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Online marketing focus moving towards the customer journey

Online marketing focus moving towards the customer journey

It’s not just X–Factor that has people on a journey.  Right now, every single person using the web or a digital product is on a journey.  That journey started when they first become aware of a product or service or brand, and will finish when they become a loyal, repeat customer. 

Typically, the journey spans multiple channels across bought, earned and owned media.  Frequently it takes more than one go (in many e–commerce environments a user will return up to 5 times and take up to 10 days between making the first move towards purchasing, and the actual purchase itself).  And regularly it occurs across a range of smartphone, tablet and laptop devices.

So the journey can be complex and challenging to understand.

That can be the only mitigating factor which defence lawyers for marketers can cite when asked why marketers haven’t been focusing more on the online element of the customer journey before now.

There is after all, a journey beyond the banner ad.

Happily, according to a recent Marketwired report, this is changing.  Its study “Marketing is a (Buyer) Journey, Not a Destination” features feedback from 100 Chief Marketing Officers who have responsibility for budgets north of $1m. According to Deepak Advani, General Manager, IBM Commerce (who sponsored the report), “The brand/customer dynamic is no longer built on isolated interactions. It’s an ongoing relationship that must span all touch points in the customer’s journey”.

Let’s consider that customer journey across the five stages of the purchasing process.

Awareness – a customer first becomes aware of a product or service.  Typically the customer is reached through above–the–line advertising such as TV, radio, billboard, press or digital display.

Consideration – a customer starts to ponder the purchase of the product or service.  Organisations typically influence customers during this phase using SEO, pay–per–click, retargeting, email communication and inbound content marketing.

Decision making – a customer considers in depth what she needs to know to determine if she would like to purchase a product or service and often reviews competitive options.  As part of this phase the customer uses websites (both yours and competitors), apps, price comparison engines and review websites.

Conversion – the customer begins the sales process and eventually buys.  Classically the customer will experience website visits, triggered emails, and other behavioural marketing such as retargeting during this phase.

Advocacy – the customer enjoys the product or service and starts to experience customer care. If well looked after, the customer will become an advocate for the product or service.  Customers express this through review websites, social media and repeat purchases.

As the customer moves from awareness to advocacy, two important dynamics shift.  Firstly, the price of communicating with the customer lessens, as awareness is typically the most expensive part of the communications mix.  Secondly, the customer becomes increasingly in control (and by corollary, the marketer less so) as they move through the funnel; thus “getting attention” which is the focus of the awareness phase is replaced with “giving attention” as the customer moves into decision making and conversion phases. 

The IBM report reinforces that finally marketers are acknowledging in greater numbers that they aren’t in control of the full purchasing cycle and that they are committing themselves to hyper–efficiency in the latter phases of the cycle because of the price of awareness.  Mathematically they recognise that every percentage gain in conversion multiplies out through all of the channels used for awareness.

If I might paraphrase Advani using experience–design parlance, he is confirming that marketers are finally catching up with customers by recognising that they demand to be in full control of the experience; customers reward organisations who put them in control with their attention, their loyalty and their revenue.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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