A woman sitting on a clifftop looking across the vista at a winding path and considering the future - customer journey concept
PHOTO: Unsplash

Marketing has a problem. If we’re being honest, marketing has had a problem for a long time; namely, as the business world has trumpeted the rise of (cliché alert) “customer obsession” and the “empowered consumer,” marketing’s role in “delivering a superior customer experience” is woefully unclear. Sure, you’ll hear analysts and blissfully wide-eyed executives say that “all” marketing has to do is go back and adapt so as to be able to hit all of its KPIs related to acquisition and conversion while doing so in way that provides a delightful, seamless, happy-making experience for the end-customer. No problem!

Except, who has to answer for:

  • The dip in revenue-from-email when the brand stops blasting out seven offers per day?
  • Re-aligning IT resources to support new infrastructure required to support this shift?
  • The need for additional/re-prioritized resources to use the new tools that you’ve invested in to modernize your infrastructure to support these experiences?
  • Subscription revenue drying up after you take down the disruptive paywall?
  • The disconnect between in-person experiences and digital ones?

And on and on. Rare is the marketer who has a remit to make customer experience paramount, whatever the impact on the quarterly metrics or return-on-marketing-spend. Especially when, “Personalization can reduce acquisition costs by as much as 50%, lift revenues by 5% to 15%, and increase the efficiency of marketing spend by 10% to 30%,” according to Harvard Business Review. And even those lucky ones who have that backing, a transformation that is fundamentally contrary to what marketing has been since the Mad Men era is hard, expensive, time-consuming work in the vast majority of cases.

Here’s the catch-22: Despite the enormity of the task, we know that ultimately, orienting to align with how the consumer’s journey unfolds and adding value along it is vastly better by almost any measure for the business:

  • Customer experience leaders, meaning companies with an effective customer experience strategy, outperform the market while laggards underperform it by an even greater margin, according to Watermark Consulting
  • Research from a Qualtrics study found that even a “modest” improvement in customer experience stands to add revenue gains of, on average, $775 million over three years for a typical $1 billion company.
  • The success of initiatives such as Disney’s MagicBand and Nike’s Plus program are beacons of possibility in this area, creating ecosystems where data, marketing, experience and value are all tied so closely together that both brand and consumer benefit.

Related Article: How the Customer Journey Will Evolve in the Next 5 Years

Make 2020 the Year of Marketing’s Shift

As Yogi Berra famously said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” That about sums up where marketing is as we teeter on the edge of a new decade: caught between business-as-usual and a pursuit of a customer-first future. As we’ve established, there are no easy solutions, but there are ways forward.

  1. Stop claiming to orchestrate customer journeys: Customer lifecycle marketing and customer journey marketing are often used interchangeably by marketers. They shouldn't be, and the reason is simple: Marketers and their teams own ongoing customer lifecycle management. Customers — and only customers — own their individual decision journeys. Marketing can only control a finite set of things; meanwhile, too much time gets wasted on abstractions about journeys rather than focusing on how to realign marketing activities and planning to understand and react to what is happening in a journey. This isn’t semantics: it’s forcing marketing to think in terms of reaction and response rather than preordained and static. Furthermore, the unspoken truth is that even in the most customer-obsessed companies, the customer’s journey isn’t the only factor marketers have to respond to, particularly not at scale. Inventory and merchandising, current events, weather, organizational capacity, content, data and more. It all has an impact.
  2. Design for marketing lifecycles that link outcomes with marketing actions: One of the key differences between marketing and customer experience is how each is measured — rarely are they accountable for the same metrics. Marketers can incorporate customer experience principles by thinking about marketing in the context of a lifecycle: the progressive phases leading up to a desired outcome. For example, anonymous visitors (in-store, online) > identified browsers (signed up for offers, downloaded mobile app) > confirmed customer (transacted online/offline) > advocate (shared on social media, referred friends). Each phase is an opportunity to market to those individuals uniquely in order to move them forward to the next phase; the precise details are always going to vary slightly, but using this framework allows for highly contextual, relevant marketing at scale.
  3. Audit and adapt your people, process and technology for lifecycle marketing: Creating lifecycles that organize marketing planning is not an insignificant change; indeed, changing from the traditional marketing calendar to personalized messaging sent in response to individual customer’s signals within each phase means shifting to a wholly different way of working. And marketing automation isn’t designed for this kind of approach: it forces marketing into decisions and workflows that are too binary and one dimensional. Be ruthless in assessing how ready your organization is for marketing to respond to the nearly infinite combinations of signals and inputs that need to be managed in support of broad-reaching lifecycles. Create a task force that spans the functional groups that would be impacted by this shift — marketing departments, IT, agencies, technology partners, legal, etc. — and create a roadmap that explicitly ties to business outcomes for each milestone in order to get buy in.

There are no silver bullets or a one-size-fits-all playbook to grappling with the these challenges; however, we know more now about how to proceed than we ever have before — and the same goes for the volume of tools, partners and other resources to help you get it done. Start your own journey — fusing marketing and customer experience using lifecycles.