For every customer, there is a journey that leads a purchasing decision. A customer recognizes wants and needs, becomes aware of brands, seeks out recommendations, and compares features and so forth. You’ve seen this model before; if not, visualize a funnel with a sequence of stages that describe how a buyer advances through the process of evaluating competing offerings until a single surviving brand is rewarded by a satisfying purchase, “cha-ching.”
If you’re visualizing a way of looking at the buying process for the first time, the funnel is a good place to start. It provides a framework that helps link marketing strategies to customer objectives and helps advance the user from one stage to the next. If you’re syncing marketing objectives to customer experiences, you’re already avoiding the first obsolete convention, distributing dollars to different kinds of media.
Pushing potential customers into the funnel doesn’t ensure that they will fall through to the other side to result in a sale. Leveraging the voice of your customer long after the sale can protect your brand and future profits.
GM, focused on the media, not the journey
General Motors claims that response from its Facebook advertising didn’t meet their expectations. As a result, they publicly withdrew their plans to further their advertising investment. There’s nothing unusual about a large corporation switching agencies or changing direction. But big spending doesn’t necessarily equal big results. Just ask GM. Ford, on the other hand, saw their competitor’s departure as a big opportunity and they’ve got the customer engagement to prove it. Maybe consumers just love Ford trucks or maybe they’re influencing the process beyond the sale, helping to create advocates and collaborators.
GM might have been right. Their efforts weren’t working, but it might have had something to do with not understanding the customer’s journey or the unique kind of interactions and experiences on Facebook. Not taking for granted the complexity or competitiveness of the automotive industry, there’s a lesson here for businesses of all sizes.
The customer’s journey
The customer’s role has changed and so has their journey. They’re better informed and they actively seek out information and opinions from a wider range of influential sources. Much of the time, customers come pre-loaded with familiar brands. As they seek out alternatives, the numbers increase. Even simple buying decisions are considered hours or even days in advance and the number of influences has nearly doubled from 5.2 to 10.4 sources. Source: Google Shopper Sciences, The Zero Moment of Truth.
This idea of a “customer’s journey” was conceived by consultants from McKinsey and Company, who led a study to examine the buying processes of 20,000 consumers in several different categories. They found that the process looked more like a circle than a funnel with multiple points of entry and opportunities to return and participate in the brand beyond the sale. There were also multiple battlegrounds that marketers could win or lose along the way. Even though consumers started the journey with brands that they were familiar with, as they sought out feedback from other authorities, the numbers often increased and new entrants sometimes displaced established ones.
Furthermore, purchasing wasn’t the end of the journey. As customers experienced their purchases, they became advocates or detractors. They joined communities of similar buyers to share stories about their experiences, thus influencing a new generation of potential buyers.
- Start with listening, observing and visualizing your customer’s journey. Make sure that you identify key stakeholders, their objectives and the media touch points at each stage.
- Recognize the importance of each stage in the customer’s journey and then align resources and strategies to the battlegrounds where you can gain leverage.
- Lack of initial awareness doesn’t preclude you from winning a sale. It’s possible to displace an entrenched competitor with the advocacy of a trusted influencer.
- Invite customers to be a part of the process. Invite their feedback. Make them collaborators and co-creators.
- Orchestrate and integrate marketing, public relations and all customer touch points.
Next time: how to map your customer journey