Customer journey is an enduring concept that helps to map the flow how customers make decision and how they establish the relationship with the brand. However, although it is so widely adopted, there is actually no perfect structure to reflect and conceptualise the real case.
Moreover, the digital trend has reshaped every aspect of marketing, as well as consumption. It seems more than difficult to convert knowledge or data from the journey into practical communication, “pushing” customers to a further stage.
How to overcome these barriers and avoid misreading of the data? How to change old perceptions and embrace the new reality?
In general, customer journey could be considered as the procedure of decision making. It separates the customers by levels of intimacy they perceive towards the brand, and tracks their purchasing behavior in a dynamic way.
With customer journey, brands can optimize their marketing strategy by triggering their customers at the best touch point. Moreover, it helps people who actually carry out the campaign, such as the designers to do their job in the context of customer emotion and experience.
The convergence & divergence of customer journeys
There are a couple of versions of journey, which either converge or diverge in different approaches. They could be roughly settled into three categories.
One is linear and hierarchy structured journey, which derives from the traditional sales/purchasing funnel, featured by AIDA model – Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action (Lewis, 1898). Descendants of AIDA extends the last phase to retention, then refines or splits those phases according to own definition and emphasis of marketing goals.
Another is nonlinear journey, some of which are shaped as a cycle. For instance, the Experience Cycle, from compelling, orienting, embedded, generative, reverberating, and anew compelling… (Dubberly & Evenson, 2008), highlights the role of word-of-mouth in renewing the whole process. McKinsey’s circular journey (Court et al., 2009), composed of consideration, evaluation, closure and post purchase under the loyalty loop, demonstrates the potential of win or lose at each phase. These kind of journeys demonstrate a more dynamic movement of customers in an information-explosive era, and figure out the possibility that customers quit or consolidate at each stage.
As to the remaining, randomly-ordered journeys are in truth most similar to the real case, but it won’t bring practical meanings for business.
The prevailing journeys in the market have respective drawbacks. The first linear structure, as mentioned, fails to illustrate how customer move from each phases in specific ways. In reality, customers may get frustrated by the product or service, then they go back or just quit the journey. Or they feel more than delighted, renew the retention stage independently.
The circular journey, on the other hand, does better job but still misses some key points. It ignores how fast customers move to the next phase, as some customers may accelerate their journey while others may slow down at some particular point, this is what companies pay attention to, but failed to reflect in the journey.
Apply customer journey to marketing
Whatever structure the journey is mapped, the ultimate purpose is to build effective marketing strategies and push customers into action. Since there are intrinsic limitations for the model itself, it is risky to misread the data collected. Simultaneously, there constantly exists a gap from analyzing to practicing, especially in a brand-new media environment. Here are some suggestions to develop strategies correspondingly.
1. Remember to look upon things beyond the journey
The journey itself may reflect critical elements like the customer behavior and change of perception, but far more information is missing. Two of them are worth to be mentioned –
- the characteristics of an industry, i.e. whether it has a seasonal sales pattern, or whether it has a strong cross elasticity to another industry, will impact on customer journey by seasons, or by issues intrinsically.
- the personality of a customer segmentation, i.e. whether they are more emotion-driven or much rational persons, and how about their innovativeness, may determine how many efforts will be input to push the customer.
It’s necessary to learn from the external issues before making a judgment.
2. How to eliminate your competitors? Be a good storyteller.
The digital trend has provided abundant information and choices to reshape the way of consumption. The randomly-ordered journey is a closest reflection of the real case, but also implies there would be far more disrupters stealing your customers, and disrupting the journey you have created for your customers both directly and indirectly. It seems much challenging for a company to track and guide its customers in a predictable way, but there are still some solutions.
One of the ways is to become a storyteller, that means to convert the plain advertisements into persuasive stories, to establish intimacy in a friendly way, just as what Claude Hopkins (1923) mentioned in Scientific Advertising,
“Successful salesmen are rarely good speech makers. They are plain and sincere men who know their customers and know their lines.”
This may sound a bit metaphysical, but it has enduring value in advertising, and perceived more significance nowadays.
3. Be tender but efficient, and don’t believe the loyalists
Customer journey is to some extent a storyboard itself. It tells the story about customer experience, and could be related with more descriptive data, such as the emotions and motivations to further understand the context. More fundamentally, it is an evolvement of trust toward the brand, and should be tenderly dealt with and not to hurt the experience at each phase.
Yet, it requires efficiency as well. As disrupters are emerging at anytime and anywhere, the potential customers, even those who already at the loyalty phase, will quit the journey accidentally.
McKinsey (2009) has noticed that customer loyalty could be divided into two types. One is the active loyalists, who highly speak of your product and even recommend to others. The other is passive loyalists, who stick to your product because of frustration and laziness to choose. The latter group of loyalists are open to swift to your competitors. So it’s most critical to constantly maintain the relationship with your customers, and try to develop active loyalists.
To sum up, customer journey is a classical tool in marketing. Traditional structures are mostly linear, which fail to track the movement of customers who make decision in a nonlinear, and even random way. Much prevailing and advanced templates, like McKinsey’s decision journey, also ignores critical dimensions of movement.
Faced with growing trend of digitalisation, companies should be more critical in using this model to analyze problems, and should change the way of communication. Moreover, encountered with intensive competition, customers are more easy to drop out the journey. Thus much tender but efficient actions should be done to each phase.