyer’s Journey is loyalty, meaning that you have successfully created a repeat customer! This is the best stage to reach as it is cheaper to retain customers rather than gain new ones. I would say that I am loyal to the University of Westminster as I have become a brand ambassador for the school.


Remember to think about how to create loyalty when it's difficult for you to create repeat customers. For example, if you are a higher education institution, you are less likely to have the same person attend for their bachelors and masters. So, how do you create loyalty?

Content that can be implemented at this stage are: 

  • Newsletters

  • Emails 

  • Online Promotions 

  • Blogs 

  • Writing Reviews

  • Loyalty Programs- rewards and incentives to return


Things to Note  


It is important to remember that you will have multiple target audience personas going through this cycle at various moments. For example, a “Rachel” might be ready to apply to a masters program, whereas a “Jessica” might be a first time visitor to the university’s website. This is why it is vital to maintain separate communication strategies for each of your personas as incorrect targeting can cause you to lose customers. Furthermore, some of the stages within the Buyer’s Journey can take place over long timeframes. Sometimes it is also important to realize that just because you have a target audience persona does not mean that the person is the decision maker. For example, I wanted to attend the University of Westminster, but without my family helping me pay my tuition I would not have been able to attend.  


We are also all humans, meaning we make decisions differently. Maybe you have someone new to your website who you are able to convert immediately, or maybe there is someone still in the consideration stage. This is why the best strategy is to create content for each and every stage of the Buyer’s Journey. As Bockisch (2018) said, “This will ensure that no matter where someone is in their journey when they find your brand, you’ll be able to provide them with all the information they need to make an informed buying decision.”


References and Bibliography 


Bockisch, C. (n.d.). How to Map the Buyer's Journey in 7 Easy Steps. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://www.clariantcreative.com/blog/how-to-map-the-buyers-journey


DiScipio, T. (2019, June 05). What Is the Buyer's Journey? Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://www.impactbnd.com/blog/what-is-the-buyers-journey


Henderson, G. (n.d.). Understanding The Buyer’s Journey. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://www.digitalmarketing.org/blog/understanding-the-buyers-journey


Hintz, L. (n.d.). What Is the Buyer's Journey? Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/what-is-the-buyers-journey


The New Buyer Journey & How To Improve Customer Experience: Square 2. (n.d.). Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://www.square2marketing.com/the-new-buyer-journey


Sellers, A. (n.d.). How to Create Content for Every Stage of the Buyer's Journey. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/content-for-every-funnel-stage

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