Gaining visibility into a customer’s buying journey is nothing new to marketers. In fact, understanding the journey has been a standard practice since the time marketers primarily distributed messages through print ads -- and with good reason. 

The patterns in the buying journey inform the creation of enticing and relevant messaging that anticipates the next customer action and elicits the desired response.

Today, mobile devices, new data-capturing technology, solutions for processing big data and integration of multiple communications channels have changed the breadth and depth of understanding a customer’s digital path to purchase.More importantly, advances in digital communication platforms and technology have provided an easy way for marketers to quickly gather, harness and take action on data with precision and relevance. But how is this achieved with meaningful business impact?

First, Define the Customer Journey

This is the full lifecycle view of a customer’s interactions with a particular brand that yields information related to channel and content preferences, level of brand engagement, action or inaction and timing at each touchpoint.Bringing all this data together provides a rich understanding of the customer’s behavioral pattern towards purchasing and establishes a baseline for predicting the behaviors of like customer segments.

However, be aware that a customer journey must be viewed (assessed) within the context of your target market’s buying process.For example, buying processes in most B2B environments are more tightly controlled than in B2C environments, and purchases are achieved through multiple influencers. By melding a company’s path to purchase with an individual’s path to purchase marketers can succeed in accurately defining the customer journey.

Second, Map the Customer Journey with the Right Information

This requires that organizations integrate all necessary (relevant) data and analyze it in a way that provides the connections between each touchpoint -- the cause-and-effect of each behavior in relation to the next, and most importantly, the reasons for the actions taken at each touchpoint -- requiring a deep level of understanding of each engagement.

A data integration exercise alone will not yield the information needed to map a customer’s journey that will have an impact on your business goals. You must also capture the following information at each touchpoint:

  • Device and context -- Gather information on the mobile device used and other contextual data gathered by the device, such as time and location.
  • Engagement channel -- Determine the actual site or media with which the customer engaged; for example, website, email, social, display ad, SMS, etc.
  • Touchpoints sequence -- Identify the stops made by the customer before and after engaging at each touchpoint.
  • Content consumed / action taken -- With as much precision as possible, capture information on all content viewed, downloaded or clicked on.
  • Timing of each engagement and time lapsed until the next action -- Understanding the time between activity and inactivity can help clarify customer buying patterns.

The diagram below provides a view into the types of data that can be captured at each touchpoint:

Learning Opportunities


Third, Apply a Mapped Customer Journey to Your Marketing Plans

Now that you've accessed the data you need to fully map your customer’s journey and put it to work in other areas of your marketing campaigns. The following areas are likely to be informed by customer journey mapping:

  • Budget allocation -- Customer journeys highlight the media of most impact, providing an informed data point for ROI calculation within an attribution model.
  • Channel optimization -- By knowing the preceding touchpoint or traffic source, reinforce the connection between the two channels.
  • Content strategy per touchpoint -- By having the context of a customer’s buying pattern, customize content to acknowledge past actions.
  • Drip campaign planning -- By understanding customer paths, design cross-channel campaigns that consider the touchpoint source and desired next action.

Designing relevant communication is the ultimate goal of mapping the customer journey. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with these parting tips.

  • Manage communication frequency – Don’t batch and blast multi-channel style; pay close attention to sequence and timing around each engagement touchpoint.
  • Go beyond dynamic content – Focus your messaging for impact and context; dynamic content alone, which relies on contact attribution, may not be enough.
  • Be careful of too many triggered messages – Avoid list fatigue and over communication.
  • Do not assume every touchpoint is a selling opportunity – It’s important to remember that nurturing a customer inherently means pushing a sale at a time that’s right for that customer, and not every time the customer engages.

Title image courtesy of Iaroslav Neliubov (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more from this month's focus on customer journeys, see Bruce Temkin's Use Customer Journey Maps to Combat Self-Centeredness