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Mapping the Customer Journey: A New Vision for Digital Marketing

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
08 April 2015

Mapping EmailHow straight is the path to purchase for your brands and products? Many marketing models set it up like a city street where your customers move from Point A to Point B in an orderly procession.

It's not that simple in the real world, especially for complex or high-consideration purchases like appliances, luxury travel or sports gear. The path is more like a cross-country road trip instead of a bus ride across town, fraught with rest stops, potholes, missed exits and maybe even a breakdown along the way.

What's on the Journey?

The "journey" includes not just every place your customer comes into contact with your company, employees and brands but also retailers, partners, review sites and more. Mapping this journey means understanding all those stages, from researching to buying to loyalty, as well as the obstacles on that path.

Once you map out this journey, you can determine the kinds of content that can get customers past the roadblocks so they continue traveling with your company.

This can be a complex process, especially for companies with multiple brands and product lines, each with its own marketing program.

But mapping your customer's journey can revolutionize your email program and deliver a better experience for your customers as well as your own bottom line.

4 Elements of “Customer Journey” Marketing

It’s become the hottest marketing buzzword of the year, but “customer journey” marketing is really the next step up the evolutionary ladder from lifecycle and 1:1 marketing. Below are the key elements of this approach:

1. It's customer-centric, not “customer-focused.”

What's the difference? Customer-focused marketing centers on what you want to say to your customer in each message. Customer-centric marketing views every piece of your marketing plan and programs from your customers’ perspective instead.

You understand how your customers research, buy and maintain post-purchase relations. Your messages reflect what you’ve learned as well as the obstacles that prevent them from moving on to the next step.

Example: A customer-focused browse-abandonment message reminds the customer to come back to your site and complete a purchase process.

A customer-centric message might include information and links to tools and content on your website that recognizes and helps address the key reasons a prospect might not have completed a purchase.

2. Email leads an omnichannel approach.

Different stages might require different messaging strategies, including both content and channels.

Even though you might run your company’s email marketing program, you might find it’s best to communicate with customers at one specific stage via a strategically timed push notification from a mobile app.

Call centers, SMS, direct mail, in-store experiences or direct contact can also factor in at different points on your customer's journey.

3. It requires a different mix of messages, blending new styles of broadcast messages with behavior- or preference-driven automated messaging.

You're well on your way if your marketing programs include onboarding for new subscribers, browse- or cart-abandonment emails, post-purchase messages and continuous re-engagement programs. All of these map to key points on the customer journey.

Broadcast messages continue to play an important role, but if you rely solely on promotional emails, you're missing out on the finer points that can move a customer close to the purchase point or help that customer return time and time again.

Also useful in the customer journey are emails that incorporate your company or brand personality and vary the message from "Buy this" to "Here's some insider information that can help you make the right purchase" (also known as "white space" emails).

Reflecting the omnichannel approach, these messages might not even come as emails but as strategically timed SMS texts or as app or Web push notifications. (Read more on getting started with mobile app push notifications.)

4. The customer journey includes auditing all of the messages customers receive from every department or division in your company.

Ideally, you'll map the customer journey across all your company's brands and departments to reveal how often and in which channels customers are receiving messages.

This key insight could lead to a company-wide messaging overhaul, especially if your company includes many different brands, each with its own messaging strategy.

Even if you have just one brand, you're likely doing a mix of calendar-driven broadcast messages and automated messaging like reminders and updates. See how your email programs overlap.

What is the customer experience like if you send an irrelevant broadcast message on the same day as one of your welcome or onboarding series emails? It might be OK, or it could provide a less-than-stellar experience out of the gate.

Matching the Journey to Messages

Once you understand how different message types and channels can drive customer actions, email's role in the journey will reveal itself. When is it the key channel, and when does it become a secondary tool that supports another channel?

Mapping the customer journey uncovers the trigger points along the way, using the data and signals customers are sending you to respond with helpful messaging.

Your goal is to know which messages you'll deploy at each stage of the journey. With this information you can build a campaign brief that maps out whether a single message, a series of messages in multiple channels, a specific program or track would work best, as well as the implicit and explicit data you need to determine the specific appropriate content required.

Final Note: Back to the Basics for Email Acquisition

Even with an omnichannel approach, email will likely remain the primary focus if the email address is your customer's primary entrée to your marketing program. 

How's your email acquisition going? It's probably time to look for ways to make it more attractive. Besides posting a benefit-focused opt-in invitation prominently around your website, promoting it on your social media, adding it to your mobile app and offering opt-in via SMS will extend your reach to new audiences.

Also, don't forget to remind customers with in-store notices on signs, bags and receipts (paper, email and text) and POS or self-serve kiosks.

It's Email 101, this focus on acquisition, but it's an essential step to help customers move ahead on their journey with your company.

Related Resources:

1) Ebook: “15 Post-Purchase Emails That Build Loyalty and Drive Revenue

2) Blog: “Browse Abandonment Emails: Best Practices

3) Ebook: “31 Tactics for Building Your Database


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