How to Consider the Buyer’s Journey, Not Just the Channel

We are obviously living in a multichannel marketing environment, whether we are marketers or consumers. Every conceivable channel is being optimized for marketing, and in a capitalistic society, that is only natural.

channel
Credit: Getty Images by Photo-Dave

We are obviously living in a multichannel marketing environment, whether we are marketers or consumers. Every conceivable channel is being optimized for marketing, and in a capitalistic society, that is only natural.

Someone has to pay for the maintenance of media channels, and marketers want to reach their target audiences through them. Voila! Demand meets supply, and the whole ecosystem is in perpetual motion.

So much so that many marketing organizations are organized by key media channels. The No. 1 reason many datasets are in silos? It is because data collected through different channels are hogged by the managers of those channels.

So the biggest hurdle towards a true 360-degree customer view is not the technology or lack of data, but the fact that interests of different channel managers do not meet in a common place, without heavy nudging from CEOs or CMOs. That is why I’ve been repeatedly saying that the first step towards proper data-readiness for advanced 1:1 marketing is the commitment from the top.

That being the reality, service providers — whether be data compilers, database designers, CRM experts, analytics experts or campaign specialists — must comply with the channel-centric environment, which is unfortunately the source of inadequate 1:1 targeting and personalization.

With all the technologies available today, why do you think that consumers keep getting similar or conflicting offers from the same organization? It’s because each channel manager acts like she “owns” the names of buyers who touched “her” channel. Let’s just say that is the exact opposite of customer-centric marketing.

Further, it gets even more complicated, as each channel exists not only on different plains, but on different spots on the timeline of customer journey.

What is customer journey? If I make a typical B2C engagement an example (because there are so many versions of this concept out there), it may follow these high-level steps:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Trial
  4. Repeat
  5. Loyalty

If this were for B2B, we may consider “Decision” and “Action” as separate steps, but the general idea of a customer journey is not all that different.

Now, the important point here is that these phases may or may not converge nicely with the “marketer’s journey,” which may look like:

  1. Acquisition
  2. Relationship Development
  3. Retention
  4. Win-back

Clearly, awareness and interest stages are closely related to acquisition; but after the purchase, we are moving into the CRM area from the marketer’s point of view, where cross-sell/up-sell, value-based targeting, various retention and anti-churn prevention measures, and win-back efforts come into play. Some actions go way past repeat and loyalty stages from the buyer’s side.

Now, add all the channels on top of this combination. No wonder there are lots of conflicts among channel managers. Who owns what stage of the game? Maybe that is just a wrong way to approach all of this.

Homework for Marketers

I’d say marketers should start with the customer’s journey first. Not just in the name of customer-centric marketing, but for practical reasons, too. So, list five customer journey phases on the left-hand side on a piece of paper.

Then, let’s write down proper marketer’s effort categories, from acquisition to win-back.

Next to it, put down data assets and technologies that you have available for each stage. You will find that distinctly different types of data and technologies should be applied to each.

For instance, third-party data are important for acquisition and win-back stages, due to lack of behavioral and transaction data. Conversely, to build proper cross-sell/up-sell, customer value or churn prevention models, you will need to use rich transaction and interaction history with your customers. Then of course, technology that you need to employ would be different for each stage.

Then, only then, write down proper media channels that would be best utilized for each stage of your marketing efforts.

For example, in the acquisition stage, where only third-party data and non-transactional data are available, what would be the best acquisition channel for you to employ? Catalog? Postcard? Email? Social media? General media?

For relationship-building and retention efforts, yes, email is the dominant one; but should it be the only one? Let’s not just settle on one channel, just because it is readily available and less costly. If you have all of the rich transaction and response data, why not use direct marketing, with rather fancy catalogs or First Class mail? Surely, with such powerful data, we can build proper targeting models to make those more expensive channels worthwhile.

Turning Marketing on Its Head

The key message here is to reverse the way we think about our channels, and shake the whole marketing ecosystem up.

I got into a heated debate with one of my colleagues the other day about this. Many digital marketers think that the journey begins at the moment a visitor lands on a website or types in a search word (refer to “Customer Journeys Don’t Start on Your Website”).

Before someone magically shows up on some site, there had to be other efforts to raise awareness and pique interest for that visitor. It could have been a banner, billboard, TV, radio, magazine, paper or more targeted media, such as direct mail, catalogs or email. All of those channels play different roles in different stages of both customer’s journey and the marketer’s journey.

Multichannel or Omnichannel concepts have been around for a long time; but to rise above the channel-centric mindset that hampers effective customer communication, markers must be aware of the timeline view, as well.

In fact, as I described in the body of this article, you may have to reverse the whole process, and see it from the timeline view first, and then assign proper channels to each stage. Otherwise, how would you ever escape from channel silos?

Author: Stephen H. Yu

Stephen H. Yu is a world-class database marketer. He has a proven track record in comprehensive strategic planning and tactical execution, effectively bridging the gap between the marketing and technology world with a balanced view obtained from more than 30 years of experience in best practices of database marketing. Currently, Yu is president and chief consultant at Willow Data Strategy. Previously, he was the head of analytics and insights at eClerx, and VP, Data Strategy & Analytics at Infogroup. Prior to that, Yu was the founding CTO of I-Behavior Inc., which pioneered the use of SKU-level behavioral data. “As a long-time data player with plenty of battle experiences, I would like to share my thoughts and knowledge that I obtained from being a bridge person between the marketing world and the technology world. In the end, data and analytics are just tools for decision-makers; let’s think about what we should be (or shouldn’t be) doing with them first. And the tools must be wielded properly to meet the goals, so let me share some useful tricks in database design, data refinement process and analytics.” Reach him at stephen.yu@willowdatastrategy.com.

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