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Inbound Marketing  |   Marketing Strategy  |   User Experience

Buyer Journey vs. User Journey: What’s the Difference?

Tom DiScipio

By Tom DiScipio

Mar 28, 2017

Buyer Journey vs. User Journey: What’s the Difference?

Let’s take a quick “journey” together. Pun intended… Ha!

Imagine for a second that you’re a part of the project management team at a mid-market, consulting and advisory firm.

You’ve just been tasked with the HUGE responsibility of finding a replacement software platform that will help you better manage your client data and project information.

Now, as the owner of this objective, you’re about to embark on two related and intertwined, but unique paths:

Enter… The Buyer & User Journey

The Buyer Journey (sometimes referred to as the Customer Journey) is the natural and instinctive process of a buyer to research, consider, and make a decision to purchase the best solution to solve their challenge.

In contrast, the User Journey is a strategically constructed, interactive experience (sometimes referred to as User Experience or UX) designed to guide someone to their decision.

To illustrate, let’s put ourselves back in the shoes of the project management person from earlier...

Being the proactive, data-driven person you are, your first reaction is to do a deep dive internally and begin gathering the requirements from your team (this is what we call the awareness/research portion of the Buyer Journey).

You look to uncover some of the biggest pain points people in your organization are feeling when using the existing platform.

Once you’ve got some initial direction, it’s off to Google to start completing your initial research where you find a stellar blog article on a software company’s website that addresses the SAME challenges your team described earlier.

Once you make it to the website, this is where the user journey comes a bit more into play.

After the blog article, you decide to download their 20-page guide to “Switching Software Platforms.” A few days later, after reading through the guide, you opt-in to one of their live webinars that presents a high-level overview of the platform as well as a client success story.

Finally, you found the client success story from the webinar so compelling that you jump over to their demo page and request a demo, not only for yourself but also for two other members of your team involved in the decision making process.

And the rest... is history.

Why it Works

There’s a marked cohesion within the above story that seems to flow naturally from the first touchpoint to last. That’s because we’re seeing the convergence of a research process from the buyer with a matched user experience by the software provider to engage the buyer at each stage of their journey.

Now imagine for a second if the software provider didn’t offer consideration-stage content like a live webinar with a case study attached to it. Would that buyer have continued their research process with that company?

Let’s take a look at both the Buyer Journey and the User Journey individually to why this is unlikely.

The Key Differences Between the Buyer Journey and the User Journey

1. The Buyer Journey Exists - The User Journey is Crafted

The first and most critical thing to note is that the Buyer Journey is not constructed by anyone else but the Buyer themselves. According to Conductor, the term Buyer Journey is, “a framework that acknowledges a buyer’s progression through a research and decision process.”

We’re simply acknowledging that there’s a natural journey to a purchase.

Now, although that journey may vary, especially between B2B and B2C, marketers can apply labels to what would be general stages that the Buyer travels through when making a purchase.

IMPACT has adopted HubSpot’s definition of these stages which are: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. See the figure below.


How does this help us?

Identifying how prospects are entering the buying process as well as what their requirements are along the way, gives us marketers critical insights when crafting a user journey or experience to match their process.

If we quickly loop back into our story from before, we can see that the User Journey consists of the actual interactions (and micro-interactions) that the buyer has with the software provider -- The Buyer Journey is largely internal.

Here’s how that looks in the context of the story:


2. Origin

It doesn’t seem as if there’s a way to trace the development of the Buyer Journey framework back to a single date, but what we do know is that it did originate within the marketing and sales space.

By now, and even back then, savvy marketers were spending a vast majority of time building out Buyer Personas, or fictional representations of their ideal customers, based on buyer interviews, deep research, and meetings with the sales team to uncover the most common objections. From this type of data, we can reveal what carries or blocks a buyer within the Awareness, Consideration, or Decision stages.

By contrast, the advent of the User Journey originated within the web design and software development world. Software programs and websites (which are mini software programs believe it or not) have specific actions for the end user to take, and therefore, designers and developers have to create and manipulate the experience to help users reach a specific goal or endpoint.

It is the sum of these two parts (both from different worlds) that allow marketers to create the highest converting and most compelling journeys for their buyers.

3. Rate of Change

In the world of marketing, technology and techniques are advancing faster and faster every day, thereby creating a culture of constant shift or change.

Despite these rapid shifts, we still find that some things remain consistent over longer periods of time. This is especially the case for the Buyer’s Journey.

I would argue that the last tectonic shift within the Buyer Journey happened with the proliferation of search engines where buyers could readily access the majority of the information they needed to make a purchase without the involvement of a salesperson.

Comparatively, the rate of change for the User Journey is much more rapid and iterative than that of the Buyer Journey. This is mainly in part to the increase in the number of ways marketers, and of course, software developers, can interact with or modify the experience of the user.

Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute writes in his book, Content, Inc., how exponentially the number of content/marketing channels has grown compared to 20 years ago.

So, while the Awareness stage of a Buyer Journey may remain as the Awareness stage for some time, a company must now consider the Awareness stage interactions that a buyer has across search, social, podcast, blogs, etc. versus just one interaction on a website.

So what does it all mean?

It means that marketers need to consistently evaluate and update the User Journeys they’ve constructed to match the new ways buyers are becoming aware, considering, and deciding on what to purchase.

Key Takeaways

All in all, though the Buyer Journey and User Journey have different origins, they ultimately work towards the same goal -- selecting the ideal solution to a pain point, ideally worse.

With this insight in mind, work to research your buyer personas and effectively align your marketing and website journeys with your prospect’s natural path to a purchase.

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