As Lao Tzu once famously said, “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” It turns out that Lao Tzu would have made a pretty good chief marketing officer, had his career as a philosopher not panned out. CMOs are increasingly viewing the buyer’s journey—that famous path from sales lead to loyal customer—as not a single journey at all, but a series of progressive and never-ending steps. Lao would have been proud.
A recent CMS WiRE article, “Why CMOs Should Be Thinking Beyond Acquisition,” captures this new mood in marketing. The article quotes several CMOs from progressive-thinking companies, each of whom share this new perspective. “It’s no longer about the buyer’s journey,” declares Allison Munro, CMO at Piano, in the article, “it’s the customer experience that you need to predict and align to.” Lytics’ CMO Jeff Brown agrees, stating in the article that remaining relevant during the journey is more important than the destination. “(We) constantly want to provide experiences that are relevant to customers and where they are on the journey,” Jeff shares.
So, if guiding buyers along a scripted customer journey isn’t the goal of marketing anymore, what is their goal? Anticipating and making the next step in that journey as positive and personal as possible. Since that sounds a little vague, I’ll use an example that hits home for most of us: planning and taking a vacation.
As you would expect, the vacation buyer’s journey for a young family can look very different from that of a retired couple. Families may research their vacation through social media or online based on a word-of-mouth recommendation, while a retired couple may go directly to a travel agent or tour planner. Likewise, a budget-conscious traveler might follow the advice of their favorite Instagram influencers, while affluent travelers would look to Fodor’s or Conde Nast first. All of these buyer’s journeys starts on different paths, even though they may end up at the same destination. The reality is that no two vacations to London or Disney World are likely to look the same; they’re as unique as the people taking that vacation.
This underscores the danger of building a marketing strategy around a particular, pre-scripted journey. And here’s where things get really interesting: these respective buying journeys might look very different the next time around. As children grow older, family vacations may be interspersed with a romantic getaway for two. And the young travelers once so fond of hostels may now be a young executive looking for a nice hotel. Same customer, different journey.
Just as consumers view their vacations as experiences, they see their interactions with your brand as a single experience, whether they’re interacting with you through a mobile app or an online chat tool. They expect to be remembered, because they’re not just looking for a vacation—they’re looking for a personal connection with your brand. Unfortunately, customers aren’t going to tell you that they’ve moved, that their life has changed or that they already booked that Disney World vacation through somebody else. But your customer data will tell you that.
Like travelers, marketers need to see the customer relationship as more than a journey from point A to point B. If a customer begins clicking on romantic B&Bs instead of family resorts, serving up relevant experiences could mean showing them romantic day-trip destinations near their home. If a customer is a new visitor to your online travel site, serving up a list of that month’s most popular travel destinations could be highly relevant. Conversely, serving up ads to visitors for a vacation that they’ve already booked shouts out that your marketing is run by unfeeling robots.
So how do you connect with your customers? By keeping them in sight, particularly as they move through different channels of your business. Knowing my name and address won’t tell you who I am or where I am in any meaningful way, because those definitions move with me on my journey. I may be a mother, a wife, a marketer, and a world traveler, all on the same day. I may be thinking about the road to retirement or the road to my next adventure. And as a customer, I’m inviting you to come along, so long as you continue to enhance that journey with relevant information and experiences.
CMOs have an exciting road ahead of them. With the advent of new technologies like customer data platforms, there are so many ways to capture and leverage data in a digital economy that enhance and improve the customer journey at every step. And, as marketers, isn’t that really the destination we’ve been aiming for all along?