Forrester describes the customer journey as “[spanning] a variety of touchpoints by which the customer moves from awareness to engagement and purchase.” Typically represented in the form of a customer journey map, it is implied to be linear and sequential.
In truth, with the increasing reliance on digital and mobile today, the customer journey is splintered and does not follow a logical, straight path. Instead, the customer journey is really more of a network of quests for information. Altimeter Group says that it is now “[fractured] into hundreds of new ‘micro’ touchpoints where customers seek real-time, mobile-optimized content, reviews, shared experiences and direction online.” Google calls them “micro-moments” and says that “when added together, they ultimately determine how that journey ends.”
This change — from straight path to meandering, multi-directional journey — is reminiscent of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” children’s books that were popular during the 1980s and 1990s. Instead of a set story, these books gave the reader the option to choose the next event within the storyline — resulting in a number of possible outcomes.
Admittedly, a Google search on this topic revealed that others have also noticed the connection between content marketing, the customer journey and this children’s book series. However, beyond just a kitschy metaphor, there are takeaways that digital marketers should consider and strategies that should be employed — to effectively connect with customers throughout this new customer journey framework and to win over customers during these critical touchpoints.
1) The journey is self-driven
As indicated in the name, books within the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series gave the power of the narrative to the reader. Every few pages, the reader was presented with a choice and each successive decision led to a different outcome.
The same is true in the customer journey. Customers are no longer sitting back and passively consuming the outbound messaging that happens to make it their way. Instead, customers are actively researching and educating themselves on the best options throughout the decision-making process.
Consider these facts about the digital behavior of customers:
- Search engines are the 3rd most popular way that customers learn about new products. Almost half (47%) of customers use a search engine when engaged in product discovery.
- This rings true for B2B customers as well: 74 percent of business buyers conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase.
What this means for digital marketers
Today’s customers are empowered to actively seek out information throughout their unique customer journeys. This makes it imperative for marketers to understand what troubles, plagues, interests and inspires customers and to deliver the right content during each touchpoint.
With Google processing more than 2 trillion searches each year, search is your strongest and most direct source of information about your customers’ interests and needs. Organic search is your market-wide voice of the customer — conveying critical information on what your customers care about at scale. Only by researching customer demand are marketers able to deliver the digital experiences that customers are seeking and to win the moments that matter.
2) There are twists and turns, and unpredictable outcomes
In the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, each decision point sent you in a new direction, resulting in serpentine plotlines and upwards of 40 possible endings.
The customer journey is equally complex. Customers now access a multitude of information to discover, compare, evaluate (and re-evaluate), and ultimately make their decision. In an interview for The Huffington Post, Matt Lawson, Google Director of Performance Ads Marketing, stated, “…[When] we see customers start on this journey, there’s typically a domino effect of new opportunities and greater insights that appear.”
Just when it seems that the story is set, the customer journey can take a rapid and unexpected detour. Google research revealed that 65 percent of smartphone users look for the most relevant information, regardless of the company providing it, when conducting a search on their smartphones. This means that the battle to engage customers is never-ending and can be won by any brand that provides the most compelling, helpful and relevant content during these moments that matter.
Additionally, 82 percent of smartphone users consult their phones while in a store. And one in 10 of these customers ended up purchasing a different product than they had originally planned. That’s an ending that no one saw coming!
What this means for digital marketers
Marketers must ensure that their content is available and accessible at every step of the overall journey. There’s a saying: “It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.” In today’s customer journey, it ain’t over ‘til the customer clicks “Confirm purchase” on their smartphone, signs the credit card receipt at the register, or until the business buyer puts their signature on the contract.
The customer journey is no longer a series of compartmentalized states of being — with diminishing influence further down the funnel. Instead, digital marketers must acknowledge the opportunity that exists throughout the network of digital touchpoints. They must ensure a strong organic presence, providing customers with thoughtful and informative content throughout the customer journey, to influence customers towards a desired outcome.
3) Every moment matters
The books were able to maintain twists and turns in plotlines because each chapter ended in a question and required that the reader make a decision before proceeding to the next part. As such, each of these points was an important pivot in the overall storyline. The decision made at each and every one of these touchpoints influenced the direction of the voyage.
The same is true for today’s customer journey. From a company’s product pages to online reviews to social media influencers and user generated content to ecommerce sites (and back and forth again), customers consult multiple sources and types of content in making a decision. And each of these touchpoints is critical in influencing the customer and contributing to the momentum as they continue along their path to purchase.
Consider the impact of reviews on the customer journey. More than half (54%) of customers said that they read online reviews before making an online purchase. Or consider the impact of providing information and knowledge in driving customers from I-want-to-know to I-want-to-buy micro-moments. Outdoor products retailer REI created informative online buying guides to help customers understand how to best select the right outdoor products, including backpacks. This I-want-to-know content had incredible impact on conversions, resulting in 60 percent of content consumers purchasing backpack products.
What this means for digital marketers
The takeaway for marketers is precisely as it is written above: every moment matters. The most successful digital marketers ensure that the right content reaches the right audiences at every phase of the customer journey. Taking a data-driven approach, digital marketers understand customer needs and interests, create the content that addresses these demands and positions their brand as the best solution, and ensures that this content can be easily found and accessed during the more than 2 trillion times that customers seek out insights and guidance on search engines every year.
If customers are the protagonists in their adventures, then your content can be thought of as a digital sherpa guiding them every step of the way. As they approach each touchpoint, ensure that your content is there and that it is helpful and useful in that moment. Create compelling digital experiences matched to each decision point to influence customers as they venture along and to drive them towards your “ending.”