If you want your ad campaigns to be as effective as possible, then you need to take the buyer journey stages into account.
The buyer journey is what every prospect goes through before converting, and by targeting your ads to the correct stage you have a better shot at hitting them with the right message at the right time.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the best ads for each stage in the buyer journey.
What We’ll Cover:
- Overview of the buyer journey stages
- Awareness stage:
- Consideration stage
- Decision stage:
A Quick Look at the Buyer Journey Stages
Before you start mapping out your advertising strategy, you’ll need to have an understanding of each of your personas as they move from stranger to customer.
When we talk about the buyer journey, we’re typically talking about three stages:
While different sources may throw in a few extra stages here and there, Awareness, Consideration, and Decision tend to be the “Big Three.”
Here’s a quick look at the buyer’s journey stages and the mindset associated with each one.
As you might imagine, each of the buyer journey stages requires a different approach.
For example, the awareness stage often happens before a buyer even knows they have a problem. This person might have a sense something is bothering them, but can’t quite figure out what it is, or how to improve their situation.
Or, they could sense they have a problem, like the above sore throat example. But they’re not sure what the cause is or what to do about it.
Then comes consideration. They’ve figured out what the problem is and know that it needs fixing. Here, buyers do a lot of research as they look for the best solution. They’ll want to compare pricing, look at features, and read a ton of reviews.
Then, at the very bottom of the sales funnel, you’ll have the decision stage. Here, the buyer has done the research, knows their options, and are ready to pull the trigger on a purchase.
Before someone becomes a client, they’ll go through each of these stages.
The cool part? You can have a big effect on each and every stage in their decision-making stage.
You can do this through content, email, sales outreach – anything.
1. Buyer Journey Stages: Awareness
First up: awareness.
This is as top-of-the-funnel as it gets, which means your customers have very little purchase intent at this point and often, this is the first time they’ve ever heard of your brand.
Your job here is to capture their attention and introduce your brand as a potential solution to their problem.
For instance, if they have a sore throat, you’ll want to create ad content that engages and educates your audience—you want them to walk away with an idea of what your product does, so next time they have a sore throat, they might be inclined to try your remedy versus their usual brand.
As a side note, it’s incredibly important that you have a full understanding of your target audience at this point.
Remember, while they may not even know they have a problem yet, you still need to become familiar with their pain points and understand the language and tone that resonates with this group.
What Networks to Use:
Because your audience has low purchase intent at this stage, chances are, they’re not actively researching solutions to their problem.
Again, your audience might not even realize they have a problem at all. Because the intent is simply not there, direct search ads won’t be your best bet. Instead, you’ll want to focus on getting in front of your audience as they go about their business online.
Social ads work great for awareness campaigns—think Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The Google Display Network is also a good choice as you’re targeting users as they browse through partner network sites.
You can also experiment with Gmail ads.
These ads appear in the Social and Promotions tab of users’ inboxes and are almost indistinguishable from regular emails. Using them, you can gain access to people as they peruse their inbox (which they spend a lot of time doing), not just as they browse the web or social channels.
How to Target:
At this stage, broad targeting is a great way to cast a wide net, but that doesn’t mean you should broadcast your advertisements to anyone and everyone you can.
Instead, focus on targeting categories such as the following:
This is also a good stage to build a Custom Affinity audience to target. Affinity audiences allow you to target your ads based on broad interests, like “food” or “sports.” Custom affinity audiences also let you get more specific by targeting URLs, YouTube channels, and interests.
This means that you might want to target your audience using a handful of things like URLs they may have visited, general categories, or channels that your existing customers spend time on.
Still, you don’t want to get too specific at this stage. Custom affinities are best for those businesses with a very niche product or service.
You can exclude people who already have some awareness of your brand – including those that have visited your website or engaged with you on social media.
Remember, the goal here is simply to spread awareness. Anyone with previous interactions should be served ads in the next stage.
Pro tip: as you target keywords throughout the buyer journey, the kinds of keywords will change. In the awareness stage, searches will be very broad.
Take a look at the table below.
Notice how it starts with broad keywords and gets more and more specific as a prospect moves into the consideration and decision phases?
Which Ad Formats to Use:
This isn’t the stage for text ads and extensions galore. Rather, the focus should be mostly on eye-catching imagery and generating interest. That being the case, you’ll want to put your focus primarily on video and image formats.
You’ll find both options for the Display Network (though strong images may be better received than video while users are browsing the web).
Pro tip: video views can help you later, as they can be used as a retargeting metric for future ads. Instagram Stories is another format to try for social, and don’t forget the power of simple Promoted Stories.
Promoted Stories can be used to expand the reach of any great blogs or content on your site that will help introduce a new audience to the benefits of your business.
Keep in mind that in this stage, you don’t want your audience to have to work too hard for information.
2. Buyer Journey: Consideration
In the consideration stage of the buyer journey, your audience knows what they need and is aware of your business.
Here, your goal is to educate your audience and show them the benefits you provide, as well as how you plan on solving their problem.
Which Networks to Use:
At this point, you can start adding search ads into the mix. While they may not be ready to make a final commitment, buyers are beginning to do active research into the products and services you offer.
Continue to keep ads running on the Display Network (or use Search Network with Display Expansion) and any social channels where your audience tends to be.
How to Target:
This is the point where one of my favorite ad strategies comes into play.
I’m talking, of course, about remarketing.
Remarketing is a strategy that allows you to target people who have engaged with your brand awareness ads in the past. They might have visited your website, watched a video, engaged with social media content. In any case, you can make a list of people who completed an action and create targeted ads based on those interactions.
Based on those remarketing lists, you can then expand your reach with Lookalike Audiences (Facebook) and Similar Audiences (AdWords).
Different names, same function.
Essentially, they target people with shared interests and behaviors as those on your existing list.
They have the potential to reach thousands of pre-qualified users and I can’t recommend them enough.
So, if you have a list of everyone who visited your website after seeing your ad on the Display Network, you could then build an entirely new audience of people similar to them.
Pretty cool stuff right there.
This stage of the buyer journey is also a good time to start looking into Life Event targeting.
This type of targeting allows advertisers to show ads to people going through significant changes or events in their lives.
These people are often in-market for very specific goods or services, making them ideal for advertisers to be able to target.
As of now, Google offers the following life events:
- About to graduate college
- Recently graduated college
- About to move
- Recently moved
- About to get married
- Just got married
Note: life event targeting is currently only available for Gmail and video advertising campaigns.
The best results tend to happen when multiple channels work together, so I recommend you take a look at the different ways you can connect your Facebook and Google audiences.
Which Ad Types to Use:
Your ads and messaging at this stage in the buyer journey should be informative and focused on your product. Because your search ads and RLSAs will be primarily text ads, make sure you include strong CTAs and compelling headlines.
Also, include relevant ad extensions to make additional information easily available.
For image formats on social, use large, clickable images that will lead users back to your website.
You might even consider using lead generation ads on LinkedIn or Facebook if your business model includes a strong content strategy.
B2B brands should follow this approach to capture qualified leads away from their website using case studies, white papers, and other types of high-level content to help nudge users toward making a buying decision.
The last stage in the buyer journey is the decision phase.
This is where your focus shifts towards conversions, and your goal is to identify people who are ready to purchase with a well-placed at the right time.
3. Buyer Journey Stages: Decision
The decision stage is the last of the buyer’s journey stages. Here, your aim is focusing on conversions—closing that deal.
As such, you’ll want to identify people ready to make a purchase by getting in front of them at the exact right moment. Hopefully, if you’ve built up awareness and continued to educate and engage with your audience, you should have an edge over the competition and a chance to win a new customer.
Which Networks Work Best for Decision-Stage Buyers?
Unlike the past two buyer’s journey stages, decision is largely focused on the Google search network.
Why? Because Google – or if you’re really lucky, your website specifically – is the first place a buyer when they’re finally ready to seal the deal.
How to Target:
As your audience moves into the decision phase, you’ll want to continue targeting ads to users who have already engaged with your ads before.
That means you should get very specific with your remarketing and what behaviors you’re targeting on site.
For example, you may want to build a list of users who have visited specific product or pricing pages or abandoned the checkout process.
Then, continue to build Lookalike and Similar Audiences based on those users.
You can also use in-market audiences.
Which Ad Formats to Use:
Because this is the make or break stage, it’s time to try testing ad formats that push price points and promotions.
Depending on your product, Google Shopping and Search Ads or Bing Shopping Ads are a great route to take if you’re advertising a specific product.
Shopping Ads appear to searchers who are shopping online for your product or related products. They appear at the very top of the SERPs, with a thumbnail image of your product, its price point, and sometimes additional extensions like star ratings and coupons.
You can also use a Showcase Shopping Ad, which are great for local retailers. These show ads to people who researching where to buy, rather than looking for a specific product.
Again, you’ll want to include relevant ad extensions (note: these won’t necessarily show on your ad every time) like call extensions, review extensions, sitelink extensions, price extensions, etc.
Any ad you produce should feature a strong CTA like “Shop now!” or “Sign up!” to encourage quick action.
On the social side, try taking advantage of video or image carousel ads, designed to show off a line of products in a swipeable format.
One of the newer ad formats, canvas ads, comes with a “sell products” template that gives product information and encourages users to shop.
Wrapping Up: Targeting Ads to Buyer Journey Stages
As you can see, online advertising is no one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on the buyer’s journey stage, different messages are more effective for breaking through the noise.
By understanding how each segment moves through the buyer journey stages and which ads, platform, and messaging work best at each touchpoint, you’ll be better equipped to effectively nudge prospects along the path to becoming customers.
Remember, each ad you choose should be tested and optimized for your specific audience and their specific journeys.