The 5 Stages of the Buyer’s Journey

Buyer's Journey

There’s an important business principle known as the “buyer’s journey.” It refers to a process that starts with the consumer recognizing some need or desire and that ends (ideally) with satisfying it through a purchase. In all, there are five stages, and consumers can be positively and negatively influenced by marketing, web design, and other brand factors during any of them.

Your digital and traditional marketing, web design, sales funnel, and other business strategies, practices, and processes all have the potential to move your specifically targeted audience along its buyer’s journey. An understanding of the process—and especially of what consumers are looking for in each stage—is therefore incredibly helpful in generating ROI from your various branding efforts.

Here’s an introduction the the five states of the buyer’s journey:

Stage 1 of the Buyer’s Journey: Awareness

This is the initial stage of the buyer’s journey, when they recognize that they have some particular pain point, need, or want. They don’t always act on it, though. For further action, there needs to be enough urgency to the desire, plus the solution has to be reasonably attainable.

For example, if someone realizes they’re really hungry, and they happen to be driving down a stretch of road with lots of restaurants and convenience stores, there’s a good chance they’ll act on their hunger and buy something to eat. Alternatively, people fantasize about buying $175,000 sports cars more often than they actually do it.

People become aware through either internal or external stimuli. Feeling hungry is an internal stimulus. Driving by a Porsche dealership is an external one. Awareness of the same desire can come from either place, too; a person might not feel hungry until they see a commercial for a restaurant with close-up shots of one of their favorite meals.

A lot of advertising attempts to trigger awareness in the consumer. And one of the key goals of brand visibility is for your brand to pop into the consumer’s head in conjunction with awareness of a particular pain point, want, or need.

Here at CREATE180 Design, we’ve found that social media advertising is great for brand awareness for reaching into the awareness phase. This seems especially true for low-consideration decisions such as liking a brand’s Facebook page or subscribing to its newsletter or blog.

Stage 2 of the Buyer’s Journey: Consideration

In this stage of the buyer’s journey, the consumer is evaluating at least a few viable options for fulfilling their need or want. They may be using any combination of their own knowledge and experience, advice from trusted sources, user and/or expert reviews, the many forms of social proof, research, and other means to draw conclusions about the products or services they’re considering.

A brand with a strong, clearly articulated, highly relevant unique selling proposition will attract the favorable attention of people in the consideration phase. Also, a brand that has invested in turning its website into a valuable resource for consumers performing research is well positioned to establish trust, authority, and a prominent place in the user’s memory.

Google AdWords can be highly successful in this stage. Consumers researching through Google are exposed to targeted ads at just the right time, making them solid leads when they click through to your website (even more so than when they come via a social media page). While Google AdWords can be highly successful, it can also be a strain on a startup or otherwise limited marketing budget. It’s not a substitute for a comprehensive, carefully crafted digital marketing campaign.

Stage 3 of the Buyer’s Journey: Intent

Once a consumer has looked at the available options, they’ve sorted them into three categories: yes, no, or forgotten. There may be more than one “yes,” but they’ve settled on one brand to go to first with the intent to buy. The “no” brands were ruled out for any number of reasons, while the “forgotten” ones fell out of the running because they failed to make any impression, positive or negative.

The buyer has not yet made a purchase, though, and just because a company became a “yes,” there are still reasons it may not land this person’s business. Perhaps nobody answers the phone or returns the call in a timely manner. Or an employee isn’t helpful or comes across as rude. Maybe the website is down or the checkout process is too complicated.

Potential barriers remain that can prompt a consumer to move on to another “yes” brand. This is why all your processes should be as pleasant and simple as possible.

Stage 4 of the Buyer’s Journey: Purchase 

Here the customer completes the transaction and buys your product or service. This can be considered a success, but it shouldn’t be the ultimate goal. The best outcome is to convert this consumer into more than a one-time buyer—into a fan who buys from you again and recommends you to others.

If the customer bought from you despite some obstacles or an unpleasant experience, they probably won’t provide repeat business or referrals. If a special offer didn’t live up to the way it sounded, or if your product or service doesn’t deliver what it promises, this will likely be the sole sale resulting from the process. If you’re perceived to lack in support or follow-up service after the purchase, this too can prevent your new customer from making it to the final and fifth stage of the buyer’s journey:

Stage 5 of the Buyer’s Journey: Re-Purchase

When a customer reaches this stage, you’ve won. If your product or service meets or exceeds expectations in addressing the original pain point, want, or need, and if your business processes, customer service, and follow-up please the consumer, you earn a loyal buyer.

This isn’t a guarantee that the customer’s needs or wants won’t ever change. It’s always possible to lose a loyal fan for reasons beyond your control. It might be because they move away, because you’re a bakery and they’ve decided to eat healthier, or something else. Still, this wouldn’t prevent them from recommending you to others should the opportunity arise, or necessarily from returning in the future.

Brands that master the ability to usher people through to the fifth stage will certainly achieve success.

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