Adapting to a Nonlinear, Digital Customer Journey

Posted by
Jeffrey Rohrs
VP of Marketing Insights, Salesforce
02/03/2015 - 14:29

Today’s audience has changed. And no surprise: the customer journey has changed too. With the explosion of devices, channels and apps, there’s no universal leading path to purchase. In some pockets, the traditional funnel is still relevant, and for some it can guide a successful, linear customer journey. But, for most, the opportunity to be completely nonlinear is more present than ever.

So, the question becomes, “how can brands adapt and maintain the advantage in a digital marketplace?”

Social media topples the traditional funnel

Digital channels have transformed the traditional funnel. Social influence, in particular, has proved powerful along the path to purchase.

Why, you might ask? Because people care about, and listen to, the opinion of their peers.

A prime example: Melt Bar & Grilled, a notorious gourmet grilled cheese restaurant in Lakewood, Ohio, which launched its Melt Tattoo Family program in 2010. Any customer with the Melt tattoo receives 25 percent off for life, and is featured on Melt’s gallery.

The owner, Matt Fish, assumed a few of Melt’s biggest fans would get the inked art, but as it turns out, he was wrong. One young man proudly showed off his Melt tattoo at the Lakewood location, and the owner was surprised to hear that he was a first-time visitor.

“But, what if you don’t like the food?!” Matt inquired. The young man quickly told him that, after seeing pictures of the massive sandwiches on his friends’ social networks, there was no way he wouldn’t like it.

Thanks to social media, customers can virtually test out products via images. In this particular case, this young man went from the awareness phase and straight to advocacy. He completely skipped purchase and loyalty.

On the larger scale, take a look at what Amazon is doing with #AmazonCart. Customers can reply to any tweet that includes a link to a product page to instantly place that product into their shopping cart. Customers can shop and place products in their cart without visiting; it’s a complete bypass along the traditional path to purchase.

But, to generate this kind of reaction on social, or on any channel, brands must publish content that truly resonates with your audience.

You can’t always be selling

We’ve never been hit with more channels and more devices. Your content—regardless of platform—can’t have an impact unless it has an audience. And generating engagement is key to audience development.

Ask yourself: does your branded content evoke a response? Does your brand start relevant, meaningful conversations online? If the answer is no, you’re likely missing out on opportunities to engage consumers and develop more loyal brand advocates. Remember that people don’t care about your products; they care about their problems. Content that engages users is content they will genuinely find helpful or interesting.

Below are a few tips to engaging on a more personal level throughout the journey.

  • Get to know your consumer and give them what they want.  

  • Entertain through content.

  • Interact with customer communities.

  • Teach your customers to self-serve.

  • Offer real-time support channels.

Rule of thumb: serve, honor, and deliver

So, how can marketers find their way along a nonlinear path? I’d recommend observing a customer-centric manifesto of sorts, defined by three words: serve, honor, and deliver.

  • Serve: You serve individuals. The ultimate test of success is individual satisfaction.  

  • Honor: You honor their unique preferences, because now companies have technology at scale, so we can actually deliver content that knows who they are and treats them in that unique fashion.

  • Deliver: Deliver timely and relevant content that improves customers’ lives.

The modern marketer can no longer use the traditional funnel as a viable map. However, there are defining moments of impact along the way. Certain moments along the journey demand higher touch support and targeted messaging.

Read my first post in this series on defining your audiences with personalized engagement and stay tuned for my final post for more on identifying and prioritizing moments that matter.

Want to know more? Listen to my full conversation with LivePerson in the podcast below.

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