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The Buyer's Journey Isn't Linear Anymore

Forget everything you’ve ever known about your buyer’s journey! Okay, maybe not everything, but almost all of it.

It’s hard to digest, especially after all the effort you’ve been investing in setting up and updating your content, marketing channels, and sales funnel. But we’re stepping into a new era of digital marketing, and sticking with the old strategies will only slow you down and keep business opportunities away.

While we took in all the new tech at CES 2019, our ears couldn’t help but perk up at this moderated conversation about the future of marketing. It’s a time of high-personalization in which people use their devices to reshape the buyer’s journey depending on their immediate needs.

The future of content marketing, however, will be shaped by the technological advancements in the fields of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and voice as they become the primary tools to tell brand stories and garner engagement.

With that said, the next question you may be asking is, what does that mean for my content strategy?

A new approach to storytelling

At the conference session “The Future of Technology-Driven Content,” James DeJulio, co-founder and CEO of Tongal assessed the current state of content creation.

He stated that everything changed, but at the same time, nothing had changed. In other words, while you still need storytelling and touchpoints in your buyer’s journey, it shouldn’t be sequential, given that the buyer’s journey itself is no longer linear.

Google agrees with this new idea, as well. As part of an opt-in panel, the company analyzed thousands of users’ clickstream data to determine precisely how the marketing funnel had changed.

The result? Each consumers’ buyer’s journey is different. The straightforward pathway from awareness to consideration to the decision stage doesn’t exist anymore, as customers narrow down their research to a single brand, just to broaden their search again a minute later.

Technology offers consumers more choices, so people often have more doubts right before making a purchase decision. And, thanks to their devices, they can start their buyer’s journey over at any time. In this context, having the right content ready for each stage means repurposing your brand story in more episodes, across more channels.

How can you accomplish that? Minjae Ormes, Chief Marketing Officer at Visible, emphasized during the same CES session that it’s crucial for brands to tie their digital and in-person marketing strategies together. She also underlined the importance of co-marketing in increasing brand awareness. Things like partnerships with other publishers and aligning with their communities can help brands maintain their position on the market and open them up to new audiences that otherwise would have remained out of reach.

More touchpoints on the path to purchase

Geoff Schiller, Global Chief Revenue Officer at POPSUGAR, says that the sales funnel as we know it is dead. He also explained that people crave for experiences that are frictionless and fast—today’s consumers prefer to see now, buy now.

According to Google, not only do buyers want everything now, but they also want brands to assist them during their journey. To achieve that, you’ll need to understand their intent and anticipate their needs, problems or questions.

As a result of the company’s research, Google was able to provide some examples of the modern buyer’s journey. These models illustrated how consumers kept searching for information in all stages of their journey and even after purchase. For some consumers, something as simple as buying a candy bar can turn into a long list of search queries, from types of candy bars to retailers and shipping logistics. Armed with a wealth of information, customers feel more confident when they step foot in the physical store to buy.

If you want to determine if your marketing funnel has changed, then go ahead and analyze metrics that can give you clues about what generated the interaction between the customer and your brand—such as clicks and conversions—and try to distinguish your new model.

For example, a lead gave you data for your eBook, but what was the intent behind this action? Why did your leads need the eBook in the first place? How did they arrive at your landing page? Did they download the eBook right away? These are signals that have the potential to generate business growth in the long-term because they allow you to add up useful content to fill in the gaps the nonlinear journey created.

Time for automation and machine learning

Consumers are curious, demanding, and impatient. When you understand the reasons (intent) behind their actions, you’re more likely to meet customers halfway and help them narrow down their search to your brand. But, as buyers take one step forward and two steps back in their buyer’s journey, it’s hard to make predictions. You need marketing automation and machine learning to forecast what your customers will be looking for tomorrow.

As Geoff Schiller explained, machine learning can help content creators look for topics that are pre-viral. That way, brands can improve their organic ranking or shares by creating the right type of content at the perfect time. Companies like POPSUGAR that already use machine learning to enhance their content strategy are successful because they learned to be on the pulse of what’s going to happen next.

You can use machine learning to identify patterns, anticipate how your customers will move back and forth in the buyer’s journey, and segment audiences based on their previous behavior. Also, based on data, you can use automation to be there for your customers and add more value to each step of their nonlinear journey, regardless of the number of times they go through the same stage.

As part of your tech-driven content strategy, you can also integrate AR and mobile to create a unified experience across channels, without losing the human side of the brand. Like Visible did when it decided to sponsor the Grandoozy Music Festival in Denver; the company created a backstage experience to help leads and customers connect with the brand outside of their traditional sales funnel. They’ve also used technology to give people a look behind the scenes, using this new form of storytelling that keeps the human element in it but focuses on expanding what the brand is expected to deliver.

Make your brand community the heart of the nonlinear buyer’s journey!

As the internet has changed everything we know about marketing funnels, it’s important for brands to keep up by learning new trends and implementing new techniques. Most of the answers that brands are looking for can be found in their data and insights. The more you know about your customers and what makes them react, the higher your chances are of keeping your messages relevant.

As customers will be looking for more personalized experiences, you’ll have to use data to target a very specific audience to be able to deliver quality content. Not only will you consolidate your business relationships, but will also make better use of your resources, with a higher return on your marketing efforts.

And, as James DeJulio concluded, you’ll have to concentrate more on building a community around your brand and content. This way, both potential and existing customers will get the message that they can rely on you to answer their questions and assist them when they need it.

Ending with something from Google’s wisdom. When people count on brands, brands can count on growth. So, it’s important to revamp your content marketing strategy with your customers in mind. Listen to what they have to say, measure their reactions, and use technology to predict their preferences for a better business outcome.

 

Call to action image for downloading an ebook on content strategy. Woman looking at a colorful diagram.

 

Tags:
inbound marketing, content journey, content marketing advice

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