If you want your ad campaigns to be as effective as possible, then you need to take the buyer journey 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 you through the best ads for each stage in the buyer journey.
Buyer Journey: Overview
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, the general consensus is that those are the Big Three.
So let’s break those down a little.
The awareness stage often happens before a buyer even knows they have a problem. Something is affecting them negatively and could be improved, they just haven’t put their finger on it yet.
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 that it needs fixing. This is the research stage, when they set out to find the best solution to their needs.
And finally, the decision stage. They’ve done the research, know their options, and are ready to pull the trigger on the one they’ve decided is best.
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.
But let’s take a look at the role ads play leading a user through the buyer journey.
Buyer Journey: Awareness Stage
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.
Your job here is to grab their attention and make them aware of who you are.
You’re not focusing on hard sells; instead, you’re focusing on engaging and educating.
As a side note, it’s incredibly important that you have a full understanding of your target audience at this point.
Remember, they may not even know what their problem is yet – or that they have one – which means you need to have researched and be familiar with their specific pain points.
Then, you need to address those points in your ad.
What Networks to Use:
Because your audience has low purchase intent at this stage, they likely won’t be actively looking for your product or service.
Since they won’t be searching for you directly, that means direct search isn’t your best option here.
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 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, you’ll want to focus on broad targeting options to cast a wide net.
You’ll want to target primarily based on:
- Demographic information
This is also a good stage to build a custom affinity audience to target to.
Affinity audiences allow you to target your ads based on broad interests, like “foodies” or “sports.”
Custom affinity audiences let you narrow it down further of people based on URLs and interests.
So, using a mix of things you think your audience will be interested and URLs they may have visited, you can form a more controlled audience to target on the GDN.
Because you don’t want to get too narrow 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?
Keep that in mind as you set your keyword bids and targets at each stage of the buyer journey.
What Formats to Use:
This stage is all about capturing attention.
The best way to do that? Strong visuals.
This isn’t the stage for text ads and extensions galore. It’s the stage to get in front of your viewer and demand attention.
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).
On social media, video ads are quickly becoming one of the most effective ways to connect with an audience.
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.
Instead, present as much as you can up-front and in-channel (video ads are great for this) without making them click for more.
Buyer Journey: Consideration
After awareness comes consideration.
Your audience is aware of what they need and aware of your business.
The goal here is to continue to educate that audience on ways you can help them and what benefits your brand can bring them.
That way, when they reach the next stage – decision time – your brand will be top of mind.
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 you 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 way to get a list of all the people who may have engaged with your brand awareness ad – whether it was a visit to your website, a video play, an engagement on social media, etc. – and show them new ads tailored to their behavior.
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.
Also, keep in mind the changing keywords. Start adding more long-tail, descriptive keywords into the mix.
What Formats 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 you’re advertising a strong piece of content.
Buyer Journey: 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.
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 to Use:
This stage will focus largely on the search network.
Google – or if you’re really lucky, your website specifically – is the first place a buyer will go when they’re ready to purchase.
Make sure your ad is popping up for any relevant, bottom-of-the-funnel keyword searches (think purchase-intent keywords like “discount,” “deals,” “coupons,” “where to buy,” etc.
How to Target:
As your audience moves into the decision phase, you should continue targeting ads to those who have engaged with your brand 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.
These are audiences of people that Google has identified as having high buying intent based on their search and browsing history.
Which 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, AdWords 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 Ad Targeting and the Buyer Journey
As you can see, it’s not enough to have one ad campaign for your entire set of users.
Depending on where they are in the buyer journey, they’ll be receptive to different messaging at different times.
By understanding that journey and which ads best suite each stage, you can more effectively push users from prospects to customers.
Remember, each ad you choose should be tested and optimized for your specific audience.