The Customer Journey, From the Customer’s Perspective
The marketing concept of the Customer Journey is not new. Many marketers are wise to the benefits of mapping specific customer journeys. In fact, in many ways, the marketing world is experiencing a renewal of customer-focused marketing, propelled by big data and other emerging customer-centric trends.
However, the customer journey is still usually mapped from the company’s perspective, rather than from the customer’s perspective, which leaves a critical gap in the process. This is the case, both with consumers in B2C markets as well as B2B customers. In this post, we mean both when we use the term: ‘customer.’
Looking at the Customer Journey from the Company’s Perspective
From the company’s perspective, the journey looks like a funnel. First the customer identifies a need. Take the example of smoke detector product marketing. Upon purchasing a new home, home buyers must take home safety into their own hands more so than when they were renting, and therefore start considering options and comparing different brands. After that, they may visit the company website or read reviews, steps that are more focused on product features and benefits. As the journey continues, the steps get more exciting for the sales process, including purchase, testimonial/review, and re-purchase. Scrolling through product descriptions is not an emotional act. By this point, the customer’s steps are mechanical and the marketer’s entryway into the customer journey is quite narrow.
Looking at the Customer Journey from the Customer’s Perspective
The journey actually begins much earlier for the customer and is full of complex emotions and behavioral influences. Marketing to customers early in the need /awareness stage must be attuned to the squishy thinking and feeling as ideas begin to crystalize into more consciously and clearly understood needs.
Looking at the journey from the customer’s perspective shows a much longer journey with more variables, more twists and turns, and more places for marketers to engage along the way.
Using the smoke detector example, which are part of the bigger context of home safety, there are several possible steps that occur before identifying the need and comparing smoke detectors, such as: what do I need for a safe home? At this point they may be interested in what consumers a few steps ahead in the process have to say (i.e., sharing product experiences, evaluating the company’s customer service, or considering another purchase)
For landlords, in the case of home safety, there are the steps of insuring the buildings they own are up to code before new tenants move in. For individuals pursuing a future career in home safety, such as smoke detector installers and home safety experts, there are the gradual process of getting interested in home safety before beginning to pursue the needed training and education.
Every one of these steps has associated emotions: fear of failure, excitement, hope, etc., not so much with buying the smoke detector, but as part of the greater context of the experience. Often the product is just a mechanical aid in helping people realize a bigger emotional payoff of achieving their goal, like being a good parent and providing a safe home and a good upbringing environment. The smoke detector is one small facet of the job well done and brings the dream one step closer. When you consider the bigger context, the brand has much more latitude for relevant content and interaction with stakeholders. (Stakeholder definition: someone on the path to becoming or influencing a customer)
These are experiential steps that are highly emotional and that happen long before a person even becomes a customer. Our smoke alarm company has an opportunity to reach out to individuals/organizations from all three of these customer categories, in specific ways, and early-on in each of their customer journeys.
However, companies typically design their marketing strategy as sales process and create content that is focused on their company, product and sales processes. That leaves a giant blind spot for knowledge and insight about customers/stakeholders and what matters most to them.
There is a considerable opportunity here, to engage the customer at each step of their journey. This opportunity is especially prevalent in social media marketing. The emotional journey does not replace the more transactional steps in the journey. Marketing during the early emotional stages can lead to strengthening the marketing effectiveness during the more transactional later steps of the journey.
For example, our smoke alarm company can show empathy by giving helpful comments in response to a soon-to-be homeowner’s tweet as they wonder where to start with all the things they’ll need when they move. This way, the new homeowners begin to develop brand preference much earlier than someone with no such relationship visiting the smoke alarm company’s website for the first time.
Through social media marketing, companies have an opportunity to influence people long before they become customers, and before their marketing gatekeeping is turned on. During these experiential steps in the customer journey, a company can engage the person about their new needs in a way that builds trust—but that requires a deep and unfiltered appreciation for their perspective. And countless other similar stakeholders will observe, learn and form impressions of the brand that is helping.
An Individual Approach, Through Social Media
First, potential customers in early stages of the customer journey must be identified on social media through strategic searches, such as by plugging specific keywords into Twitter advanced search and into Google advanced searches. Next, the company must find a valuable way to engage with these stakeholders. Instead of blasting out promotional tweets, the company must take a conversational approach that connects with individual interests. For example, talking to a soon-to-be mom about babyproofing the baby’s bedroom is a great way for our smoke alarm company to become involved in the customer journey in its early stages. By substituting the promotional for the empathetic and need-relevant, a company can engage customers early on, and by taking the customer’s lead.
This Time, It’s Personal
It’s the customer journey, so it must be looked at from the customer’s perspective. There is a huge opportunity here for the company to reach the customer early and at points throughout the journey via social media. A personal approach to marketing, through social media, creates new, beneficial and exciting ways for a company to connect and relate to its stakeholders.