In the 14th and 15th century, The Khan in Egypt and the Grand Bazaar in Turkey became the epicenter for buying and selling goods. Competition was fierce and traders quickly realized the only way to build a sustainable business was to intimately know your customers and their needs. While marketing as a formal profession did not exist back then, customer insights, customer loyalty and customer opinion were key to survival.
Fast forward a millennium and it’s not hard to see this process has come full circle. Companies spend millions to tout their products for a few seconds in front of a large audience, like the Super Bowl. However, customers hardly buy based on this kind of high visibility marketing. Research firm Communicus estimates that 80 percent of Super Bowl ads did not translate into more purchases. So it comes as no surprise that most forms of traditional marketing are in decline or quickly being relegated to a very small component of a much larger digital marketing strategy.
Walking in Your Customer’s Shoes
Over the past 20 years, consumers have dramatically changed their buying habits, which is a major reason why marketing in 2014 is no longer an isolated exercise where creative minds invent the next amazing tag line in a conference room. Marketing is now inextricably tied to the end-to-end customer experience and the buying journey. Marketers must go where their customers are in order to sway them.
Walking into a store or calling a salesman might’ve been the start of a buying journey in the 1980s or 1990s, but it’s often the last step in the buying process today. Customers typically start with identifying a need (e.g., an exercise machine); researching it on the Internet; and then gathering reviews and opinions before deciding what it is that they want to purchase (e.g., an XTERRA 8.5 spin bike from Costco). The actual buying is anti-climactic to this journey and largely a non-event. Once we actually buy the product and use it, we experience a feeling somewhere in-between the two ends of the spectrum ranging from ecstatic satisfaction to absolute disappointment.
Many attributes factor into this emotion equation – like the ease of buying, customer service and quality of the product. At this point, we become either loyalists, recommending the experience to our friends, apathetically ignore it or feel discontented and persuade others to stay away from the product.
For marketers, understanding this customer journey intimately is extremely important for three key reasons:
The customer journey has become digital, even if the end transaction happens in a store or an office.
Marketers participate in the buying journey but cannot really control it.
Providing customers a delightful end-to-end experience is critical to building loyalty.
The next important step then becomes providing the tools and opportunities for your satisfied customers to tell your story so they can influence your prospective customers. Loyal customers are the best marketers for a company – not because they get paid $100 to refer another friend to get satellite TV but because they feel the overwhelming urge to share a good experience with anyone who will listen.
Slowly but surely, businesses are paying attention. Investments in digital marketing are accelerating every year. However, the end-to-end customer experience from most companies still leaves a lot to be desired. Sales and customer support often still behave like they arrived from different planets. Companies that tightly weave their marketing organization and investments into the customer experience journey by letting their customers tell the story will win.