What is a Journey-based Ad Strategy? And Why it Works

Marketers are hearing a lot about the customer journey – from the likes of Google and HubSpot especially – and know that understanding your ideal customer’s journey is the key to implementing a successful marketing campaign. This is even more true today when that journey contains multiple touchpoints, online and offline, and can occur across multiple devices.

As a result of this focus on the customer journey, strategies such as lead nurturing emails have grown in popularity. One form of lead nurturing is known as journey-based ad strategy and helps to improve the conversion rate of your campaigns and quality of your leads.

What is a Journey-based Ad Strategy?

As the name implies, journey-based advertising is the strategy of implementing a series of paid ad campaigns focused on the stages and touchpoints of the customer journey. You can break down every customer journey into high-level phases; these are typically levels of intent that a user passes through as they research their problem or opportunity and viable solutions. These phases are sometimes called the awareness, consideration and decision stages (also known as the buyer’s journey).

For example, let’s imagine you own a car dealership. When your prospective customer is starting to research the type of vehicle they want, they are in the awareness stage of their journey. In this stage, they might see your display ad on a local news site with a message about “the top-rated SUVs for safety.” Once they click through on the ad, they land on your dealership’s website where they see a listing for the top 3 models based on safety ratings.

When your prospective customer begins to drill deeper into researching each model’s benefits, they are in the consideration stage. Ultimately, they will narrow down their decision to a single model, and they might go back to Google to search for dealerships who sell them nearby.

Ultimately, your prospective customer is ready to buy the SUV they have decided on, so they navigate back to your website to get a quote, indicating they are in their decision stage.

Historically, paid ads have been thought of as a tactic that sits at the beginning of that journey, focused on driving more brand awareness. Once someone has engaged with the ad, the ad’s job is then over – relying on the website to take over from there.

With the introduction of increased tracking and targeting abilities on ad networks, however, marketers are realizing that paid ads are more than just a tactic for delivering a brand message measured in impressions and click-throughs. Ads are also equipped to support a strategy focused on lead generation and conversion beyond the ad itself. When you shift your thinking from just an awareness play to a conversion strategy, you have taken the first step to developing a journey-based ad strategy.

From there, you want to focus your ad strategy on messages that nurture a user incrementally closer to the next conversion or engagement in that customer journey. Using targeting and tracking pixels, you can bring these audiences closer to becoming a customer with each click, form submission or page view. An example of this strategy applied could be:


These ads should be targeted to your ideal audience with the objective of initially exposing a broad number of people to your brand with a message focused on the questions they have early on in their research. In our example above, these could be the ads that live on the local news site to bring a lead in at the awareness stage.


Search campaigns should be focused on the questions that appear in the early, middle and later stages of their research process, segmented by keywords, indicating the progression through low to high levels of intent to convert. Again, using the SUV example, these search terms targeted to each phase of the journey could be:

  • Awareness – Top SUVs by Safety Rating
  • Consideration – [Model] Features
  • Decision – [Model] Dealer Near Me


These campaigns then serve as the glue between each stage of that journey by focusing on driving each cohort from the awareness to consideration stage, and then the consideration to decision stage. Remarketing could also include ads focused on any abandonment or drop-off even later in this journey (think: those coming up for renewal or repurchase). If we were to implement a remarketing strategy for the car example, it might look something like:

  • Targeting those who have viewed the Top SUVs by Safety Rating page with an ad around comparing the three models.
  • Targeting those who have drilled into one of the models with an ad focused on getting a quote.

Why does it work?

When you serve the right message at the right time, people are not only more apt to pay attention, but also more apt to retain the information. For example, if you were to serve an ad with a call-to-action to “request a quote” to an audience that is hearing about your brand for the first time through that ad, you should have the expectation that the percentage of converting visitors would be very low due to the disconnect between the two levels of intent.

Instead, if you marry the targeting and messaging of your ads to the stage of the customer journey that the prospect is in, you can expect to have a much higher conversion rate because your ad becomes infinitely more contextual and relevant to the user.

We understand that your paid advertising can be a complex web of campaigns. If you are considering testing out a journey-based ad strategy, we would suggest starting by evaluating where in your customer journey you are seeing the biggest drop-off today, and from there, implementing a journey-focused ad strategy designed to reduce the drop-off by motivating users to move to the next stage of their journey with your brand.

About VONT Performance Digital Marketing

At VONT we believe that change is the only constant in the digital world – and that excites us. When tools and environments are constantly changing, new opportunities to help our clients achieve success are constantly arising. Each new advertising technology, social platform, or design approach allows us to improve on the results we achieve for our clients.

We believe in this idea of continual fine-tuning so much that we named our company VONT, which means to achieve exponential improvement in incremental steps. It is our core belief, and the reason why we are not simply a web design company or simply a digital advertising agency, but rather a long-term, single source partner providing a comprehensive array of web development and digital marketing capabilities.

In short, we’re here so that our clients achieve success in the ever-changing digital world.

If you’d like to learn more about VONT and the work we’ve done with our client partners, visit our Work page. Or, if you have a question, contact us. We’ll get right back to you!

Written By

The VONT Team