Today's customer journeys twist and turn through a complex maze of online and offline touchpoints. Empowered digital consumers fluidly switch devices, contexts, and channels as they make purchase decisions. This challenges brands to keep pace and coordinate messaging across fragmented touchpoints. Mapping and managing omnichannel customer journeys has become imperative.
In this article, we will explore how the key stages of the customer journey, from awareness to advocacy, have fundamentally changed with the digital revolution. We highlight strategic and tactical implications for brands hoping to thrive amidst journey complexity. By leveraging data integration, analytics, and omnichannel personalization, savvy marketers can transcend silos to orchestrate contextual customer experiences. They can transform tangled journeys into strategic assets.
Key Changes in the Customer Journey
Some of the most significant changes in the customer journey include:
Proliferation of Touchpoints Across Channels and Media
The number of potential touchpoints between brands and consumers has proliferated extensively with the rise of digital technologies. Today's customer journeys may incorporate both online and offline touchpoints across a myriad of channels and media types. This constitutes a dramatic shift from the past when brands could reach consumers through a limited set of touchpoints like TV, radio, print ads, and in-store experiences.
Some of the many touchpoints that now comprise omnichannel customer journeys include:
- Paid advertising - search, display, social, video, native ads, etc.
- Owned media - brand websites, apps, email, branded social accounts
- Retail stores - displays, signage, sales associates, kiosks
- Physical events - conferences, sponsored events
- Direct mail and catalogs
- Call centers and customer service
- In-store digital tools - apps, virtual reality, augmented reality
- User-generated content - reviews, social media, ratings/rankings
- Influencers and brand advocates - bloggers, celebrities
- Mobile notifications - texts, push notifications
- Internet of Things - connected devices, smart appliances
Consumers fluidly switch between different online and offline touchpoints, often using many both across and within specific channels over the course of their journey. The complexity of orchestrating these touchpoints poses major challenges for brands hoping to deliver consistent, seamless experiences.
More Social and Collaborative Journey Stages
In addition to the proliferation of touchpoints, the stages of the customer journey have become much more social, collaborative, and transparent. Whereas in the past brand messaging could be tightly controlled through limited media channels, today's consumers rely heavily on social media, user-generated content like reviews and ratings, and recommendations from peers to research, evaluate, and select products and services.
In particular, social media platforms have made customer journeys more social in multiple ways:
- Consumers share brand experiences and make recommendations on social media
- They expect to be able to interact with brands on social platforms
- Social media influencers play a key role in shaping perceptions
- Hashtags and trends provide crowdsourced opinions
- Friends' likes, shares and comments exert peer influence
- Brands participate in real-time social listening and engagement
Similarly, user-generated content has greatly expanded peer influence over customer journey stages:
- Consumers read detailed reviews on sites like Amazon or Yelp to inform purchase decisions
- They check ratings and community feedback about brands on platforms like Trustpilot
- Friends' recommendations on WhatsApp or Facebook groups sway choices
- Unboxing videos and blogs detail ownership experiences
- Complaints and negative reviews can go viral and damage brands
Overall, the collaborative and transparent nature of social media and UGC makes the customer journey much more of a two-way conversation between brands and empowered consumers. Brands must actively participate in this dialogue to shape customer experiences.
Blurring of Online/Offline Boundaries
The boundaries between online and offline channels have blurred substantially. Whereas in the past online and offline were largely separate domains, today's customer journeys seamlessly combine digital and physical touchpoints.
Some examples of how online and offline realms now intermingle include:
- Researching products online then purchasing in-store
- Browsing in a store but checking prices on mobile apps
- Clicking an ad but picking up or returning at a retail location
- Researching reviews online after an in-person sales pitch
- Use of in-store technologies like QR codes or AR/VR
- Ordering on an app while shopping at the retailer
- Curbside or in-store pickup of online purchases
- Virtual try-ons, digital mirrors, and smart fitting rooms
As these examples illustrate, consumers easily cross between online and offline touchpoints, taking a hybrid journey. Retailers are also breaking down the online/offline divide by integrating digital tools into physical stores, such as apps that assist shopping or virtual reality that augments the in-store experience.
For brands, erasing the seams between channels to deliver unified customer experiences remains an ongoing challenge. But the future points clearly to further convergence of online and offline worlds.
Increased Complexity and Less Linear Decision Paths
The customer journey has become significantly more complex and nonlinear compared to the predictable, linear purchase funnels of the past. Simple models like AIDA (awareness, interest, desire, action) rarely reflect the messy reality of how today's consumers actually make decisions.
Several interrelated factors drive the increased complexity of customer journeys:
- Wider initial consideration sets with more brand options
- Journeys spread over longer timeframes and multiple sessions
- Zigzagging between online and offline touchpoints
- Highly variable decision paths across consumers
- Many journeys do not result in purchases
- Post-purchase journeys continue evolving perceptions
Some examples of nonlinear complexity include:
- Consumers starting research, getting distracted, and resuming weeks later
- Searching for one item but purchasing a competitor's product
- Following an ad but not buying until needs change down the road
- Making repeat purchases over time as new products launch
- Providing reviews, feedback, referrals after purchase
- Comparison shopping across retailers and channels
- Purchasing in categories unrelated to initial research
In summary, the days of predictable linear funnels are long gone. Marketers must embrace the messy complexity of modern customer journeys and adapt strategies accordingly.
The increased intricacy of customer journeys requires marketers to rethink strategies to account for new consumer behaviors and data possibilities. Some key implications include:
Integrate Data and Systems Across Business Functions
To enable a unified view of each customer's journey across channels, companies must integrate data and systems across business functions. This requires breaking down organizational and data silos between groups like marketing, sales, service, ecommerce, IT, and more.
Specifically, marketing teams need access to customer service, sales, and other data to understand post-purchase journeys. Customer service needs visibility into past marketing exposures to contextualize support needs. Sales needs to coordinate promotions with current campaign messaging.
IT plays a key role by consolidating disparate systems into a central customer data platform that surfaces insights across functions. APIs can connect new data sources. Analysts help groups understand customer behavior and calibration success metrics.
With unified data and coordinated processes, teams can orchestrate omnichannel customer experiences instead of optimized siloed touchpoints. This level of integration remains rare but represents the future.
Focus on Personalized, Contextual Marketing Messages
The fragmented, complex nature of today's customer journeys means mass marketing campaigns have less impact. Marketers now need personalized, contextual messaging tailored to each individual based on their journey stage and current circumstances.
Leveraging customer data and analytics, marketers can understand individual journey context and respond appropriately. Predictive intelligence helps anticipate consumer needs and next steps.
For example, a retailer could detect an abandoned cart and send a customized email reminder. Or a bank may preempt common questions based on a customer's application progress. Contextual relevance replaces broadcasting.
Hyper-personalization at scale requires segmentation sophistication. Advanced analytics systems can cluster consumers based on behaviors, yield finely grained micro-segments, and generate individualized messaging in real time.
Leverage Social Media and User-Generated Content
On social platforms and user-generated content sites, consumers heavily influence each other's brand perceptions, consideration sets, and purchases. Whether reviews, ratings, recommendations, complaints, or shares - peer opinions significantly shape customer journeys.
Smart marketers actively cultivate brand advocates and user communities. They amplify positive word-of-mouth and participate in social listening and engagement. Influencers, experts, and loyal customers who create UGC are identified and supported. Negative reviews and complaints get addressed openly.
The key is leveraging social platforms and UGC to positively shape customer journeys, instead of avoiding where conversations already occur. Proactive social participation will only grow in importance.
Emphasize Relevant Content for Each Journey Stage
During early exploration stages, consumers want helpful, educational content about the product category, their needs, and options. When actively evaluating specific solutions, they desire content that addresses considerations for their particular use case. Content must align with the journey stage.
For example, someone new to digital photography would first want general information about camera types, key features, and use cases. But a consumer comparing two specific camera models wants detailed comparison reviews, sample images, and evaluations of each model's merits.
Content offers a major opportunity to guide consumers along preferred journeys by providing value during moments of need. But excessive or poorly timed content can devolve into annoying clutter. Relevance is imperative.
Develop Metrics to Measure Cross-Channel Customer Experience
To understand the impact of omnichannel strategies, marketers need new metrics and KPIs that measure holistic customer experience, not just channel-specific actions. Key indicators may include customer satisfaction scores, brand perceptions, willingness to recommend, and loyalty across groups.
Data sources for these metrics include surveys, customer feedback, journey and behavioral data, and predictive analytics. Voice-of-the-customer analyses can uncover pain points. Marketing mix modeling helps quantify ROI.
Adapting marketing tactics to the new customer journey may involve:
Omnichannel Coordination of Campaigns and Offers
To provide consistent messaging across fragmented touchpoints, marketers must coordinate campaigns and offers omnichannelly. Creative concepts, branding, offers, and calls-to-action should have integrated messaging across paid, owned, and earned media.
Campaign management technologies can help orchestrate delivery across channels, personalizing the sequence and timing as needed. Offers and experiences should demonstrate recognition of consumers across channels through tracking and attribution. For example, abandoned browsing segments could be targeted with coordinated remarketing.
Omnichannel coordination ensures customers receive reinforcing messages as they switch touchpoints, instead of disjointed and confusing communications. It remains an ongoing challenge.
Content Optimized for Different Devices and Contexts
With consumers accessing content via diverse devices and in varying contexts, marketers must design specialized content suited for each situation. Small-screen mobile content may differ from desktop. In-store displays have different needs than social posts.
Some considerations include:
- Mobile-optimized and responsive design
- Snackable content for micro-moments
- Location-based and contextual messages
- Mixed media for multi-sensory experiences
- Gamification, AR and VR for engagement
- Interactive content, polls, quizzes
- Leveraging gadget capabilities like QR codes
Content should not only match context, but help consumers navigate seamlessly across channels. Omnichannel content reinforces consistent positioning while enhancing specific touchpoints.
Leverage Journey Data for Predictive Analytics
Granular customer journey data allows applying analytics to predict purchase readiness, anticipate next steps, and model responses to future messages per individual. This enables personalization at scale.
Predictive analytics applications include:
- Propensity scoring for purchase likelihood
- Lookalike modeling to find similar prospects
- Next best action recommendations
- Customized content and offers
- Churn and defection predictions
- Micro-segmentation for targeting
- Lifetime value modeling
Journey analytics moves marketing from reactive to proactive, optimizing touchpoint sequences via predictive intelligence.
Expanded Role of Customer Service and Social Teams
With customer journeys now social and cross-channel, service agents and social media teams play expanded marketing roles. They now actively shape brand impressions and advocate for customers.
Marketers must work cross-functionally with service, sales, and social teams to align messaging and enterprise knowledge. Positively resolving complaints on social media can enhance journeys. Agents require access to campaign contexts to personalize engagement.
In an omnichannel environment, marketing becomes everyone's responsibility through the entire organization. Internal collaboration is essential.
In closing, today’s convoluted customer journeys demand sophisticated omnichannel strategies. By mapping data-driven insights to context, brands can personalize content and engage socially to guide customers along productive paths. As digital advances relentlessly revamp the consumer decision maze, proactive mapping and management of integrated experiences will only grow in importance. Brands that untangle the omnichannel maze will shape journeys to their advantage and sustain competitive edge.