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In Defense of the Simple Customer Journey

Now that the customer journey concept has evolved beyond its infancy, much of the chatter among marketing bloggers and commentators has shifted to “the nonlinear customer journey.” Their point is that because digital content is always available and social media users generate mountains of stuff every second, the simple customer journey framework no longer applies.

When you follow their logic, you wind up with a customer journey template that looks like this:

Itkin.CustomerJourneyPicInPost

Yikes.

The problem with all this added complexity is that despite the proliferation of digital content and media, the fundamental process of buying products hasn’t changed. Sure, it’s easier than ever to make impulsive purchases, and many of those are triggered by digital content accessed at the spur of the moment.

But contemporary consumer research continues to reinforce the fact that the elements of the customer journey are the same as they ever were.

A great example is this Forrester report, which breaks the fundamental customer journey into four phases:

  • Customers discover a product or service.
  • They explore it.
  • They buy it.
  • They engage with the company and other buyers after the sale.

If you’ve spent any time looking at different customer journey frameworks (like the one McKinsey published in 2009), Forrester’s breakdown should look very familiar.

All this is not to say that customer journeys can’t be nuanced and detailed. The opposite is true. To be useful, a customer journey needs to be a full account of the process — and in constructing that account, some complexity is necessary.

Here are three best practices to help you develop and make good use of comprehensive journeys without drowning in the details.

1. Only develop as many journeys as you need.

A key early step in the journey-mapping process is to understand the functional divides in your marketing audience. That is, who are the groups of people who follow a common journey to (and with) your brand? If your brand has three key audience sub-groups, but all of them can be addressed by the same marketing tactics, sales presentations and customer service personnel, then you only need one journey. Be sure you cover your bases without mapping more journeys than necessary.

2. Don’t confuse touchpoints with phases.

Customer journeys are broken down into basic phases (usually the same ones Forrester describes) that all bleed into each other. But within the phases are numerous touchpoints, the interactions between the consumer and the brand.

Customer journeys can go horribly awry when touchpoints are prioritized over phases. The image at the beginning of this article is a great example of that.

The way to avoid overthinking here is to think about what each touchpoint’s primary purpose is — and what it means at different phases in the customer journey. If a particular type of touchpoint truly serves multiple masters, then note the difference in your journey map. For example, broadcast advertising might primarily serve to build awareness, but blog content will likely be used in different ways. (A prospective customer might read blog posts offering a product review, while a current customer would want to read about how to use the product.)

Note the distinctions clearly. But never lose sight of the bigger picture, or your elegant journey will devolve into a boondoggle.

3. Don’t just use the journey for marketing.

Customer journeys are commonly associated with communications — and for a good reason. With the fragmentation of media and proliferation of web-connected technology, journeys are instrumental in keeping marketing campaigns on the rails.

But they can do much more than that. The value of the customer journeys extends beyond marketing in two key ways:

  • They illustrate the transition from marketing to sales, which can illuminate excellent opportunities for branded content and other tactics to support the sales process.
  • They document the experience of buying and using the brand, and identify opportunities to simplify the purchasing process and add value after the purchase through better customer service and ongoing engagement.

Starting the journey (to your journey)

If you’re taking on a journey initiative, this simple first step can make the process much easier and more worthwhile:  Integrate.

Your customers can’t see your internal silos and don’t care about them. They demand a seamless experience, and that requires a seamless approach to the journey process. So any initiative to map the journey must include all customer-facing functions of your business. Period.

Start there, and you’re headed in the right direction.

 

Image Source: Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)