Digital Marketing is always evolving. And with the rapidly changing landscape of digital marketing, you need to know what parts of it will always be important, so you can the necessary time and money into them. Trends will come and go but other parts of digital marketing like the customer journey and analytics will always be vital to your success.
The “Customer Journey” is a term that circulates the digital marketing world just about as frequently as account-based marketing and predictive analytics these days. For anyone that might be wondering whether “customer journey” and “customer experience” might just be the latest marketing buzzwords of little real consequence, I would encourage you to read this article.
In my last post, I discussed the next evolution of the digital marketing funnel into a new customer journey “hourglass” model, why the evolution was necessary, and what the new stages of the model look like. In this post, evolution will remain a central theme, but this time we will explore some key trends that are not just forcing our funnels to evolve, but digital marketing itself. Specifically, we’ll explore how customer experience and the customer journey are emerging as the driving forces that will make and break marketing success in the future.
Digital Marketers: 6 Reasons The Customer Journey Will Decide Your Fate
1. The Age of the Customer Has Only Just Dawned
At the dawn of the Age of the customer, change is brewing, and marketers better be waking up and smelling the coffee.
The Age of the Customer is a term commonly used to refer to the empowerment of customers in the modern era largely due to abundance of information available to them through in an increasingly connected world.
The modern customer demands to be treated as an individual; for their digital experiences and communications to be personalized and highly-relevant, and catered to match their specific needs, interests, and preferences. And while customer expectations are increasingly reaching all-time highs, their patience and tolerance for sub-par experiences are at all-time lows. As a customer, if you don’t give me the quality experience I expect; exactly what I want, how, when and where I want to experience it, I’ll simply get it from someone else who will. And companies like Google, will make sure that I do.
Google, Apple and Amazon are just a few among the many mega-companies who have made it their mission to cater the world to the individual customer. With each new algorithm release, Google is making it more and more difficult for companies to be found online through search if they are failing to deliver the level of quality experiences customers demand.
And when customers do have negative experiences, they are often quick to share their complaints with their social networks. In a moment’s notice, a single bad experience and a single tweet can cause some really serious damage to a brand. A few years back, one unhappy United Airlines customer who had a bad experience posted a youtube video about it and cost the airline $180m as its share price dropped 10%. (It’s no wonder the stock of Customer Experience has risen so high over the past few years.)
We are still very much in the twilight of this “new day” and are shifting more and more into an increasingly customer-centric world catered to the individual consumer. It can be expected that in coming years the internet will only continue to bend more and more to the will of the customer, to which we marketers will remain increasingly at mercy.
In order to give customers what they want, how, when, and where they want it, marketers need to understand the customer journey.
2. The Customer Journey Moves Online
But while customers are now more empowered than ever, with the right data, technology, skills and customer journey knowledge in possession, so are digital marketers.
Thanks to the tidal wave proliferation of digital media over the past fifteen years and the maturity and sophistication of online marketing in the last ten or so, in most modern organizations, marketers have earned a commanding place at the table in the executive boardroom. The days of being thought of as mere “arts and crafts” hobbyists, long over.
Arguably though, the trend that has empowered digital marketers the most has been the movement of customer journey into the digital arena, which has put the ball into the marketer’s court (or should I say domain? Ha. ha. I crack myself up…)
As an upshot, the effectiveness of marketing directly impacts the bottom line like never before, to the point that it can seriously make or break the success of a business.
With the shift of the customer journey online, the quality of experiences customers receive while engaging with a brand digitally can determine whether or not they ever even make it to the point of a sales conversation. Thus, the fate of a customer’s future relationship with a company is now largely placed in the hands of digital marketers, and their effectiveness in influencing the customer journey towards a positive outcome.
With this, marketers suddenly find ourselves in an equally strong position to end up the hero or goat, which can just as easily go either way, depending on our own performance. Successful enough, we will generate more qualified leads and see more loyal customers come out the bottom. Unsuccessful enough, and the company could close its doors.
Right on schedule, with great power comes tagging along great responsibility.
3. The Evolution of Marketing’s Ownership Across the Customer Life-cycle
Over the course of the past ten years or so, marketers’ focus has slid further and further down funnel and across the customer life-cycle. First it was driving traffic and generating net new leads/names to fill the marketing database. Next came MQL and SQL definitions which often required higher amounts of nurturing, education and increased attention towards the middle of the funnel. In recent years, the concentration became more about revenue for many marketers, though often aimed primarily at generating new/new business.
The term “Revenue Marketer” was coined in 2010 by Debbie Qaqish and The Pedowitz Group, precluding the publication of Debbie’s book, Rise of the Revenue Marketer, in 2013.
So while in not-so-distant past it was more common for digital marketers to be reminding ourselves that it was not yet time to punch the clock at the point of generating a lead, or sending a qualified lead to sales, the latest shift we are seeing is that a lot of marketers are starting to realize that the finish line needs to be extended further yet again – the end goal is still not reached at the point-of-sale with a new closed won customer, but rather long-term, brand advocacy.
The growing popularity of advocate marketing is one prime example of this trend. Companies like Influitive, a leading customary advocacy platform, that focus entirely in the post-purchase realm of the customer journey (which has previously been like the Dark Side of the Moon for many marketers) are springing up and starting to pick up some real steam in the industry.
There’s also been increasing discussion among analysts and experts about the future role of the CMO growing in importance as they take on more of the existing-customer side of the business. In a related article on CMO.com, Nadia Cameron argues that this customer-centric power could also potentially be up for grabs between CMOs and CCOs (Chief Customer Officers). An interesting point, but either way this plays out, this means CMOs will be finding their focus increasingly on the existing business side of the fence in the future.
Taking a step back for a minute, if this trend post-purchase trend continues as it is shaping up, marketing will now span every stage of the customer life-cycle, from “brand awareness” all the way through to brand advocacy (we’ve come a long way from arts n’ crafts 🙂 )
Check out my previous post:
Understanding the Stages of the New Digital Marketing Funnel
This also means that those with ambitions to become the marketing leaders of the future, will likely need to develop knowledge and skills to effectively engage customers and drive business throughout every stage of the customer journey.
4. Marketing Darwinism: Survival of the Fittest in a Highly Competitive, Sophisticated Digital World
An article from Wired.com defines Digital Darwinism as,
“an era where technology and society are evolving faster than businesses can naturally adapt. This sets the stage for a new era of leadership, a new generation of business models, charging behind a mantra of adapt or die.”
Along with technology and society, digital marketing is quickly evolving as well. Look no further than the growth of the marketing technology landscape, which over the course of just five short years, went from having 150 logos in 2011 to 3,500 logos in 2016.
The sophistication and growth of the marketing tech landscape is also indicative of the general sophistication and growing prevalence of digital marketing itself over the last few years (after all, there must be someone out there buying all this marketing technology.) During this time the rest of the world has been catching up, and the competition is growing fierce with a digital world growing even more crowded than the MarTech landscape.
In 2016, everyone is a publisher, everyone an expert. 88% of B2B businesses are using content marketing. They’re using marketing automation, bidding against you in Google Adwords, and clogging up your customers’ social feeds. They’re running account-based marketing campaigns to woo away your existing customers, and increasing their targeting efficiency and intelligence with predictive analytics. The battleground for customers’ mind-share, time, attention, and loyalty is extremely combative.
The crowding and sophistication of the digital marketing space will force marketers to evolve in the future in order to rise to the top of the pack. #5 and #6 below are both examples of this.
5. Hyper-Optimization and Efficiency to Maximize ROI
With the competitiveness of the digital space, just working harder and doing more won’t cut it anymore. Those with the greatest advantage know it’s about working smarter, and more efficiently. To make an analogy, when every army on the battlefield is armed with the same weapons and firepower, the battle will be decided by strategy and skill. It becomes a game of who can make the greatest possible impact with every ounce of resources they invest. This will not only mean leveraging data, technology and advanced digital marketing tactics, but also a deep knowledge of customers and their journeys. The better marketers can understand the different questions, barriers, and problems customers encounter at each different stage of the customer life-cycle, the more effective they can be in delivering the right experiences, to the right customers at the right times, to maximize engagement and conversion rates for every digital interaction.
By aligning digital marketing with the customer journey, you are able to eliminate waste and lost ROI by focusing resources and initiatives where they will move the needle the most. The impact of this compounds over time. Those that fail to align with the customer journey are at a distinct disadvantage.
6. Increased Focus on Brand Relationships, Loyalty and Advocacy
With so many options to choose from, and so many marketers all shouting “choose me,” at once, for customers, the options can all start looking and sounding the same, and it becomes tough to figure out whom can be trusted. So when it comes to making a purchasing decision, customers will increasingly a) turn to the advice of their peers, and b) gravitate towards the organizations who have done the best job of earning their trust based on their experiences interacting with the brand.
Who do those that I trust, trust?
Who do my colleagues and peers trust?
Who has endorsements from others like me whom I respect?
Who has 100,000 followers on Twitter Vs. 600?
Who does Google trust?
Who do I have a positive opinion of?
Thus, the power of brand, word-of-mouth and reputation will be increasingly important, and a differentiator for savvy marketers to rise above the crowd. Focusing on building relationships and earning loyalty through delivering exceptional experiences throughout the customer journey is key for marketers to effectively grow tribes of customers to advocate on their behalf and help organically grow their business, and strengthen their brand. With a really strong tribe of advocates on your side, standing out from the crowd and earning customers’ attention isn’t as much of a problem. It’s a lot easier to be louder than the competition when it’s the voice of your customers making all the noise for you.
What trends do you see evolving in the digital marketing world that will greatly impact the future? How else do you think customer experience and the customer journey will impact marketers?