Branding and marketing experts are increasingly talking about the “customer journey” – a fancy word encompassing everything from product discovery to actual purchase action. But what exactly is this “journey” and how, as product or service providers, can we influence it?

Think about it that way: the last time you purchased something other than a routine commodity, did you directly go to the brand’s or retailer’s website and put in your order? Probably not.

There is a very good chance you took a whole load of other actions before finally making the leap and reaching for your credit card.

You may have seen a post on Instagram, then checked out the reviews on Amazon or Tripadvisor. Then you asked your friends or checked out the brand’s website, before finally ending up on a random retail website and making your purchase. This is your “journey”: a long and winding road

The Obscure Road

In most cases, neither consumers nor clients rarely exactly what they want or how they ended up on a particular purchasing point. And this is the exact problem for marketers or business owners. Customers take a journey, but neither they nor brands know exactly how that journey progressed.

With increasingly strict privacy protection laws, it will be harder and harder to trace that journey.

Customers read blog content, check out YouTube, ‘Like’ their friend’s Facebook posts and scour Twitter for information. They might see a native ad that piques their interest, although they may not even be aware it is an ad. Similarly, they can be steered by multiple remarketing campaigns, white papers or in-store interaction tech.

Unless you are one of these predictable individuals who always by the same things at the same stores, the path you took remains obscure. If laws like GDPR spread and get expanded further, even routine purchased will be untraceable.

Brands want three outcomes of the journey: We want the customer

  1. To choose the brand at the end of the journey
  2. To spend the money you want them to spend
  3. To buy the products or services you would prefer them to purchase

 

How Do We Influence A Journey We Know Nothing About? 

In the past, marketers used the idea of the “funnel” as a simile for that customer journey. Attract, Engage, Convert, and so on. There are countless variations of the purchasing funnel. They used to look something like this:

marketing-funnel-diagram.png

Looks intuitive, doesn’t it? Expect it no longer works like this. And even if it does, we no longer have a way of knowing where the “intent” occurs, how the “evaluation” progresses, even where exactly we “attract”. Least of all we know how we ended up at the “purchase” stage.

The customer journey is not a direct route, but a meandering path that frequently doubles back and takes unexpected turns. It can be easily aborted, diverted, interrupted and resumed months later … We just don’t know. 

A typical customer journey takes anything from minutes to months, it can start anywhere in that “funnel”; it invariably involves multiple platforms and channels; it always involves multiple devices and may be influenced by a long list of people from family and friends to influencers and celebrities; and finally, it can be easily aborted due to a long list of factors, from disappointing content, bad web design, negative reviews, and so on.

Every Journey Is Unique

Every journey is unique; every journey has pitfalls. You can’t possibly estimate where a potential customer is headed without some kind of guidance and a way to measure success.

Great marketing isn’t based on gut feeling or guesswork. Increasingly, it’s all about data. In other words, the only way to influence the customer journey is data.

Consumers have never been savvier. They know they will find more information online than they’ve ever found in a physical store. As helpful as this may be for them, it is also a golden opportunity for you to influence their journey. That is, within the rules of data privacy laws and actual technical possibilities.

There are four key elements to influencing the journey: the right way to attract, measuring outputs, solving problems, and building on success.

1. Attraction

You are going to need to provide the right content to the ideal audience. That means different media and content for each platform, updated content depending on changes in the media landscape, and the right tone or brand voice for the right audience.

2. Measuring

While increasingly difficult due to changes in privacy law, we can still gather some data about customers. Whatever data can be collected can be measured, quantified, and analyzed.

Measuring influence isn’t an easy task, particularly when consumers are moving across devices and channels so frequently. Yet the vast amounts of data gained from this process make it incredibly powerful for sellers.

There are many software tools available for that purpose, even though some of them may be running afoul of privacy laws already or in the near future.

3. Solving Problems

Customers may move any which way through the funnel, but they are nonetheless on a distinct journey. They are looking for help to solve a problem or satisfy a need. They are looking for somebody to provide a solution. And the closer to the point of purchasing or fulfilling a CTA they get, the more detailed information or convincing arguments they will need.

Your goal as a brand is to provide the right content at the right time, in sync with the customer’s expectations.

20 years ago, it would be normal to delve into the demographics watching a certain TV show then design adverts to tap into their presumed interests. But now, you have instant access to qualified data that lets you reach out to people in a hyper-personalised, ultra-tailored way. Within the norms of privacy laws of course.

Personalization is not about being pushy or intrusive. Don’t turn into that creepy, pushy sales guy we all dislike. But the more you know somebody; the better you can solve their problems.

4. Build on Success

Examine the way you plan, influence, measure and analyze customer journeys, and use them again for future projects. Building on successful campaigns is the key to improving your bottom line in the long run

Final Take-Aways

In a digital world, marketing is constantly changing. Platforms emerge, fall out of use; new players take the spoils and unsuccessful ones disappear. The pace of change is rapid and it affects businesses of all sizes. Customers are progressively sophisticated in the methods they use to research purchases. Just think of the fortunes of SnapChat. One tweet by a disgruntled celebrity can change the journey path for millions of prospective customers.

The most successful businesses are meeting customers on their journey and adapting this path in order to influence what (and how) they buy.

To achieve your goals, you must accurately anticipate and guide customer journeys by making better use of the available data, without violating local or global privacy laws. The best way to do this is to

  • Collaborate
  • Personalize
  • React in Real Time

For businesses of all sizes, there is really no way to plan multi-channel campaigns, even with the best of planning software. Credible, customized, content, and collaboration with influencers and the right inbound marketing strategies are the only way to success.