Like so many other things in life, customer journeys used to be so much simpler. You made people aware of your product or service, they thought about it, they did some more research, and they bought it. Or, at least, that’s what we pretended they did.
In fact, customer journeys were always much more complex than that. It’s true that digital media has increased the number of channels and touchpoints involved, but the real reason customer journeys seem so much harder to understand is because digital has also dramatically improved our visibility of them.
We now know that a funnel is no longer an adequate representation of what’s going on. Nor is a loop. Instead, the data now exists to allow every brand to map every customer’s path to purchase. Unfortunately, not every brand has access to that data. Even those that do can’t always integrate and analyse it to deliver the customer understanding and marketing insight they need.
So before you even think about what your customers’ journeys look like, you need to ask four fundamental questions.
What data do you need?
To map a customer’s journey, you need to know which of your marketing touchpoints that person interacts with, and in what order. You also need to know which other relevant information sources they engage with (reviews, forums etc). And you need to know what happens at each of those touchpoints; whether the customer moves on to the next stage of their journey, or whether they vanish. And if they do vanish, it would also be good to know if they re-engage at some future date and, if so, why.
And if that wasn’t enough, you also need to know each customer’s history with your brand. Are they new, loyal or lapsed? How many purchases have they made from you, and what did they buy? All these things influence their behaviour as they move along their path to purchase.
What data do you already have?
Companies that have a direct relationship with their customers usually know their transaction history. Those that sell through third parties usually don’t. Equally, companies that sell big ticket items are usually better at collecting customer data than those that sell low-cost, low-interest products, even if their customers are very loyal to the brand.
Then, looking at the various touchpoints along the journey, it’s almost impossible to link offline behaviour to online, although things are changing as some traditional channels enter the digital world. Think digital out-of-home and CTV, for example.
It’s also about to become more difficult to track online behaviour across the open web, as the demise of the third-party cookie (3PC) approaches. And one of the big problems for brands that advertise through the big ‘walled gardens’ – Google, Facebook etc – is the lack of transparency these giants offer around the reporting of campaign performance and customer behaviour. That said, solutions such as Safe Haven are available in the market to give more transparency to combat this.
Where is that data stored, and can you make it work together seamlessly?
The amount of data you have and the amount you can use are often very different things. Traditional business structures and legacy technologies mean data is often held in different places across the organisation. Different departments or teams will use different systems which make it impossible to merge these data silos. Your CRM system may well not talk to your martech stack, for example.
Or there may be no incentive for teams to share their data outside their silo. They could be worried about losing their status. They might be measured and rewarded as a team, rather than as part of the business. Or there might be concerns about breaching privacy regulations if data is passed between different parts of the organisation. Technological change is obviously crucial here, but without cultural change, it’s pointless.
What’s more, if you have different agencies handling your different marketing channels, they may not be talking to each other and sharing data, except in the most general terms.
How do you source the data to fill in the gaps?
In a previous post, we talked about the importance of a 360º data strategy. Once you know what data you have and what you need to do to bring it together, you can start to think about what you don’t have.
This means thinking beyond the business. Do you have partners that could help you fill the gaps? The reason data collaboration has become so significant in retail in recent years is that it allows CPG brands which are data-poor to use sales data from their retail partners to better understand the behaviour of their end-customers. As Allan McLuckie, senior online analytics manager at Colgate says in this interview, the biggest problem CPG brands have with first-party data is acquiring it. Being able to leverage retailers’ data to be better informed about customers behaviour is a huge opportunity.
Who else could you work with? This could mean specialist data suppliers, or it could mean specialist publishers and media owners.
Are there types of data you’re not considering? With Google’s 3PC deadline looming, new methods of ad targeting are emerging. Should you be thinking about what you can learn from contextual targeting, for example, or from anonymised third-party identifiers? Or should you be launching a D2C operation to increase the amount of first-party data you can collect?
Whatever your answers to these four questions, the most important thing to realise is that, in data terms, no business is an island. The future is data collaboration between organisations, not to mention within organisations. And that’s what we’ll look at in our next post.