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No matter the type of business, each customer takes a journey with a brand. During this journey, customers progress from hearing about a business or service to engaging the business and then (ideally) sharing their positive experiences with friends and colleagues. In short, the customer journey is how customers go from being a target audience to loyal fans.
Before improving or optimizing the customer journey, it’s critical to first understand the customer journey stages.
What are the stages of the customer journey?
There are five main stages of the customer journey. Each stage represents customer touchpoints between clients and a company. In many cases, organizations outline these stages on a customer journey map.
It’s important to note that not every customer journey is linear and follows these stages in this order. But in general, companies look at the five customer journey stages as:
1. Awareness - This is when a potential customer becomes aware of your company and services. They could become passively aware, such as by seeing an advertisement, or they may become aware proactively, such as by searching for companies in your area that offer the services you do.
2. Consideration - At the consideration stage, the potential customer is now aware of your company and that you offer services that could fit their needs. During this stage, prospective customers weigh their options and evaluate your services against your competition. They may be completing activities such as checking online reviews or inquiring with trusted friends or colleagues to learn what others say about your brand. In doing so, they seek a clear answer on whether to purchase from your brand.
3. First purchase/decision - A potential customer reaches this stage when they have all the information they need to decide whether your company can meet their needs within their determined budget and scope. The individual or purchasing team goes from being a potential customer to a customer. Depending on the perceived importance of the purchase — as well as the personality of the buyer — it may take a long time to reach this phase.
4. Retention/loyalty: - The retention phase focuses on keeping your customers happy and engaged. As your customers use your product or service, they make repeat purchases and continue to buy again from your company. During this stage, you are also focused on providing excellent customer service.
5. Advocacy - In this stage, customers to whom you have delivered value that exceeded their expectations are doing their own marketing work for your company. They voluntarily talk about your business and encourage their colleagues and friends to try your services for themselves. Customers who share positive reviews about your company show that you deliver on brand promises you’ve made. Not all customers will reach this stage, but your goal should be to plan programs that ensure many of your customers will become loyal advocates for your brand.
What is a customer journey map?
A customer journey map visually represents the entire customer journey or lifecycle. It covers all five customer journey stages and the different interactions or touchpoints across channels, including social media, in-store, website, or email. Journey maps may also include information about customer or buyer personas.
For example, a customer’s first touchpoint with your organization may be a paid search ad, which is the starting point on their customer journey map. The map then charts all of that user’s interactions and may have branching points for choices they could make.
Customer journey mapping is valuable for any organization looking to improve customer experience, customer retention, and loyalty.
Stage 1: Awareness stage
The awareness stage is a potential customer’s first impression of your brand, so it is worth a significant investment. They may encounter your brand passively by viewing an online or in-person advertisement. Or, they may have actively discovered your brand while researching a problem using a search engine.
You should aim to educate prospective customers about your brand and offerings through ads, social media accounts, your website, and other high-level touchpoints (also known as “top of the funnel” touchpoints).
This customer journey stage aims to meet the right customers at the right time. It’s all about getting your brand name in front of your ideal customers, even if they don’t know they need your service.
Using analytics platforms has greatly improved marketers’ efforts to reach their target audience effectively. Examples of these platforms include Brandwatch Consumer Intelligence, Dstillery, Audiense, and Adverity. These platforms can provide rich data about potential customers, such as location, age, choice of device, and conversion rates. Choose an analytics platform that fits your marketing practices and goals.
Best practices for the awareness stage
- Target the channels your prospects use most - Using data from a consumer analytics platform, develop strategies that keep your brand front and center on the channels your customers use most. For example, if your potential audience is more senior and primarily on Facebook and Instagram, skip advertising on TikTok.
- Focus on education - Create content — such as infographics and blog posts — that help educate consumers about why they need a product or service like yours.
- Skip the hard sell - Avoid coming on too strong with sales tactics. Give your customer the content and space to learn about your product and brand.
Awareness stage content examples
The type of awareness phase content you develop will depend on your audience and whether you’re in the B2B or B2C space. In some cases, social media ads may be the right fit. Other companies may have more success with downloadable content like eBooks.
Once potential customers see your brand, keep them engaged with easy-to-digest information about your services and offerings. Awareness stage content can include:
- Blog posts
- Free courses
- Social media posts/ads
- General eBooks related to your product category or industry
- General videos related to your product category or industry
- Paid search ads
- General whitepapers related to your product category or industry
- How-to articles and guides
Stage 2: Consideration stage
In this stage, a potential customer is now aware of your brand and is researching whether your company or product is what they need. This customer journey stage aims to move the customer to further engage with your brand and closer to a purchase or decision.
During the consideration phase, you must ensure your offering stands out among the competition. A customer in the consideration phase may spend time on your website, review your social media pages, engaging with your sales team, and seek out what others say about your brand. This can include Google, G2, Capterra, Yelp, or Facebook reviews. They may also ask experienced friends, colleagues, or family members for recommendations.
Many items are outside your control during this phase: your potential customer’s needs and budget, your competitors, online review websites, and individuals who have prior experience with your brand or your competitor.
Best practices for the consideration stage
While there are some factors you cannot control during the consideration phase, you have many opportunities to portray your brand as the best choice for prospective customers.
- Take ownership of reviews - Responding to past negative reviews or past customer service complaints can show that your company is moving in a positive direction. Addressing significant issues from past reviews shows potential customers that your team takes customer service seriously.
- Highlight your differentiators and value - Consumers in this phase are likely comparing your brand to others. Make sure your brand’s key differentiators are featured throughout your consideration phase content. Review your website’s product and service pages to ensure they are easy to understand and highlight your product’s value.
- Build trust - A consumer is more likely to select a credible, trustworthy brand. Remember this as you’re developing content. Use customer quotes to boost credibility and avoid making unsubstantiated claims about your product or brand.
- Consider using third-party research - Consider bringing in an expert third party to review your brand’s web presence — including properties you own and control and those you don’t. During this exercise, your marketing team can partner with other key business units to identify positive changes you can make to ensure your brand stacks up well against your competition during the consideration phase.
Consideration stage content examples
Consideration phase content should highlight how your offering is the right choice. In some cases, content can overlap in other stages of the customer journey, such as the awareness phase.
Some types of marketing content that can be helpful during the consideration phase include:
- Case studies and customer testimonials
- Product comparison guides and charts
- Product-focused videos
- Product-focused white papers
- Retargeting ads on social media that target prospects who have been on your website
Stage 3: First purchase/decision stage
By now, the customer has gathered all the information they need about your brand — such as case studies or online reviews — and is ready to purchase. At this stage, they decide between your brand or product and your competition. This phase is significant because it demonstrates that the customer has confidence in your brand and may lead to a purchase or sale.
The main players during this stage are the customer and your sales team. Your customer service or implementation teams may also be involved if the purchase includes an integration or installation process.
Best practices for the purchase/decision stage
- Eliminate purchase barriers - Take the necessary steps to make the buying process as smooth as possible. If your company uses an online storefront, ensure your checkout process is straightforward. Consider providing resources to help them with financing, if needed. And if there is an integration or installation involved, get your customer success or implementation team involved as soon as possible.
- Provide incentives - Look for ways to move a deal or a purchase across the finish line. Discounts, coupons, or add-ons are some ways you can motivate customers to purchase.
- Offer references - If appropriate, offer to connect prospects to existing customers. Having conversations with individuals who are happy with your product or service may help convince the consumer to move forward with your brand.
- Collaborate with sales - Touch base with your sales contacts regularly to find ways to improve the purchasing process.
Purchase/decision phase content examples
Once a customer is ready to make a purchase, they likely understand the value of your product. They may, however, require additional resources to convince internal stakeholders or blockers. Content types you may want to create for this stage of the customer journey include:
- Free demos
- Free consultations
- Product sign-up pages
- Pricing pages
- Limited time product promotions or coupons – “Sign up within 48 hours and save 25%!”
- Influencer videos
Stage 4: Retention/Loyalty stage
The overarching goal of this phase is to keep your customers happy, so they become loyal, lifelong customers.
59% of U.S. customers say that once they’ve found a brand they love, they are loyal for life. However, just because a customer has made an initial purchase with your company doesn’t mean your work is finished. Your team still has opportunities to educate the customer on the value of your brand, paving the way for additional purchases, upsells, or contract renewals.
Retaining customers is crucial, as selling to or retaining an existing customer is much more cost-effective than acquiring a new one. Optimove estimates that it costs businesses five times as much to market to a new customer than a current customer.
What’s more, keeping repeat customers happy makes your job easier. Semrush found that your chances of selling to an existing happy customer are between 60 and 70%. Your chances of selling to a new customer are between 5 and 20%.
There are many players in the retention phase including:
- Your customer
- Your marketing teams who can help to keep your brand top-of-mind for your customer
- Your customer service team, who is responsible for quickly and effectively remediating any issues that arise
- Your analytics teams, who can provide insight on customer data
- Your product team, who is responsible for providing suggestions on which new products or additional offerings may be relevant to specific customers or developing new features for users
- Your sales teams, who can individually reach out to target customers with personalized offers and upsells
Best practices for the retention stage
- Leverate your customer data - Now that your customer has purchased from you, you have valuable data about them. Use this data to send them regular, personalized communications with opportunities for upselling them with premium offers or cross-selling for related product purchases.
- Make it easy to contact your team - Ensure your company is easy to contact — especially if a customer has encountered an issue. Provide your phone number or support email in a prominent location on your website and in all of your email communications. And consider adding a chatbot to your website if you have a team to support it.
- Maintain regular communication with your customers - Keep customers in the loop with regular newsletters and updates about your products and company.
- Collaborate with customer success - While you may have collaborated closely with the sales team up to this point, now is the time to work closely with your customer success (CS) team. Collaborate to identify ways to improve the customer experience through content and communication.
- Establish a seamless onboarding process - Work together with your CS colleagues to develop an onboarding journey that helps customers fully understand how to use your product or service.
- Create a knowledgebase or FAQ - This resource can help customers find answers to questions and troubleshoot issues without needing employee resources.
Retention stage content examples
One key aspect of the retention phase is to provide best-in-breed customer service. If a customer runs into an issue with your service, your customer service team should work diligently and quickly to solve the issue so that the customer maintains a positive image of your brand.
Another aspect of this customer journey stage is proactively following up with customers. This involves sales teams reaching out to customers individually to ensure all is well with their services and to provide support when needed. Proactive communication also involves marketing teams sending out meaningful, relevant emails that may include:
- Information on the latest product offerings
- Suggestions for cross-sell/upsell
- Personalized offers based on prior purchases
- Rewards for loyalty
Other retention phase content examples may include:
- SMS texts or push notifications
- Customer newsletters
- FAQ/knowledgebase documents or webpages
Stage 5: Advocacy stage
The advocacy stage aims to enable your most loyal customers to recommend and advocate for your brand.
Customers can become vocal supporters of your brand when they have positive and meaningful experiences with your products or services. This support can drive significant results for your organization, with 81% of U.S. and U.K. customers stating that they trust product recommendations from family and friends over brand messaging.
You should aim for all customers to reach the advocacy stage. When you understand the needs of your customers and meet or exceed customer expectations through high-quality products and services, as well as exceptional customer service, they become loyal and are more likely to tell others about their experiences with your brand.
The advocacy phase involves your customers, your brand, their contacts, and how they share information about your brand with the people they know. For example, a loyal customer may share your Instagram profile with a friend looking for a service you provide. Another loyal customer may forward a relevant product marketing email to a colleague who has never heard of your brand. When the customer journey comes full circle in this manner, the new contact (potential customer) enters the first stage of the customer journey — the awareness phase.
Best practices for the advocacy stage
- Simplify referrals - Make it easy for your loyal customers to refer their friends, colleagues, and family to you. Encourage social media shares and provide intuitive ways for customers to tell friends about a product or service.
- Provide referral incentives - Encourage advocacy by incentivizing referrals with discounts, coupons, or loyalty points.
- Look to competitor referral programs - Consider researching what your competitors offer for loyalty programs and referral rewards.
- Give opportunities for feedback - Periodically survey your customers and conduct NPS, or customer satisfaction, surveys to identify potential advocates for case studies or testimonials. These ratings will also highlight key areas for improvement.
- Acknowledge customer feedback - If a survey reveals a consistent complaint or issue with your product or service, address it with your customers by highlighting fixes in newsletters or social media posts.
Advocacy stage content examples
- Highly personalized offers and incentives sent via SMS text or email
- Social media giveaways
- Customer profiles or features on social media or email newsletters
Do customer journey stages differ from B2B vs. B2C?
The five high-level journey stages are the same for B2B and B2C businesses. However, the specific actions and best practices may vary from stage to stage. For example, in a B2C industry, there is typically only a single decision-maker, and the dollar amount strongly influences the length of the consideration phase. With B2B, there are often multiple decision-makers or account contacts. Depending on the client and business, these may include legal, security, and other teams.
B2B vs. B2C customer journey stages
While the high-level stages are the same, there are nuances among the B2C and B2B customer journey stages. Some differences may include:
- Email marketing is targeted to different decision-maker types for B2B - Email marketing for B2B vs. B2C audiences will speak to the differing values and goals of the different decision-makers at each business type. For example, B2B decision-makers may value security, cost savings, marketing segmentation, and solving concrete business problems. Consider creating specific email marketing campaigns to speak to these considerations.
- Social media marketing is more relevant for B2C - In general, social media marketing is more relevant to B2C industries than to B2B, though it can play a role in both. Specifically, marketing for a B2C audience during the awareness and consideration phases should focus more on social media.
- Referrals are very important for all industry types - Referrals are necessary across virtually all B2B and B2C industries. However, loyalty and referral programs will look different across B2B vs. B2C and between different industry verticals.
- Adjust marketing materials for industry type - Be nimble and poised to adjust your marketing content for B2B vs. B2C. For instance, more formal marketing materials such as eBooks and white papers are more impactful for B2B industries. On the other hand, free courses or coupons may be more critical for B2C.
- Initial touchpoints will differ - Conferences or industry conventions are important customer touchpoints for B2B, especially for the awareness and consideration phases. In the B2C world, the early touchpoints may be social media ads or paid search campaigns or out-of-home ads like billboards.