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The 'customer decision journey' has long-ago replaced the 'funnel'.
It's now up to marketers to make sure that their brands meet consumer expectations.
If you’re in the market for a particular product today, chances are you won’t be basing your decision simply on the shop assistant’s advice or that advert you saw on the bus last week.
It won’t be because you’ve received a special offer via email, because your sister recommended one or because you saw a celebrity Tweet a picture of their latest favourite. It might not be down to the three review sites you visited or the article you read in the paper.
No; the reality is you’ll be buying from the brand that has so smartly infused itself into your community and consciousness, across multiple touch-points, that your experience with them has been the most positive.
Whatever they're looking to buy, customers today are spoilt for advice when it comes to making a purchase.
The evolving consumer-brand relationship
In 2009 – before the advent of Instagram and Snapchat, in the relatively early days of Twitter - a study by McKinsey looked at consumer habits and suggested that the consumer decision journey (CDJ) had replaced the “funnel” model.
Instead of consumers comparing brands they were already familiar with, the CDJ involved shoppers taking advantage of technology to evaluate products and services more actively, adding and removing choices over time. Today this is truer than ever before.
In response to the shift, retailers have spent the past six years racing to keep up with their newly empowered customers and develop the tools and rationale needed to understand them and wrest back at least some semblance of control.
McKinsey’s later 2015 research suggested that a few of the most competitive brands today can not only react to customers as they make their purchasing decisions, but can also actively shape those decision journeys using a sophisticated, multi-channel approach.
Mckinsey's 2009 consumer decision journey.
Research shows that a customer makes 9.5 visits to a brand website on average before buying and, during that time, does further research, chats to their friends and hunts amongst the competition.
So, it stands to reason that companies need the capacity to deal with the growing number of customer touch-points across the digital-physical space, if we’re able to fully understand customer journeys.
Unfortunately, just because a few of the biggest brands in McKinsey’s research have the multi-channel approach nailed, does not mean that we all have.
A report by ResponseTap and Econsultancy highlighted that 35% of marketers actually see multiple touch-points as a top barrier (rather than an opportunity) to understanding customer journeys.
The survey of 2,000 marketers and ecommerce professionals indicated that only 12% of companies rated themselves as ‘advanced’ at understanding the customer journey, compared to 51% who said they were ‘intermediate’ and 32% who classed themselves as ‘beginner’.
Though it’s no easy task, getting to grips with these methods is vital, not only to boost sales, but also because the CDJ today forms a circle. Once someone has made a purchase, they often share their experience amongst friends and social media followers, but also with the brand itself – the beloved “Loyalty Loop”.
Since these conversations may result in further sales, the job of marketers is to listen, respond and take note of the feedback they’re offered so they can better influence the customer’s decision next time round.
How would you best describe your understanding (or your clients’ understanding) of the customer journey? (From ResponseTap and Econsultancy research)
Who’s doing this well?
To master the CDJ, companies need to be able to automate each step to make the process easier for their customers.
They also need to personalise the experience for each individual. One good example of this was L’Oreal’s Makeup Genius app, which allowed users to try on makeup virtually and test different styles before purchasing. The app makes the CDJ increasingly personalised, as it tracks how the customer uses their makeup and what they buy, allowing it to learn their preferences and make tailored suggestions.
M&S has also transformed the way it interacts with its customers. The company launched its ‘digital lab’ in 2013 to enable rapid development of new in-store technology, and a lot of focus has been on making the CDJ more engaging. One of the projects to emerge from the lab was the Cook with M&S app.
Within the first 10 days of its launch, the app was downloaded 150,000 times and reached number one in the ‘Food & Drink’ category on the iTunes store.
At Philips we also increasingly take a connected and data-driven approach to our marketing strategy. We use integrated customer data to deliver timely, relevant, personalised experiences and integrated performance data to optimize experiences in near real-time.
We monitor online conversations through our Global Digital Command Centre, feeding into brand, marketing and customer services.
L'Oreal's Makeup Genius app
It’s about the journey
Back in 2009, the McKinsey consultants who formulated the concept of the CDJ wrote that the goal of marketing was “to reach consumers at the moments that most influence their decisions.” That may still be our aim, but the moments have multiplied and how we reach consumers has never been more complex.
And if our goal is to influence customers then our primary requirement is to first understand them.
The good news is that, in an increasingly complicated market, the sophisticated tools we have at our disposal are making this possible in a way that no other generation of marketers has ever experienced and we’re not shy about investing in them. Gartner tells us that digital marketing was one of the highest ranked areas of marketing technology investment for 2015 and 2016 will continue to upwards spending trend.
As we grow in our understanding and start to confidently shape the CDJ, we can already see the journeys to purchase becoming central to the customer’s experience of a brand, and just as important as the brand’s products in providing a point of competitive difference.
Now that we’re able to identify and promote touch points en route, it’s time to focus on enhancing the experience. Winning brands succeed not just because they sell something of value, but because their customers enjoy the ride.