Every customer goes on a journey when making a purchasing decision – whether buying a car, selecting a cleaning service or choosing a family vacation spot. Each step of the way moves them closer towards making a choice.

If you’ve been in marketing for a while, you’ve probably have heard of the rule of seven. A prospective customer or buyer needs to interact with your brand at least seven times before converting.

With multiple interactions to account for, it’s important to first understand how your audience moves through the sales funnel. This is what we call the customer journey. In its simplest form, it can be broken into three phases: before, during and after conversion. But customers are not that straightforward and there are multiple fluid steps in between.

Aligning Your Marketing Around the Customer Journey

Consider the customer journey as you create your strategic marketing plan. Before you can jump to the big sale, booking or purchase, you need to help your customer weed through the available options. What is your customer looking for in that moment, and where are they looking? Your marketing efforts and content should align to connect with customers each step of the way. And if you do a good job at it, you can turn a prospect into a brand advocate for life.

Now let’s walk through marketing examples for each step of a customer journey. Customers act differently across industries and can even differ among organizations within the same industry. This exercise will give you a jumping off point for your own marketing strategy.

Awareness

The top of the funnel, or beginning of a customer journey, starts with awareness. This is when a prospect looks for an item, service or organization to fill a need. Awareness happens in a few ways:

  • Recommendations: The most traditional way is asking a friend, family member or coworker for a recommendation. Now, Facebook makes it easy to pose the question to your larger network, even filtering where your recommendations come from. In hopes of your brand being the one people recommend, read on through loyalty.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): For much faster results, many people turn to Google. To have your website show up near the top of the pack, focus on your website content. How can you help potential customers? Create landing pages dedicated to specific offerings or audiences. Draft blog posts that dive deep into one topic or highlight a variety of your assets (like “10 family-friendly attractions”). Be sure to include common keywords and phrases that people search for.
  • Search Engine Marketing: Taking it a step further, your website can show up for specific search terms by executing a paid search strategy or Search Engine Marketing (SEM). This should be considered in conjunction with SEO so that once potential customers get to your website, they are satisfied with the helpful content you provide.
  • Earned Media: Pitching, press releases and hosting writers can lead to media placements. Third-party articles add to your credibility and customers’ trust. Publicity stunts or unique offerings may go “viral,” reaching potential customers before they even know they wanted to go cow cuddling.
  • Facebook Advertising: Awareness campaigns are optimized to appear to those in your target audience that are most likely to remember your ads. You can create your audience around geographies, demographics, interests and even actions such as “planning a trip.”

In the traveler’s journey, this phase is called inspiration. It is when travelers picture what their next trip could look like. During the pandemic, most travelers were consuming content that allowed them to day-dream of future travel, such as inspirational videos, slide shows and virtual tours.

Consideration

The next step of the customer journey is consideration. This is when customers give careful thought to your brand – or begin planning a trip – and start to narrow down options. Help them through the process with these tactics:

  • Retargeting Advertising: This step falls in between awareness and consideration and helps keep potential customers interested. Using a tracking pixel, you’re able to track all users to your website, or specific page(s) on your website. You can then serve them digital banner ads on other websites that they visit. Because these users have already shown initial interest in your product or destination, we recommend linking these ads to a landing page a little further into the funnel – such as a ticket purchase or booking page.
  • Visitors Guide: As travelers begin to consider different destinations, they will likely turn to visitors guides to review options. Make your visitors guide easily accessible online – since everyone is spending more time than usual on their devices.
  • Blogs: Blogs can give visitors an idea of what to expect at your destination and can help with planning. Consider roundups of best hikes, must-try restaurants or “Top 15 Things to do in the Fall.”
  • FAQs & Planning Tools: How can your website assist visitors with planning or customers with purchasing? Pages with Frequently Asked Questions help buyers understand the experience, especially with new regulations put in place. Trip planning functions allow visitors to picture their visit. Such as the ability to map out routes to specific attractions or selecting which assets they are most interested in visiting. Users may also skim itineraries (“72 Hours in X Destination”) for inspiration of how to fill their time.
  • Social Media: First, have your social media channels linked to and from your website. Customers want to be able to see themselves in your destination or with your product. Highlight the experience in posts. Share pictures of food dishes and hotel rooms, or amateur videos from people at your most popular festival. They also look at reviews and your response, and browse for any promotions or packages that could sway them towards a decision.

Purchase

This is the step where your customer makes a purchase, converts or books. Consider how these tactics fit into your marketing strategy:

  • Website or Booking Agent: Make sure the purchase process is as simple as possible. Write clear and concise instructions on how to book a room, make a tasting reservation or purchase tickets so you don’t fall victim to cart abandonment.
  • Add-on Experiences: While they are looking to book, consider promoting additional experiences your customer may be interested in. Think packages, private tours, and upgraded tasting flights.
  • Customer Service: Some may not consider customer service as part of your “marketing mix” but it’s important to have people ready to assist customers with booking or with questions before doing so. These days, there are plenty of ways for buyers to reach out for help – over the phone, website, via email and through all social media channels. You may consider automated messaging through Facebook Messenger or creating a chatbot on your website to help field requests.
  • Itineraries: Once a visitor has made their decision, they are ready to start filling their time. Have itineraries available to download for inspiration or with the ability to purchase as a package.
  • Newsletter: Once customers have purchased (and subscribed to hear from you), send them helpful content. You may create a packing list, shoot a short welcome video or include blog posts related to their interests.

Yes, you got a customer! While this step is important, the journey is not yet over.

Delivery

This is the step where you now deliver on your brand promise. In the case of a visitor, it is where they come and experience your attraction or destination. When the experience aligns with expectations, this step is likely to lead to retention – a visitor that would come back again.

  • Front line Staff: One of the first (and some may say most important) ways that visitors interact with a destination are through your front line staff. Included are front desk staff, servers at a restaurant, even Uber drivers picking up visitors at the airport. Host training sessions or create e-learning platforms to empower these individuals to provide a great guest experience. Make sure they’re armed with recommendations on places to go and information on how to get there.
  • Website: Keep your website updated with available offerings, restaurants open for dine-in or take-out service, hours and updated experiences at attractions, etc. In addition to helping potential visitors in the planning phase, your website can act as a hub of information for visitors currently in-market.
  • App: Travel apps help visitors get around and can provide similar (if not more) information to your destination website. They may also include fun content or challenges – like tasty ice cream trails, passport programs, trivia to stay busy during down-times or virtual scavenger hunts around town.
  • Social Media: Visitors may use social media for destination updates, ideas on activities or events taking place, or to double-check that a restaurant or attraction is open. Real-time posts allow visitors to act in the moment. Use Facebook or Instagram Stories to showcase what’s happening in the moment, like a farmer’s market or dinner special. Be prepared to answer questions that may come up.
  • In-Market Marketing: Consider advertising and signage around town directing people to open attractions or events. Not only does this help a visitor while they’re in your destination, but locals are a prime target audience as travel slowly starts to reopen. Set up fun photo ops or interactive activities around town, like the Strong National Museum of Play zones found in the Rochester airport.

Loyalty

Loyalty is the last step of the customer journey. It may also be called advocacy or sharing, and can influence a future buyer’s journey.

  • Surveys: Once a customer has experienced your product or brand, follow-up with a survey to see what they think. Ask how likely they are to recommend you to others and if they have any feedback. Use this input to improve the customer journey for others. You may learn that you need to set better expectations during the planning phase or to share clearer directions in the delivery phase. Once a customer completes a survey, you may send them a discount to your store or put them into a drawing for a giveaway.
  • Membership: Share the ways visitors can continue to enjoy your attraction or product by becoming a member. You may even offer to apply the admission they already paid towards the cost of membership. Thank them for joining with welcome swag or a list of member-only virtual events.
  • Reviews: Don’t be shy, ask visitors to leave a review! Direct them to your Facebook page, website, Google business page, Yelp or Tripadvisor. Be sure to follow up to any less-than-positive feedback and thank users for leaving glowing reviews.
  • Testimonials: Take it a step further and ask parties for testimonials. A little more formal than reviews, testimonials can be used on your website, in visitors guides and in future marketing videos.
  • Social Media: Encourage visitors to tag your destination or partners when they post about their visit on social media. When appropriate (and with permission), share their photos and videos to inspire a future visitor.
  • Word of Mouth: As a marketer, you have little control over word of mouth. But if you’ve successfully navigated a customer through their journey and gave them plenty of cool reasons to share, chances are, they will be willing to talk you up to their friends and family.