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Don't just map the customer journey, create it!

Customer journey mapping has become a marketing holy grail - but if all brands undertake the same analysis and make the same tactical and technical decisions to serve the journey, what will create the difference that sets them apart?

Written by:
Nils Koch Jensen, Partner

Customer journey, customer decision journey, purchasing process – or any other variations of the term – are phrases marketers in all industries have adopted to replace the good old funnel, that is now apparently declared dead by many.

Our world is different to what it was in the 1920s when AIDA was first brought to life. Driven by the fact that the customer behaviour can now be tracked (or some elements of it), we see two fundamental changes: 

  • Customers: Digitalization has brought an increasing level of transparency into all industries and categories. It has become easier to research and compare products, and reach out to other users prior to purchasing. With the rise of e-commerce, customers are less dependent on the physical proximity of stores, distributors and sales companies that carry a limited range of products. In general, these trends push some of the power back to customers, enabling them to make more informed choices about what to buy and where to buy it.
  • Brands: Brands, on the other hand, now have more opportunities to reach customers directly through digital touchpoints. Consequently, their channel partners are no longer their key brand gatekeepers. Instead, companies can start to use their brand power to sell directly and interact more cost-effectively with their customers or even end-users. Also, as the tactical playbook has changed and expanded, brands can now be nimbler when planning how they should address the customer journey. 

Nowadays, we may illustrate the decision journey horizontally instead of vertically or circularly and repetitively instead of a one-off process. The high priests in marketing like to spend hours discussing this but the shape of the decision journey is not the essence of the discussion, it’s how you decide to understand and act on your journey framework of choice that matters.

Mapping is just the beginning

What we are seeing is that companies have matured greatly when it comes to mapping the general customer journey. They have developed a clearer understanding of the roles of channels and media at each phase, how to define the key decision makers, how customers review vendors and where they buy.

When working with companies that have successfully cracked the code for how to turn the journey understanding into business impact, we see that these companies operate at two levels.

  • They fix the baseline and improve the basic customer experience, which we call serving customer journeys.
  • Secondly, they guide their customers, creating a branded experience while building customer preference or additional sales. This we call creating the customer journey.

Level one: Serving customer journeys

This level is typically about understanding and defining a set of key well-defined and predictable flows for groups of different users and decision makers. At this level, digital services, and data and marketing automation can help remove friction and work further towards making the customer experience seamless. This might include such actions as ensuring automated follow-ups on contact requests and product order statuses, as well as showing easy product comparisons and aligning log-ins across apps and websites. Indeed, these are just some of the basic ways you can leverage customer data to improve relevancy.

With increased focus on tech and serving the customer journey, it’s tempting to put a lot of energy and investment into optimising the experience. And user experience across touchpoints is important to remove friction, but rarely leads to truly emotionally engaging or brand-blazing effects. The reality is they are really just small interactions on a chain of customer-controlled actions. Brands that only focus on serving the experience take a trigger-based approach to the customer journey, which in turn leads to a reactive behaviour that never truly captivates the customer or sets your brand apart.

At this first level, the customer is still in control, and he might jump back and forth between potential vendors, as few companies manage to own the journey.

To truly get the most from customer journey marketing, you need to go beyond simply serving, to creating the journey yourself.

Level two: Creating customer journeys

To turn customer journey marketing into a strategic tool, we believe the journey should form the basis of the strategic planning process, and be much more closely connected to concepts such as positioning, branding and the go-to-market strategy.

The key point to remember is that if you manage to create the journey instead of serving it, you will be in control but remain customer-centric at the same time. You will limit or entirely eliminate competition in the process and hence, derive real economic value from the effort.

What we see is that brands that excel at creating journeys “own the mind” and ideally also “own the path.

Own the mind

It’s very easy to be too generic in the way you address customer journeys by thinking they’re all about increasing transparency and choice and allowing your customers to be in full control. Companies that succeed in defining and creating the journey, rather than simply trying to service customer whims, stand a better chance of turning journey insights into sales – and re-sales. 

A big part of this puzzle is winning mind space – and this is something companies that are extremely mission-driven category creators often do. It is these companies that frequently succeed in redefining the category of the product or service in question, instead of playing along the customer’s initial journey and existing preferences. 

Winning marketers focus not just on defining the solution to the need, but aim to redefine the need altogether.

By redefining the need altogether, these companies narrow the competitive field, take the driver’s seat and build a unique position.

 Examples of this could be: 

  • From CMS software to an experienced platform
  • From a car to connected mobility
  • From a restaurant to a sensory experience
  • From a CRM system to a customer success platform 

Differentiated brands and smart category creators do not fear to be opinionated and mission driven. They fight the urge to be a little of something for everybody. This philosophy will repel some segments, of course, but it puts them in a much stronger position for the rest of the journey if they manage to convert potential customers into believers. But, all this begins by having a sound understating of your customers’ default behaviour and mindset.

A key observation here is that owning the mind requires a broader view of the customer journey. A common pitfall in response to fragmented customer behaviour is that the closer the customer moves to the point-of-sale – or other significant conversion points such as physical stores, e-commerce destinations and loyalty/retention programmes – the more brands over-emphasise these touchpoints. This happens because they can directly attribute sales or other conversions to them.

A crucial factor to owning the mind is increasing consideration and awareness in the early stages of the process. These increases will create ripple effects through subsequent stages by boosting conversions and sales. As McKinsey research has shown, initial brand consideration explains 60-80% of variation in sales growth. This goes well beyond simple awareness, as customers also need to have a clear sense of the benefits to include it among brands evaluated in their journey.

For nine out of ten brands, owning the mind inevitably means moving investments and focus from late journey to early journey stages.

At Kunde & Co, we recently supported a well-known and established brand with a long-term integrated consumer campaign. The campaign showed us that in and around periods with investments in early journey stages – building campaign impact prior to customers need arousal – the performance across conversion points laying at the end of the journey skyrocketed with more than 70%.

When it comes to customer journey marketing the early birds truly catch the worm!

To succeed in owning the mind, companies should continually focus on nudging people out of their current worldview, by educating them not just about the solution, but also their need. Yet, we still see too many companies offering bland content and ineffectual tools that could be offered by anyone.

And the end-game of owning the mind: Demand for your solution specifically – not the category in general.

Own the path

To be successful with customer journey marketing you need to make sure you capitalise on the demand you stimulate. A key mistake is creating demand for the category but failing to be present in the moments that matter, ultimately driving traffic or sales to your competitors as a result. Companies should accept and acknowledge that stimulating demand in a category is not only beneficial for themselves but their competitors as well. That is why on top of “owning the mind” your brand’s power will double if you also “own the path”.

Don’t just sell – help customers buy. While creating a customer journey is about ensuring the customer buys or re-buys from you, it’s important to remember that it is not about bombarding them. Instead, it’s to guide and help them to make a more informed and qualified choice based on their personal preference. This enables you to help the customer progress and move towards a conversion.

In order to do so, it’s crucial to have a deep understanding of where the essential touchpoints are and the customer’s state of mind when interacting with these touchpoints. While companies look to exploit and utilise digital platforms in driving customer journeys, the truth remains that digital is only a part of the journey, and perhaps just a fraction of it sometimes.

We still see too many disconnected experiences where there is no real connection between touchpoints. In order to create a strong path to purchase you need to ask what’s next every time you interact with your customer. This might sound obvious, but too often we see companies forget to tie the knot on the customer journey and lead customers further.

A crucial – and difficult – element in owning the path, is ensuring that you pull the customer into your ecosystem as early in the process as possible. The extreme case here is Apple. Apple does not engage in retargeting, programmatic display buying or even tracking pixels or cookies on their site for conversion. They don’t need to. Their ownership of the mind at early journey stages automatically gives them ownership of the path – as customers shortcut searching and go directly to the Apple website to buy.

For those brands that do not hold complete ownership of customers minds to the same level as Apple do, they will benefit from initiatives to own the path. These could include digital service platforms or other digital assets that intuitively and seamlessly enable the customer journey for the user, without them even noticing that they are being pulled through a set of steps that lead to a purchase or re-purchase. With this approach, you utilise personalisation and recommendations to help them buy instead of selling to them. 

9 pointers on how to create customer journeys

Creating customer journeys is not easy. There will always be resource-related questions about what to do and when to do it. However, in our work across markets and industries, we continue to see some common patterns in achieving success: 

  1. Know your key moments and strategic priorities
    Customer journey maps can be a matrix of decision makers, journey phases, touchpoints and customer needs. But, in our experience, depending on the journey in question, customer journeys include two to three critical moments that give you the opportunity to create the journey instead of purely reacting to customer whims. These key moments are industry specific, but you need to understand them to know where to prioritise resources and most often they will lie at early journey stages.
  1. Look beyond the digital footprint
    Marketers tend to over-emphasise what can be measured and suffer from last-click-attribution. This means that the parts of the journey where the customer leaves a digital footprint becomes equal to the full journey and truth. Simply because it is measurable. This is dangerous as it completely forgets about the need to build brand awareness and salience in early journey stages. It also fails to acknowledge the need to empower and engage physical and human touchpoints (if any) in the final stages. To complete the journey, include ethnographic and qualitative interviews with sales people, customer service personnel and customers. Do not simply rely on hard behavioural data from digital tools and platforms.
  1. Understand not just how customers buy, but what they buy
    When creating a strong positioning, successful companies manage to define and own a category. It’s a big mistake to define a positioning that is out of sync with the way customers label and think of product categories and sub-categories. Be different – yet recognisable at the same time.
  1. Move more investments to the early steps of the journey
    To own the mind and influence customers prior to need arousal means that majority of brands must move investments and rebalance focus from late journey stages to early journey initiatives.
  1. Take the journey out of the marketing department
    Once your journey and key moments is defined and validated it must become the focal point of all your commercial efforts. Use it to define go-to-market strategies and product ideations, and ensure collaboration as well as alignment between marketing, sales and other parts of your organisation.
  1. Aim to own the mind and then the path – not just one
    Think in terms of ecosystem and Point-of-sales presence but also mindspace and mental availability. 
  1. Don’t just sell, but help customers buy
    Even though creating customer journeys is ultimately about ensuring that the customer buys or re-buys from you, you need to remember that it’s not about bombarding the customers. Instead, it’s about guiding and helping them make a more informed and qualified choice based on their preference. However, you still need to help the customer progress and move towards a conversion.
  1. Make the customer journey a centre point of your marketing strategy
    Use it as a framework for planning, creative briefs and content creation, as well as non-marketing related activities like product development, customer service tool development and others. 
  1. Create a ripple effect across the journey
    All the way from awareness to conversion. Don’t overlook the passive part of the journey – that is, the part where customers are not actively seeking solutions. Over emphasising the measurable end journey conversion points neglects the importance of brand salience and awareness. According to research by Mckinsey, of two banks that delivered identical journeys, the one with the strongest brand was perceived to deliver a more satisfactory experience. This research shows that brands that inspire their customers with power and appeal deliver 30 to 40 percentage points more satisfaction than their peers.

In sum: Own the mind. Win the path. Create your customer journey – don’t just serve it.

Do you want to know HOW to create customer journeys instead of merely serving them – take a look at this real-life case from Danfoss

Do you want to discuss the implications for your company - reach out to Nils.

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Don't just map the customer journey, create it!

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