Right now, consumers think roughly 80% of what your brand has to say is irrelevant, according to a recent IBM study. That's a big problem, and you might be wondering how we got here.
Let's harken back to the not too distant past when the Path to Purchase, our bible in the post-digital days, guided the bulk of our marketing strategies and plans. But with the emergence of smartphones, social media and always-connected consumers, the Path to Purchase brand-centric approach now rests alongside Wendy's "Where's the Beef?" and Domino's Pizza's Noid mascot as revered ideas we marketing nerds can tell our grandkids about. Tech has flipped the approach on its head: Marketing and, just as importantly, commerce involve a far more complex, evolving consumer journey.
Consumer or user journeys offer a framework for the brand to act as a facilitator, rather than as a salesperson, building the bond between customer and brand. To understand the journey, we first need to identify and truly know our audience segments by leveraging data—transactional, demographic, behavioral and competitive—and then build out personas of our consumers. This personifies the key audience groups that have real growth opportunity. They have names, media consumption habits and goals that shape their experiences. They engage with others who impact their conversion, and those conversations are always changing.
With those personas in hand, we can now answer two key questions: What communications touch points will our consumer likely encounter on this journey? How can we tailor our message throughout the journey to drive the desired conversions? These nonlinear journeys can start anywhere—Google, a TV spot, walking around town, Instagram—and may lead in different directions. But ultimately each journey should result in a conversion—for example, a purchase or a social action such as signing up for an email or writing an online review.
Once in place, the user journeys provide three key benefits to the conversion-planning process. First, they bridge the gap from a great campaign idea to an effective tactical communications plan by aligning messages within priority touch points. They also identify any key foundational gaps across the brand ecosystem, such as website content, an optimized ecommerce presence or an emerging social platform. Last, the user journeys highlight priority audience segments and their subsequent habits to assist in the media planning and buying process.
A crucial next step is optimization. Throughout the consumer's journey through a given campaign, we track every engagement, including:
- Keywords searched.
- Sites visited.
- Offers taken.
- Purchases made (and where).
- Pre-rolls watched (and for how long).
- Posts shared.
- Reviews read or posted.
We track and apply what we've learned, optimizing how we, as a brand, interact with consumers, drive that initial purchase and encourage future conversions.
Organizing a lot of different consumer touch points that are frequently managed in silos (website, media planning, social, content development, e-commerce, shopper) is challenging, and the majority of brands have not established an optimal ecosystem to accommodate this approach. However, here are a couple of best-in-class examples of brands that understand the shift to a more perpetually connected, customer-centric approach:
- Enhancing the user experience via unique touch points has been at the forefront of Disney's strategy since its inception. And each of those touch points exudes the unique Disney flair. Emotional television strategies and targeted digital media engage and entice consumers to such a degree that they are driven to book a Disney vacation. Streamlining the ease and accessibility of the booking process means you can plan the vacation on Disney's website or within an app, which includes reserving spots in line before your visit. The experience culminates with MagicBand, its personalized multipurpose wrist band that handles almost anything you need—from room key to park entry to photo storage. Of course, the experience doesn't end when the trip is over. Millions of social share opportunities amplify the message to potential new visitors long after the vacation has ended.
- Starbucks is frequently lauded for its customer-centric marketing strategy. Rightfully so. Starbucks understands that the primary purpose of a brand is to differentiate a particular product or service in the minds of its customers to create customer loyalty. To do this, it has blurred the lines between its brick-and-mortar locations and the digital experience. The Starbucks app enables shoppers to submit their orders, pay and pick up their coffee without setting foot in line. Starbucks also sends geo-located direct messages and offers through the app. Its customers have become so appreciative of the brand's goodwill that over 50 million coffee drinkers follow Starbucks on social media, resulting in massive earned media and added impressions.
Both Disney and Starbucks have determined what is valuable to their target audiences and built out optimized ecosystems that result in a wealth of conversions. We must constantly study our own audiences and optimize to ensure our consumers' engagement evolves with their changing expectations and habits—that is, until the next big thing comes along, and user journeys take their rightful place alongside the Noid.
Chris Hunt is VP-client services of Catapult. He has over 15 years of marketing and advertising experience on both the client and agency sides. Chris has an extensive digital background, leveraging analytics and user journeys to create both strategic plans and large-scale campaigns for his clients. He has developed award-winning work across the entire brand ecosystem, from the discovery stage to execution and launch, for companies such as SAP, Capital One, Cars.com and the New York Mets.