“The customer journey, in its current form, is dead,” said Via Tyson Quick, founder & CEO of Instapage.
Many in marketing share this belief, arguing that it is unreasonable and impossible to create a completely predetermined, sequential customer journey these days.
Aspiring to establish a lasting customer relationship and emotional loyalty between customer and brand is the pinnacle of marketing success. But many experts believe that 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.
“After all, customers today move through websites and marketing campaigns in unpredictable ways, jumping from one page to another outside of the company’s ideal sequence,” said Matthew Edgar, partner and consultant with Elementive. “Some customers want more information while others need less. Plus, many customers explore alternative sources that aren’t always part of a company’s pre-defined journey, such as reading reviews about a company or asking for advice about a company’s products on Facebook.”
Quick noted digital customers are too savvy for generic experiences and impersonal messaging.
“Through advertising platforms, marketers have nearly a trillion data points to target our ads to hyper-segmented audiences,” he said. “As marketers, it is essential to align a prospect’s post-click experience with these micro-targeted ads for a personalized journey. If you fail to address prospects’ unique needs with a relevant, personalized experience during every interaction, they will abandon your funnel without converting.”
Judd Marcello, vice president of global marketing for Cheetah Digital, noted that while the strategy behind the customer journey is completely logical, in today’s day and age, 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,” he said. “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.”
Time for Change
Julie Alexander, content specialist at Relay42, argued that the days of predetermined customer journeys are coming to an end, but not because it’s unreasonable for marketers to create a predetermined, sequential, repeatable customer journey, but because it ultimately doesn’t serve the customer or the business.
“In short, it’s an outdated approach,” she said. “There was a time when predetermined journey creation was necessary, because it was the best marketers could do. Today, however, the data technology exists for businesses to provide a customer experience that takes customers through journeys determined by their own real-time actions. This require marketers to set up journeys in advance to a certain extent, but these are journeys with multiple variables that flex and mold to the customer’s needs and the choices they make in the moment.”
Thanks to access to vast amounts of customer data, combined with powerful technology capable of organizing and activating that data across online and offline channels, it has rendered cookie-cutter customer journeys obsolete.
Dan Willis, founder of Millennial Motivator, noted as the millennial market evolves and really comes into its own, marketing is no longer about mapping out a specific journey as much as drawing a map and presenting an experience.
“Customer experience encompasses so much more than a Point A to Point B mentality,” he said. “Now, it encompasses aspects of corporate empathy and relationship building alongside more traditional sales structures.”
CMO of Showcase IDX, Kurt Uhlir, said that day of the predetermined, sequential customer journey is over, but the exercise of thinking through and documenting the typical stages of a customer’s journey is one of the most valuable things most companies can do.
“The key to successful high-growth marketing today is to understand the intent behind a potential customers’ actions and meet them where they are at any given time,” he said. “There will be customers that will go through a typical buyer’s journey in a matter of hours or days, and there will be others that will take months or even years. Your marketing has to let them understand the experience of choosing your product, connect with them emotionally, and answer their questions (some of which they may not even know they have).”
While the majority of customers may not follow a traditional customer journey, many companies skip over the step of thinking through the buyer’s stages, he noted. Therefore, investing the time to think through and document customer stages allows a marketing team to identify gaps in their materials that the customer needs.
“Once these gaps are identified, content can easily be created, and modern marketing tools allows us to provide that content no matter where a customer is and the specific journey they wish to follow,” Uhlir said.
Alexa Kurtz, digital marketing strategist at WebTek, noted that most people today celebrate their individuality and uniqueness, this is true in business as well.
“No two customers are alike, or want to be compared to another. Therefore, we must take each purchase, lead, or interaction with a case-by-case scenario, learning what caused them to engage with the brand and why,” she said. “While the typical customer journey has served beneficial in the past, it’s time may be coming to a close very soon.”