How to Structure Your Email Series for The Buyer's Journey
Email campaigns are the bread and butter of online marketing.
Blog articles, promotion strategies, and gated content are all executed in an effort to obtain that coveted email address. Once you have it, only half the work is done. It's now up to YOUto nurture those leads into customers.
And you do that by consistently meeting people where they're at, every step of the way. In online marketing, we have a term that's frequently referred to called The Buyer's Journey—it's the process one goes through when researching, considering, and, ultimately, deciding to make a purchase.
Email marketing and the Buyer's Journey
The Buyer's Journey phrase was coined by author Hugh Macfarlane in his book “The Leaky Funnel." In it, Macfarlane outlines "the collapse" of traditional marketing. Thanks to the proliferation of a little thing called Google, consumers are no longer forced to interact with gatekeepers to collect information about their problems, needs, and desires. The Internet essentially created a wide-open highway, allowing people to find their own solutions.
You know this: it's why you're here. Traditional advertising methods—print, radio and television advertisement—don't influence consumers like they once did. Neither do "solution sales." But what may initially appear to be a dead-end is actually an opportunity.
Enter inbound marketing: The process of drawing customers to you through consistently published and strategically distributed content. The reason inbound works? It meets prospects at every stage of the purchasing process.
Understanding The Buyer's Journey
Stage One – Awareness
The prospect has identified a particular need, want, or desire and is actively searching for more information.
Stage Two – Consideration
The prospect is now relatively well informed as to his or her options but does NOT currently have either the budget, authority, time or urgency to move toward the next stage.
Stage Three – Decision
The prospect has removed any perceived obstacles from stage two and is now ready to choose a vendor.
Rarely will someone with an Internet connection immediately make a purchase without going through these three, distinct stages. Which is why providing adequate content for every stage is the foundation of any inbound plan. Yet, according to the Content Marketing Institute, only 44 percent of B2B marketers and 39 percent of B2C marketers have a documented content strategy.
Why are so many marketers "just winging it?" Well, we're not really sure. One can only guess it's because the prospect of sitting down and mapping out content feels intimidating. But it doesn't have to be. While there is no right or wrong way to map a content strategy, there are some best practices to keep in mind.
How to Map Content
OK, there are essentially three parts to content mapping: Buyer research, keyword strategy, and format selection. The tools you use to complete the tasks associated with each part are completely up to you. While a variety of "content mapping programs" exist—Touchpoint Dashboard, Kapost, Marketing.AI—many marketers prefer to use a mix of rotary tools and electronic applications. Regardless, you'll be uncovering a lot of information and it's important to stay organized.
1. Buyer Research
Research, identify, and analyze the unique questions your prospects are asking during each stage of The Buyer's Journey. Pay close attention and you'll notice unique phrases, characteristics, and concerns for each. What does "research" really mean? It means collecting actual facts about the thoughts and behavior of consumers. No guessing or assuming allowed.
Methods of research you may use: Forum discussions, customer surveys, customer interviews, focus groups, social media monitoring, and customer service conversations. In this article, we go more in-depth on how to conduct quality research. Once you've organized key characteristics, questions, and "watering holes" for each phase, you're ready to move on to step two.
2. Keyword/Topic Strategy
This is where you take the information gleaned from step 1 and begin generating topic ideas for each stage of The Buyer's Journey. What are prospects most wanting to learn about in the Awareness Stage? The Consideration Stage? And the Decision Stage? Organize content ideas under each section.
Pro Tip: Keep it focused.
Don't try to answer 20 question in ONE piece of content. It's OK, even desirable, to not answer every question at once. This mistake is most common among newbies—creating long, disorganized pieces of content that are more overwhelming than helpful. Initially, you may not even realize the potential for multiple pieces until you begin creating.
Finally, combine each content idea with a target keyword phrase. Use Google's Keyword Planner to uncover the exact phrases prospects are searching for. You can learn more about keyword research here. Basically, don't overdo it and aim to use the keyword as conversationally as possible. Always prioritize the customer over Google!
3. Format Selection
Once you have your list of topical ideas for each Buyer's Journey phase, you're ready to begin thinking about format. Content can take many forms including blog articles, white papers, newsletters, case studies, videos, and even live events. Before you begin reviewing format options, you'll want to create a content matrix.
Open an excel spreadsheet or get out a large dry-erase board.
Make 3 columns: Awareness (TOFU), Consideration (MOFU), and Decision(BOFU).
Begin plugging in different types of content you think prospects would most appreciate for each phase of their journey. Give each type its own row.
Match your previous topical ideas to corresponding formats.
For example, it might looks something like this:
TOP OF THE FUNNEL
HOW TO BLOG ARTICLES INFOGRAPHICS SLIDESHARES
MIDDLE OF THE FUNNEL
CLIENT VIDEO TESTIMONIAL EBOOK "GUIDE"
BOTTOM OF THE FUNNEL
CASE STUDY DEMO
As you begin creating your content, you'll want to construct conversion points that guide prospects from one phase of content to the next: Calls to Action, landing pages, and sign-up forms are what allow you to collect information and, ultimately, turn those leads into customers.
Ideally, you'll create different autoresponder email campaigns for each conversion point. For example, if someone signs up for your company newsletter after reading a blog article, you'll want to include a Welcome Email with an additional piece of content to help them move from Awareness to Consideration. And you'll want to follow that up with whatever content you feel is appropriate to then guide them from Consideration to Decision. By segmenting email lists according to where the prospect "opted in", you can tailor content distribution to further meet their unique needs.
Remember: Creating a content map is NOT a one-time process! It's something that should be continually refined with ongoing research, ideation, and feedback. Trust us, the more you learn about your target buyers, the more you'll want to update it.
Ashley is a content writer and brand developer. After graduating with a degree in print-journalism, Ashley’s storytelling skills took her from the bizarre world of on-camera acting to the practice courts of NBA basketball players to the virtual meetings of inbound marketers. Today she specializes in building memorable brand voices online, with a focus on the travel & tourism, e-commerce and tech industries.