Digital MarketingEcommerceInfluencing the customer journey is just as important as understanding it

Influencing the customer journey is just as important as understanding it

For years, marketers have scrutinized every aspect of the customer journey--but it is becoming increasingly apparent that just understanding it isn't enough. Here's how technology is enabling marketers to go from understanding to influencing their customers' journeys.

For years, marketers have scrutinized and optimized every aspect of the customer journey. Yet in 2017, the customer journey still remains one of the most important and vexing topics for marketers.

And for good reason. Today, customer journeys are increasingly complex. Consumers frequently interact with business through multiple physical and digital channels, and when it comes to the digital channels, they’re more often than not using multiple devices.

In fact, according to research conducted by Google and Ipsos, 90% of people move between devices in a sequential fashion to accomplish a goal. When it comes to online shopping, Google and Ipsos found that “61% of internet users and over 80% of online millennials start shopping on one device but continue or finish on a different one.”

Given the almost-universal use of multiple devices, it’s no surprise that companies offering analytics and marketing attribution tools, a linchpin of many organizations’ efforts to collect data about the customer journey, have been working to incorporate cross-device tracking tech into their offerings.

Analytics and attribution

For example, over the past year, Google has added cross-device tracking to its most important services. All AdWords accounts created after August 16, 2016 include cross-device conversions by default. In September 2016, Google launched cross-device retargeting and this May, Google updated Google Analytics so that all properties using Remarketing with Google Analytics take advantage of its cross-device functionality.

Perhaps Google’s biggest push yet to bring cross-device tracking into the mainstream is the recent launch of Google Attribution, a free marketing attribution tool that not only tracks users across devices, but leverages machine learning and data covering 70% of credit and debit card transactions in the U.S. to figure out how much the various components of marketing campaigns are contributing to sales.

Of course, analytics and attribution aren’t the end-all and be-all of understanding customer journeys. Increasingly, companies are using customer journey mapping tools, of which there are dozens, such as IBM’s Journey Designer, to make sense of the data they have and present the customer journey in a visual, story-friendly format.

As Siddharth Gaikwad, practice head of digital experience at system integration firm NTT DATA, has explained, “A journey map is an illustrated representation of a customer’s expectations, experiences and reflections as it unfolds over time across multiple stages and touchpoints while using a product or consuming a service.”

Going beyond understanding

But even as companies work to solve the challenges of understanding the journeys their customers take on the path to purchase and the experience they receive at and after purchase, they should recognize that having a deep understanding of the customer journey is realistically not going to be enough. Instead, companies will increasingly find that they need to shape the customer journey if they want to succeed.

Perhaps the best industry in which to observe this is retail, which has become brutally competitive as many companies fight for their very survival.

In an effort to exert influence over the journeys their customers take before and after their purchases, retailers are employing a variety of technology tools and business strategies.

For example, retailers are increasingly employing personalization technology in an effort to generate awareness and sway consumers during their consideration of a product. In fact, according to a study conducted by BloomReach, personalization is one of Amazon’s most potent weapons, so it’s no surprise that a growing number of retailers are applying personalization to all of their digital channels, from their websites and mobile apps to their email campaigns.

But personalization isn’t limited to digital channels. Retailers like Macy’s, for instance, have used beacons to track customers as they move through their stores and offer personalized recommendations and discounts.

A growing number of retailers are even turning to facial recognition technology to track customers in-store so that they can intervene at the right place and time to influence customers. According to CSC, some 30% of retailers now use facial recognition tech.

On the business side, retailers are experimenting with ways to encourage customers to alter their journeys. For example, in April, Wal-Mart announced Pickup Discount, a program that incentivizes customers to order online-only items and pick them up in-store.

Since it’s cheaper for Wal-Mart to deliver a product to a store rather than a customer’s home or place of business, the mega retailer can benefit by convincing customers to pick up in store.

Although Wal-Mart says that it’s passing the savings along to customers, it’s clear from experiments like the company’s Pickup Tower that it has the opportunity to realize even greater cost savings by convincing customers to pick up purchases in-store.

The rise of customer journey optimization

Wal-Mart’s efforts hint at where the customer journey conversation is likely to go next: customer journey optimization.

Companies need to accurately understand their customers’ journeys through the use of technology and customer journey mapping exercises, but they also need to identify the customer journeys that are optimal for their businesses.

From there, they will have the opportunity to better employ tools, such as marketing automation software, to actively shape the journeys their customers are taking.

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