Mapping your Marketing Strategy to the Buyer Journey

Mapping your Marketing Strategy to the Buyer Journey


Isn’t it exciting to be on the hunt for the next BIG IDEA? We like it, too! But we also know that a hint of skepticism should always accompany exciting big-picture marketing ideas. It's remarkably easy to get distracted by the method of delivery and wind up delivering a version of your brand story that is a near miss–something that is close but not effective. Fun projects can be great to work on, but to be effective marketing campaigns they must tie directly to sales goals.

One way to rein in big ideas is to have a system for evaluating if they are the BEST fit for the mission of your brand. In a mission-based marketing system, Water Street starts every campaign by taking a hard look at these four big questions:

These four questions are the foundation for the tools we use to evaluate our client's big ideas and to define what success looks like for every product launch campaign. But how do we get started? Let's take a look at the answers to each of these critical questions. You can take a deep dive with us into defining your audience here, or read on to take a closer look at how to best reach that target audience.

How We Evaluate Creative Campaigns for Manufacturers

Part of the problem with managing a marketing communications program is that there are so many things that you could be doing. We are bombarded with content from all sides, and it is easy to look at something that caught your attention and think, “We should be doing that.” Couple that with Just-In-Time manufacturing schedules that compress the time to create launch materials, and campaigns can quickly become a lot like testing if your pasta is cooked: let’s throw it at the wall to see if it sticks.

Mapping marketing activity against the shopper journey is one way to calm the chaos. Ultimately, every person who buys a brand has traveled through the same stages: from being unaware of a product to purchasing it, then using and (we hope) sharing what they found with family and friends. Our primary goal as marketers is to help shoppers understand if your brand is the right fit for their needs.

Using this sequence of events as a foundation is an effective way to map all marketing activities against the needs of the shopper and their frame of mind during each step of the journey.

It is important to note that the buyer journey is not the same as the sales funnel. The sales funnel is broader; it begins with the market at large, all the people who come across your brand, and then moves through the actions a business is taking to help all of those people self-select into a deeper relationship with their brand.

B2B2C brands actually have two buyer journeys to consider: their consumers and their customers. To simplify the discussion about these two distinct audiences in our practice we use the term, “Shopper Journey” for the consumer, the person who is putting one unit of a product into their shopping cart. We reserve the term, “Buyer Journey” to describe a brand’s customers and channel partners or the merchants and dealers who are signing up for large contracts to resell those individual units to the shopper.


Even if it isn’t outlined on paper or in a brief somewhere, every product development team has a particular type of person in mind when designing and testing products. That target customer is key to creating a strategic marketing plan. Starting with the ideal shopper in mind doesn’t just define consumer sales, it helps brands identify ideal business partners–the buyers–as well. Brands should seek out relationships with resellers who are serving the same market. To put it simply, a luxury brand would not make their first foray into brick-and-mortar retail by reaching out to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has an enormous shopping audience, but that is not the company that comes to mind when you think “decadence.”

When developing the Shopper Journey Map, it’s important to stay focused on this ideal shopper and not stray into aspirational markets. These peripheral markets won’t necessarily be excluded, it is possible that alternate campaigns may be developed to reach other groups, but mixing shopper types and personas adds confusion, and the result will be muddled messaging.

Shopper Journey maps typically include categories such as Out-of-Market, Awareness, Research, Evaluate, Point of Sale, After the Sale, In Use and Evangelizing. We include Opportunity in our version of a shopper journey, too. As the shopper journey becomes more defined, you may see ways to offer line expansions, bundles, or related products or services that can enhance your brand’s relationship with the shopper. Park those ideas under opportunity for your team to consider exploring further.


For each of the stages listed above, what is happening in your shopper’s world? For instance: With food brands “Research” might equate to “Menu Planning.” “Evaluate” or when a Shopper chooses a brand, might become “Create a Shopping List.” The “Point of Sale” could be a literal shelf in a brick-and-mortar store; for online sales, it’s the shopping cart. “After the Sale” could cover two actions for food. One for “Storage” and another for “Meal Preparation.” “Evangelizing” is recommending a brand to friends and family. “Opportunity” would cover other home activities related to your product, such as hosting parties, holiday gatherings, teens in sports programs, toddlers in daycare, etc.

Now that the categories for a Shopper Journey map have been established and defined what they mean for your product and your shopper, the next step is to document the journey from the shopper’s point of view.

What kind of activities is your shopper doing during each of these stages? If your target audience includes busy moms, then maybe when they are “Out of Market,” they are spending a lot of time in their car waiting for children to be released from school or sports activities. Are you targeting Millennial and Gen-Z males? They might be spending a lot of non-shopping time gaming or watching soccer. Knowing who you are selling to helps you draw a picture of their activities when they are NOT shopping.

How does your shopper become aware of brands? What is the shopper’s frame of mind when they are considering a brand? In the busy mom example, maybe they struggle to find healthy brands their young children are willing to eat (perhaps with a bit of exasperation thrown in!). Use the stages of the journey to capture everything you know about your shopper and their frame of mind during each stage. If you don’t understand something but want to learn if it’s important to your shopper, capture those questions, too. We have found that these kinds of questions are very helpful down the road.

It's essential to address the shopper’s state of mind during each step along their journey. Then start to list the ways your brand helps the shopper during each of the stages across the bottom half. What problems do you solve for your shoppers, or what needs are you fulfilling? At this point, you should begin to see some communication patterns here: The shopper is feeling X, and my brand will deliver Y for them.

The last step we take in mapping the shopper journey is to list all the possible ways you might reach a shopper during each of these stages. These are the seeds of a strategic campaign: a defined shopper, their state of mind, ways your brand addresses their needs, and how you can reach them with your message. Keep the chart handy and refer to it at the start of every campaign, as this map will help you weigh your options when you are trying to sort through all the possible ideas and projects you can undertake to reach your audience. We’ve seen brands have great success by using this organizational tool on a large whiteboard in their marketing “war room.”

Building the Buyer Journey Map

Your channel partners have different needs than the consumer, and they’ll have a vastly different point of view than the home consumer. Buyers will be looking at your consumer marketing through the lens of their business needs and will be weighing how your brand is going to help them meet their sales goals. We find that the best channel relationships are with businesses that are targeting the same shoppers as your brand. With big box brands, much of the communication rests with a few key salespeople. That doesn’t mean the communication needs go away, however. Retail Buyers will still be going through the same high-level stages, but they’ll need to learn about your brand and how it fits their needs; they want your story told from their point of view, not the shopper’s.

Here are some examples of how the buyer’s journey differentiates from the shopper’s journey.

  • Out of Market: What are buyers doing when they are not thinking about the product lines in their store or department? What other demands does their organization place on their time?

  • Awareness: How can you attract a buyer’s attention? The answer will vary by channel, but you’ll need to consider what tools your sales team has at their disposal for reaching buyers.

  • Research: Once you have a buyer’s attention, what information do they need to stay engaged with your product line? What motivates a buyer to consider adding or changing brands in your category? Do you know how your buyers are evaluated by their managers?

  • Evaluate: Again, it varies by channel, but think about how a buyer evaluates a brand’s product, price, and program? Is your buyer rewarded for a higher margin per unit sold? Or are they graded by the number of units they move? Or both?

  • Point of Sale: What opportunities would your brand have at the shelf? Club sales look for bundled product. Many grocers have programs for calling out local, regionally sourced brands. After the Sale: What service benefits can you demonstrate to buyers regarding fill rates and clean orders?

  • In Use: Does your packaging and/or order system make stocking and restocking your products easier for store associates? Do you have a promo system to aid store sales?

  • Evangelize: Buyers aren’t necessarily clicking likes and shares on a social platform, but there are ways your brand can help them perform successfully in their job. Are you able to provide shopper or market data that demonstrates the success of your brand with a particular retail channel

  • Opportunity: What do you know about the buyer’s role, or the channel, that may highlight opportunities for your brand? Does your buyer compete for regional performance? Are there seasonal programs that your brand can enhance?

Marketing traditionally has a love-hate relationship with Sales: Your teams need each other but often don’t share enough information for each group to be operating at their most effective level. Organizing your brand story in a way that serves the buyer’s needs for each channel is a way to deliver materials that are a home-run for your sales team. Involving Sales in the mapping process does two things: Sales can provide intel about each channel they serve, and their contributions help build a sense of partnership between the departments.

Identifying Digital Communication Channels for B2B & B2C

We are all about digital communication strategies for B2B2C brands. It is the easiest way to evaluate your marketing program and directly tie your activity to product sales. After we’ve got a reliable picture of both your ideal shopper’s journey and your buyer’s journey, we then take time to diagram all the ways to reach these targets with your brand message.

We address both target audiences here, buyers and shoppers, and we include any other influencers who may be carrying your message to the consumer for you. It’s important to list all the players between you and your shopper and all the media channels that could be used to reach them. A distributor may have a regional sales rep and also a route salesman. Include all relevant parties so you can identify everyone who could influence the purchase of your products.

For each persona, chart the communication channels you might use to reach them. For instance, most of your distributor personas could be reached by email, but a route salesman? Not so much. Once we’ve mapped this out, it is easy to see what tools overlap and possible opportunities you have to leverage content. The final marketing plan will leverage divisible content–content that is easily repurposed into smaller, edited, components that can be adapted to each audience or tool we use.

Budgeting Marketing Funds Around Closing the Sale

We started this article by talking about idea management. There are so many ideas, and deadlines, how do you know what tactic is the right one invest in for your brand? Having a clear picture of both the shopper’s journey and the buyer’s journey is also a great way to start assigning values for marketing tactics.

If you are investing a significant amount in sports promotions to create awareness but don’t have a way for shoppers to take the next step toward a sale, you might consider either redefining your sports campaigns so they drive shoppers to the next step or moving some of those funds toward another activity that is closer to the point of sale.

There is a lot more we can say about budget, but first and foremost: always start by providing a clean and efficient way to close the sale. There needs to be a specific way for someone to take action when they are ready to hand over money. If closing that sale is complicated or confusing put whatever portion of your budget it takes to make the close as smooth as possible. Otherwise, all the money spent on earlier stages of the journey is a wasted expense. Once the POS process is smooth and reliable, then we can back out and start improving all the other points of contact.

Mapping your shopper’s and buyer’s journey keeps all of your marketing efforts aligned. Through mapping, you gain a clear picture of all the interactions your audience has with your brand. Organizing your information around the stages leading to and from the point of sale gives us insight into planning upstream campaigns as well as downstream product improvements or new product developments. As we develop these tools for our clients we are able to frame the annual spend around specific contact points with both shoppers and buyers.

Understanding and documenting who you are speaking to and how you are reaching them is the foundation of marketing strategy, and why we address these first. Once we have these key points mapped out, we can craft highly effective campaigns. And that, my friends, is when the fun starts. We’ll start connecting the right shoppers with the right products and deliver your brand message the right way at the right time.