We’re all on a journey…

I want you to take a moment to think about your customers…

…go on… push the chair back from the screen, close your eyes and have a think about the people who have got your business where it is today.

(don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you open them again)

Think about the journey they took, from not knowing you existed to learning about you and what makes you special.

…through giving you their details and having a conversation… saying “yes” and purchasing… and then hopefully on to buying more… and telling others about you (so that they can start on their own journey).

The fact is that every single customer is on a journey that starts with not even knowing you existed… and (hopefully) ends with them loving what you do and wanting to tell the world.

Of course, there will be those who don’t get to the end… and some who trip at the first step…

Some may miss a key step on the journey and fall by the wayside…

Some may lose interest along the way and get stuck in limbo…

Some may get distracted and leave your path for someone elses…

…and some may get stuck, unable to clearly see the next step.

If you can understand the path a customer takes, know where the gaps are (and fill them), know how to keep them from straying and interested, and always be thinking about how you can get more people onto the path and making the path easier to follow, your business will reap the results.

Ignorance of this path is a route to ruin for your business.

Marketing hasn’t changed (and it never will)

When it comes down to do it, what is marketing?

It’s about helping people to progress along the path, making the next step on their journey clear and ensuring that it’s easy to take.

It really boils down to 2 key questions that you need to continuously ask yourself…

  1. What Happens Next?
  2. How do I make what happens next more likely to happen?

(These two phrases are going to be posted on my marketing grave… they are that fundamental to my view of marketing)

“What Happens Next” is about what the next step on the path is? If you don’t know what happens next at any point on the pathway… how will your potential customer know?

“How do I make what happens next more likely to happen” is about ensuring the chances they take the next step are maximised – I call this Marketing Grease – make the transition from one step to the next so easy that they just glide along the path without any effort at all.

Marketing Grease can also applies to you and your processes… because there are things you will do which help them along the path, and if it’s hard for you to do them… then people may get stuck.

Let me give an example:

If the next step that someone should take is to visit a page on your website, then that is “what happens next”.

…but instead of saying “click here”, you can use marketing grease to explain why clicking is going to improve their life, demonstrate the benefits of clicking, and why it’s almost beyond comprehension that someone wouldn’t click, and maybe even have a video showing them why clicking is such a fantastic idea.

Keeping these two core phrases at the forefront of your mind when it comes to the marketing of your business is in my mind, essential.

Do I really need a path for my customers?

You may be reading this thinking… do I really need to create a path for my customers to follow?

If you want your business to grow and succeed long term, then yes, you need to create a path (or several paths).

Sure, some customers can make their own path… and just by being in business, you’ll naturally create some steps.

…but there’s a big difference between a rugged path that someone has to ‘pick’ their own route, and one that’s clear and well signposted.

Planning and building your own path ensures the best chance that people who start will reach their destination – which is what you want.

So what makes a good path?

Well, for a path to be good, it needs to be clear and obvious, so that no one gets lost on their journey, using lots of signposts.

It needs to be complete, without any gaps, so that no one gets stuck.

It can’t have too many steps… which would make the journey arduous and for some, not worth the effort.

…but it can’t have too few steps either… because there are steps that everyone needs to take, even if they barely touch them as they move to the next.

The fact is that there are certain steps that every potential client must use, and if these steps are missed, or jumped over, this can cause problems.

Jumping steps for them means that they may be missing out on key information that turns a good customer into a bad customer, who wants a refund and complains.

…and if you’re the one forcing them to jump steps, then you can come off as aggressive and too eager.

Because you’re building a relationship with them, and there are rules that successful relationships follow.

Relationship Rules

In the 1970’s a human behaviourist (Desmond Morris) set out to understand the way that humans build a relationship. (I was introduced to this concept in a seminar run by Ryan Deiss from digitalmarketer.com)

What Morris discovered was that we all follow a pathway – and he identified 12 steps on this path, eventually publishing a book called the 12 stages of intimacy.

In the book, he explained that when it came to relationships,  humans go through 12 steps.

…eye to body… …eye to eye… …voice to voice… …hand to hand… …hand to body… etc. etc. (we all know where it leads!)

What was interesting is that when looking at the success/failure of relationships, he noted that the biggest reason for failure was if someone jumped a few steps.

Think about it.. if someone came up to you and put your hand on their shoulder before even speaking to you… how would you feel?… Not a great way to start a relationship, if one was possible at all.

…and that is why a path for your customers to follow ensures that neither of you jumps any steps.

This, along with being complete, clear and being of the right number of steps, are the key characteristics of a successful pathway that will take someone from not knowing you exist to being your biggest fan.

…so what actual steps should a potential customer have on your path?

Building a path for your business

The paths for every business, product and target market are as unique as a fingerprint.

But every single path follows a similar plan, and can be broken down into specific stages, stages that are the same for everyone and every business.

Which means you can use these stages to analyse your own paths, spot any gaps or places where people ‘fall off’ the path and also understand where you can apply your marketing grease.

During my career as a marketer I’ve identified the key stages that every person goes through taking them from Innocence (not knowing you exist) to Advocacy (telling the world how great you are).

…and I’ve created a framework which I call the Avatar’s Path that makes it easy to see each step, and analyse your own path.

It takes an Avatar you create (representing a target market you want to work with) and breaks their journey down into 8 individual steps, each with a clear objective that needs to be achieved before the next step can be reached.

By using this framework I can see exactly where any business is failing with their marketing, and thus make relevant and appropriate suggestions on how to not only fix it, but to take it to the next level.

It’s a template for their marketing plan, and something every business should be using.

This is what it looks like…

{Avatar Path Basic Graphic}

Using this framework allows you to understand your path, and ensure that it’s complete, signposted and flows naturally.  You are in control of the path and so it’s your job to ensure people follow the path, don’t fall off, get distracted or just stop.

The Steps on the Avatar’s Path

Let’s breakdown the 8 individual steps so you can understand how they might apply to your business, products and customers.

Step 1: Innocence

When someone is innocent, they don’t even know you exist…

Whether it’s that they aren’t aware what you offer is a possibility (blind innocence), they know what you do is possible but don’t believe they’re in the market for it at the moment (passive innocence), or are in the market for what you offer (active innocence).

Your goal is to help them to be conscious of your offering, which is the first gateway they need to pass through.

This could mean using PR and Social Media if they’re in the blind innocence stage or passive innocence stage, creating targeted Facebook Advertising at a market sector… or ensuring you appear in search results from google (SEO/PPC) if they are in the active innocence stage.

Once they are conscious you exist, they move to the next step.

Step 2: Aware

Someone who is aware, are conscious you exist, but don’t really know anything about you, or what makes you good/different.

Your goal is to help them to learn more and get them to give you their interest, which is the next gateway they need to pass through.

How do you get someone interested in you?… Before the internet, it might have been an advertorial in the newspaper, or even an attractive and well maintained shop front.  Nowadays, your website and the content you’ve got there is just as important, providing value and knowledge through articles and insights, getting the avatar to spend time with you.

Once you have their interest, they move to the next step.

Step 3: Suspect

Someone who is a suspect is interested in you and has spent time learning more, but they’re still “part of the masses” and haven’t made a specific step towards you, identifying themselves as an individual.

Your goal is to help them put their hand up, turn them from a part of the crowd into an individual and initiate a conversation.

Conversations used to be just that… get them to pop into your store and talk, or pick up the phone… of course, things are now much more varied. Using forms on your website to capture someone’s email, pop up online chat options and the contact us page are all ways that someone can have a conversation with you.

Once they want a conversation, they move to the next step.

Step 4: Prospect

Now we’re getting into closer to them buying, and at this stage they are engaged with you as a known individual… but likely they still need to warmed up fully.

Your goal is to get them excited about you and what you’re offering, and considering they’re now in a conversation, you should have ample opportunity to do this.

Geting someone excited could be giving them lots of value via an email sequence, or advice on how to best use the product once they’ve purchased… but you need to be aware that if you don’t succeed at this level they could turn into a Zombie.

A Zombie is someone who’s details you’ve still got, but who have got stuck on the path… and need special treatment to either get them back moving… or get rid of them (Some Zombies will never turn back into a potential customer).

Once you’ve dealt with any Zombies, and they are now excited, they move to the next step.

Step 5: Lead

A Lead is someone who is really excited about you, and is almost getting their wallet out to pay you, but hasn’t actually given you any money… yet.

Simply put, your goal at this level is to get them to make a purchase.

If you’ve done a good job up to this point, then hopefully it’s a ‘no-brainer’ and they’ll have their wallet open, begging you to take their money.

Unfortunately, many businesses make it really hard for someone to buy!… it could be they’re not clear about what people are actually buying… or they make the checkout process really hard.

Fortunately, the technology is available to take payments virtually anywhere in the world, and make it easy for someone to buy online and pay through tools like paypal and stripe.

Once you’ve got a purchase, they move to the next step.

Step 6: Customer

Congratulations, you’ve got them to purchase something… but is this a one time thing, or is there a way of getting them to buy more, or something different.

Successful businesses are ones that can get customers to make multiple purchases and this is the goal at this step.

Whether that’s getting them to come back and buy again, or telling them about related products you offer, you want them to buy more… you’ve done the hard work in getting them to part with their hard earned cash, and so hopefully you can get them to do it again.

This stage is as much about philosophy as it is about technology and tools… are you able to ask for a repeat, an upsell or a cross sell…

Once they’ve made multuple purchase, they move to the next step.

Step 7: VIP

You love VIPs… they are people who really like what you do and are prepared to buy from you again and again… but they could still do more.

Getting a VIP to fall in love with you is the last gateway you want someone to go through.

If someone loves you and your business, they’ll give you feedback, review you positively and tell all their friends.

…and you can make it easy for them to do this by asking them! (obvious I know, but so many people don’t do this). Many VIPs would be happy to give a testimonial if someone asked them for one.

This is a step where applying the Marketing Grease can have big benefits.  Things like review pages, emails asking them for reviews and even referral programs so that they can talk about your products to others and share in the results are all applicable.

Once they fall in love, they move to the final step.

Step 8: Advocate

Advocates are your biggest fans… they buy more and actively tell the world how great you are.

It’s your job to keep them here and help them kickstart the process for others who are at the innocent stage and help them become conscious of you.

…and thus the whole process starts again.

At this point, their relationship with you has transcended to the point where they feel like they are part of your organisation, you deal with them individually and customer service is personal.

The more advocates your business can have, the faster you will grow – and getting as many people to this stage (and keeping them here) will ensure your business will thrive, no matter the circumstances.

The Avatar’s Path IS your marketing plan

Marketing is about helping people move from not knowing you exist along the path to becoming your biggest fan.

So when you’re planning, reviewing and building your path, you are developing the marketing plan for your business.

…and the even greater thing about the path, is that it keeps your focus on the things that matter.

Nowadays, it’s so easy to be distracted by the latest shiny marketing tool… they get created all time.

With the Avatar’s Path framework, you will immediately understand where this tool might help… and whether it’s the area that you need help with.

Thus, saving yourself from becoming a marketing magpie… someone who’s all about the new and the shiny..

Every Business has a path… you need to own it and make it work

The fact is if customers are finding you and buying from you, you have a path.

It might be overgrown, it might have a few gaps, but if you make a sale, you have one.

…but just because one is there doesn’t mean it’s great…

The single most important thing you can do to improve the marketing for your business is to review your paths.

Understand the journey that someone takes and keep asking yourself “what happens next?”.

…and then seeing where you can apply some Marketing Grease to make the journey easier and more likely to happen.

Simply put… the easier you make it for someone to buy from you, the more likely they will – the Avatar’s path helps you to do this.