Customer journey mapping is an important component of your digital marketing strategy. Use customer journey maps to detail your plans for maximising customer engagement as they transit your preferred path from first encounter with your brand through to making a purchase and beyond – to regular purchasers /brand advocates. Typically organised around personas drawn from your target market segments, customer journey maps detail how you will utilise specific communication channels within your overall marketing strategy and should be used to underpin your conversion rate optimisation efforts.
Some may wonder what’s the difference between customer journey mapping and user journey maps? We see them as having many similarities with perhaps the difference being more one of emphasis on particular stages within the customer journey. As we will see the customer journey is broken down into various stages of attract, acquire, service and retain/grow. In our experience user experience maps tend to emphasize the customers interaction with the product – i.e. the service stage.
From marketing tool to key organising platform
With all the excitement and volumes being written today on customer journey mapping, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a new concept. Customer journeys have been around for a long time – but whereas once they were the sole preserve of marketing departments in large corporations; they are now far more accessible and used to build consensus across the organisation from the CEO down.
The rise of the Internet has led to the recognition that today’s customers are continually interacting with brands long before they ever pick up the phone, walk into a showroom, or place an online order. This means you need to be building customer engagement even when little is known about him. Customer journey mapping provides a way of structuring your touchpoints in order to win the sale and secure her as a long term customer.
In this article
We set the foundations by exploring the buyer decision process, which we update for today’s online world. This sets the stage for customer journey mapping by showing how the stages of the buyer decision process dovetail into the customer journey map stages of attract, acquire, service and retain & grow.
What’s more the vast amounts of data being generated by your website, enables you to identify where the ball is being dropped along the customer journey, as part of your conversion rate optimisation (CRO) efforts. You can set KPIs at each stage, which allow you to judge the effectiveness of various communications channels (e.g. social, advertising, etc.) and make adjustments to optimise customer engagement across your touch points towards a sale, enquiry form submission, or other objective.
Buyer decision process
To better understand customer journey mapping, what better place to start than the customer? We need to get inside the mind of our customer and see what’s going on and how we might be able to facilitate the process towards a favourable outcome for us. The buyer decision process – that staple of marketers worldwide – offers us the opportunity do this. In this section we’ll understand how we can move from ‘I need to…lose weight, buy a car, find a digital marketing consultant, etc.’ to ‘I’m purchasing (our product)’ – what Google refers to as the Zero Moment of Truth; but which we’ll see goes well beyond organic/paid search.
The buyer decision process breaks the sale process into stages/gates.
The buyer decision process was created to help marketers conceptualise the steps a buyer goes through in making a purchase. Although it was acknowledged that the buyer didn’t actually go through the process in the linear way suggested opposite, the model had value in recognising that there were stages that needed to be sufficiently satiated for a sale to happen.
Over time academics broke the different stages down in an attempt to take into consideration the ‘mind of the consumer’. Better understanding the mechanics of each stage gave marketers insights into how they could positively influence the outcomes with respect to their offerings.
Looking at the linear buyer decision process, adapted from a version by John Roberts from the AGSM, you can see the traditional buyer decision process on the left hand column and the psychological factors on the right. (You could view this as the interplay between needs and wants, but we’ll leave that aside for now.)
Using the buyer decision process
Yes. I know the buyer decision process predates the Internet – i.e. ‘the dark ages’, for those of you under 30 🙂 – but the concepts remain the same; just way things happen has changed (and sped up).
The way we used the buyer decision process was to break a problem (say low sales) into parts. It was a bit like – if you were planning to use the hose to wash your car and no water was coming out; what would you do? You’d likely check the nozzle at the end was open, the tap was turned on, there were no kinks/holes in the hose and so on.
So for a problem like low sales, you would measure the output of each stage on the left hand side (e.g. information search) to see if enough prospects were getting through. This would typically identify a stage that was ‘leaking’. Let’s say that was Information search.
Assuming the issue is that we are not getting enough prospects past the Information search, we would then drill down into the elements that drive a successful outcome for this stage. The key point is: there’s no point in worrying about the other stages until we fix this stage. (We’ll see the same thing happens in the customer journey map.)
Looking inside the Information search stage, we see there are two factors: Awareness and consideration. Key questions are therefore:
- Do enough potential customers (prospects) know we exist?
- How likely are those prospects to shortlist us?
By now you’re likely the gist that the attract stage of the customer journey map is where we would address the first question. This is where we are trying to drive prospects to our website, shopfront; using tactics such as email marketing, organic/paid search (e.g. Google), etc.
The second question (getting shortlisted) is less straightforward. Here we need to pass both a coarse filter: I’m looking for a plumber; this guy is a horse trainer; and also a secondary filter that relates to positioning: how likely do her other customers resemble me? Think of all the ways a plumber could not fit:
- different market → residential versus corporate or vice versa;
- different geographical area → best to get someone close;
- size of job → new construction versus fixing a tap washer.
Importantly, the buyer will very quickly rule you in or out of his short list. So you can start to see how in the context of your own website, just having someone generate traffic is not enough. You have to attract the right customers (i.e. your target segments) and then you have to convince them you’re a good match; all in a matter of a few seconds.
Updated online buyer decision process
There have been many attempts to refine the buyer decision process and so the one below is our offering. Our chief aim was to recognise the way online shopping has radically altered how goods and services are purchased – and not just consumer goods. This updated buyer decision process model is an adaption of the linear model above and McKinsey’s buyer model and we use it to guide our thought processes within our customer journey maps, which we’ll cover in the next instalment.
Loops within loops
One of the first things you notice in our revised model is all the loops. These represent the cyclical nature of the purchase process; where for example in browse mode you will keep going until you find something that ‘fits’ what you are looking for. Then once you’ve made a purchase, should the trigger arise again you may return to the same supplier, based on your purchase experience (loyalty loop). In those cases where it was an unfavourable experience, you would start the process again.
If we take the internal loop labelled browse mode, you can imagine a buyer continually cycling through possible alternatives rejecting/adding them to a shortlist until she has a sufficient number. We don’t know the how big that number will be, but suggest it would be based on time constraints, recent market stimuli and level of purchase involvement required. For some purchases it could be the traditional three quotes or more; whereas for a take-away pizza it might be just one.
One of the biggest changes in this stage is to explicitly acknowledge the influence of reviews and social media on what was once a more mechanical, criteria based evaluation. Yes, our linear model countenanced psychological factors such as perceptions and preferences, but today social influences have gone beyond the buyer’s trust network of family and friends to include bloggers, celebrities who may or may not be receiving financial incentives for positive reviews, or to be seen consuming a particular product. Interestingly despite what might have once led to charges of bias, repeated studies support the notion that significant percentage of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
Here again things have changed. The purchase stage remains centred on how easy it is to purchase the desired item or service however, buyers are now much less tolerant of hindrances – think shopping cart abandonment. If for some reason your online order page is clunky, or has errors in it, then buyers are more likely to abandon their purchase and shop with one of your competitors on their shortlist.
Post purchase experience
Obviously, everyone wants to get what they pay for. Plus there are now common expectations on how you will be kept informed as to the progress of your order; all the way to delivery/execution. Proactive companies now go much further by recognising buyer’s want to externalise (share) their purchase event via social media. Particularly important for retail purchases, these companies will prompt buyers via their purchase receipt to post on social media and facilitate this process. You can see how this could have a positive influence for other buyers.
Although the cycle is essentially complete once the service or product has been delivered, this need not be the end of the story. At the very least we can hope for a repeat purchase, whereby the buyer would shortcut the process and just come directly to us. However, we can do much more. There are a myriad of ways that we can maintain the engagement with the customer and stimulate further sales. Think about how better companies engage with you via newsletters, ‘exclusive’ offers, helpful articles on buyer decision processes for ideas to apply in your business.
Customer Journey Mapping
We have seen that the buyer goes through a number of stages both before and after the actual purchase event and that there are opportunities for you to positively influence the outcome for your benefit. Now it’s time to flip over to the customer journey map – i.e. our responses.
In the next instalment we will explore the stages of the customer journey mapping with an example of its application. For now we finish by showing how the stages of the buyer decision process dovetail into your customer journey map.
- Market segmentation – how to get a bigger piece of the pie
- How to develop an overall strategy that boosts the growth and performance of your business