dead end sign with moon behind it
PHOTO: Victoria Kubiaki

The customer journey has long been a fascination for marketers. The momentum between steps in the journey, the channels, the messages required to guide customers to convert. However, as marketing channels have diversified, creating new, erratic buying habits, it’s unreasonable for marketers to create a predetermined, sequential, repeatable customer journey. In fact, the customer journey as we know it is dead.

The strategy behind the customer journey is completely logical: analyze a large sample of buying patterns and distill commonalities into “x” amount of primary customer types. Then, map each type of customer journey and create corresponding marketing materials. This worked — years ago — when the shortcomings of marketing technology dictated what the resulting strategy needed to be.

Today, it’s not only impossible but, unrealistic to expect marketers to group thousands or millions of customers into distinct groups. The customer journey approach simply doesn’t allow marketers to create meaningful engagement and deliver a unique value exchange for each and every individual customer.

Why Is the Customer Journey Done?

With unlimited buying options and avenues for consumers to collect product information, the customer is more powerful than ever. For example, the customer may hear about a product on TV, search the product on Google, click through to the product website, read a few reviews on Amazon and abandon their research. Two days later, they may see an influencer using the product and ultimately purchase the product through a major department store, simply because they have the product 20% off.

Think of a marketer trying to track that journey, plus millions of variations. This obliterates the idea of a singular customer journey. Any marketer that’s still using this strategy today is setting themselves up for failure by putting customers into boxes, dictating next steps, and measuring success ultimately based on assumptions.

Related Article: Customer Journey Management in an Era of Disjointed Journeys

If Not the Customer Journey, Then What?

Instead of designing journeys, marketers should be focused on real-time customer engagement. By this, I mean observing the interactions and behaviors that customers have directly with the brand or the environment the brand operates within and acting on it. Winning brands are using technology that prioritizes the use of zero- and first-party data, decisioning and next-best-action that enhances customer engagement with a unique value exchange, repeatedly throughout the customer lifecycle. 

The “journey” a consumer/customer has with your brand is not a predetermined path, it is the sum total series of engagement opportunities that are hyper-personalized and contextualized to create a lasting and mutually-rewarding relationship between the customer and the brand.

Related Article: Customer Journey Maps Work Great ... Up to a Point

From Acquisition to Loyalty

I believe strongly that in order to create lasting customer relationships in today’s consumer-driven environment, marketers need to establish an emotional connection — emotional loyalty — between their brand and the customer. Emotional loyalty is the deep connection achieved when every action, input, and communication a customer receives from a brand makes them feel valued and respected. It’s about creating memorable experiences and building a base of brand advocates, not just increasing transactions through loyalty programs.

Emotional loyalty is developed over time as a customer continually receives value from a brand. Each time a customer engages with a brand, the interaction has to drive affinity and attachment so they keep coming back for more, creating a greater trust over time. This paradigm shift — focusing not on steps and communication at each step, but continuously creating solutions and delivering value for consumers regardless of where they are in the buying process — leads to greater emotional loyalty. Marketers must focus on creating personalized brand experiences that offer a unique value exchange for the customer.

For example, a popular footwear brand was looking to define who its emotionally loyal brand advocates were. The brand created a campaign for customers to share stories about their first pair of shoes from the brand. Tens of thousands of emotional responses poured in with great detail. Responses shared heartfelt memories about who gave them the shoes, how they felt about finally getting a pair, and how the shoes made them feel. Now, this footwear brand has just under 50,000 customers they can call emotionally loyal. Not only because the customers return and purchase again and again, but, because the customer took the time to share their experience with the brand, advocating. This group of customers now serves as a test group for the footwear’s marketing staff. Rather than guess what will and won’t work, marketers can use an emotionally loyal customer base to understand what experiences truly work and reward this cohort for brand advocacy.

Related Article: Time to Burn the Customer Journey Map: Channels Don't Matter Any More

It’s Not the Journey That Matters, it’s the Destination

Aspiring to establish a lasting customer relationship — emotional loyalty — between customer and brand is the pinnacle of marketing success.The antiquated version of the customer journey is a futile battle for any marketer trying to bucket customers into groups and dictate path to acquisition or retention. Customers are as unique as their purchasing styles, so the best way for marketers to convert and retain them is through personalized brand experiences that provide them unique value, ultimately building trust, loyalty and advocacy.