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How to Understand the Customer Journey to Boost Your Marketing Effectiveness

Why bother understanding the customer journey?

Benefits of understanding the customer journeyMarketing benefits
Reveals customer’s decision making thoughts, feelings, and needs at each stageReveals under or over performance and thus where and when to optimise or smooth the customer journey
Clarifies decision making influences, i. e. what are the relationship drivers or barriers (pain points) at each stageInforms how to better communicate to engage, attract, retain customers and secure referrals, for example, through what medium, and with what messages
Also how to optimise the customer or brand experience experience, e.g. through better processes.

What is the customer journey?

In 1961, Lavidge and Steiner created ‘The Hierarchy of Effects’ model to explain customer buying behaviour, and also help advertisers make better advertisements (1). The concept of the customer journey is essentially the flip side of the same coin.

Hierarchy of effects’ model

Lavidge and Steiner’s ‘hirarchy of effects’ model comprises three stages; each has one, two or three steps. Thus six steps overall, as illustrated in Figure 1, and summarised from top to bottom, below:

Figure 1 | Lavidge and Steiner's Hierarchy of Effects (1961)
Lavidge and Steiner’s Hierarchy of Effects
  1. Awareness; a customer must first have a product on his or her radar before he or she can consider it.
  2. Knowledge; a customer must then have enough knowledge to ‘judge’ the product.
  3. Liking; third, the customer must appreciate its benefits, both rational and emotional.
  4. Preference for a product then follows from the thoughts and feelings thus far.
  5. Conviction follows when doubts are allayed and needs turned into wants. Perhaps through a product trial or demo, and also by making it easy and risk-free to buy.
  6. Purchase is a behaviour stage – when the customer picks a product off a shelf and hands over cash at a check-out or clicks to buy online.

The linear customer journey

Lavidge and Steiner’s model is effectively a linear series of steps:

Fig 2 : The Customer Journey (linear)
The Linear Customer Journey

However, while most relevant in a world of mass advertising, in today’s online world, customer journeys are much more complex.

Understanding the customer’s journey allows marketers to determine the sequence, nature and importance of the steps, also the triggers, drivers and barriers to sales of a particular service or product. Thus, where and how to promote and add value to an offer. Also specifically how to improve trial, retention and endorsement.

It is akin to a powerful ‘sat nav’ to marketing success.

The online customer journey

However, shopping no longer takes place just in the High Street but anywhere, anytime, with the result that nearly 20% purchases were made online in 2019 (and significantly more during the lock-down). Further almost all UK adults aged 16-44 years, and 95% adults aged 16-74 years use the Internet daily (2). 79% also own a smartphone making it easy to go online on the go (3). Thus the ability to buy food, clothes, music, films, sports equipment, holidays, cars etc. online has never been easier.

With the growth of the online world, the customer journey has become a more complex, stepping stone process (Figure 3). Sometimes purposeful, and fast, sometimes serendipitous, looping, and seemingly never – ending. Recent research by Google Australia/New Zealand, describes this as the ‘messy middle’ (4).

Fig 3 : The digital or online customer journey (non-linear) aka 'the messy middle'
The Online Customer Journey (non-linear) aka the ‘messy middle’

Different media present different environments, and thus attract different demographics and psychographics. Further media entry points and occasions vary, and technology increasingly links from one medium to another. Of course, markets, competitive contexts and customer needs also vary. Consequently, influences differ, resulting in different customer behaviour.

Threats and opportunities for marketers

The threat to marketers is to only see digital media and only to rely on website analytics data. This only sees the effects of customer behaviour and fails to explain why they do things and what their needs are. 

The opportunity is to see and understand the big picture. In particular to understand customers, in context of the entire media and competitive landscape. Where, when, how and why they behave as they do, and then to plan marketing accordingly.

How to understand your customers’ journey?

First, use qualitative research to understand the big picture, what customers do, and why? The benefit of a qualitative approach is to fully explore and understand what customers consider important, what engages, fails to engage and most importantly why? Here are some start-point (though generic) questions to ask (Figure 4).

Startpoint research questions
Start-point research questions

In our experience, there are also two tracks to any customer journey; first the journey into the category, and secondly, the journey to discover, and choose a particular brand. Thus original customer research is valuable to understand the twin tracks, and also the relationships between the tracks.

It is almost impossible to predict a journey from the outside looking in, and thus research will inevitably unearth new insights.

Google’s own research suggests consumers are in sequential exploration and evaluation modes. With continuous offer selection, short-listing, and deselection until a final purchasing decision is made. They also highlight the importance of brand awareness, and the power of benefits, recommendations, and incentives to shift demand from a familiar to lesser known brand (4).

Mapping customer journeys

There are many ways to map customer journeys, and what to do should follow from your business objectives and needs. A grid matrix may best inform a new IT customer contact system, but risks the ‘wood being hidden by the trees’. A more visual representation may better help colleagues understand and act on research findings. Figure 5 (below) summarises on one page, a customer journey to  research family history or family trees. It highlights key events, and drivers and barriers on the journey. It is useful in bringing to life rational and emotional factors. And thus opportunities to optimise the journey and better market brands.

Fig 5 : Example Visual Customer Journey

How to prioritise marketing effort?

Use quantitative research to rank ‘influencing’ factors, and thus prioritise marketing effort. Though conduct qualitative research first to scope your quant survey, and finesse the questions. You’ll need to devise a long list of answers to the following:

  • how customers find your brand (i.e. source(s) of awareness)
  • what are key needs or reasons for considering your brand?
  • what are reasons for buying or not buying your brand?

Figure 6 (below) summarises some of the results from a survey to assess key reasons (and barriers) to buying telecoms services (fixed line, mobile, broadband and TV). This shows how issues and attitudes differ across two countries. It also reveals a marketing opportunity simply to promote additional services!

Fig 6 : Example Barriers (Quantified)
Example barriers (on a customer journey)

Research Inspiration

  1. Understand the customer journey to pin-point practical marketing opportunities, and prioritise effort. Investing in research will pay quicker and larger dividends.
  2. Don’t under or over-estimate the impact that ‘digital’ is having on all markets. So understand both the offline and online customer journeys as well as any inter-relationships. Only then will you be able to devise strategies to exploit the linkages, address any disconnects, and optimise demand.
  3. The more complex and time-consuming the customer journey, the more that can go wrong. Conversely the greater the potential benefits in understanding it. For example, in business to business (B2B), writing proposals is often a key step on the journey. So unless your conversion from pitch to win is 100%, there is scope to improve! So understand and simplify where possible.
  4. View the whole customer journey as a relationship ladder. Your aim is to attract a prospect, win a sale, and ultimately repeat purchase and advocacy of your brand.
  5. Marketing basics still apply. So get your brand out there, and figure out the most compelling combination of rational and emotional benefits, and incentives to ‘activate’ demand.

References

  1. Lavidge Robert J and Steiner Gary A; A Model of Predictive Measurements of Advertising Effectiveness: Journal of Marketing, vol. 25, no 6, 1961
  2. Office for National Statistics, UK Internet users, August 2019. 99% adults aged 16-44 use the Internet daily.
  3. Mobile Internet Statistics
  4. Google Australia/New Zealand research: Decoding how consumers purchase. May 2020.

Guy is Chief Researcher at The Market Researchers and Chief Marketer at The Marketing Directors. With over 30 years experience, he helps research and market aspiring and global brands and businesses. Successes include Agatha Christie, Cadbury, the BBC, the Home Office, McDonald's and Olay. After graduating with a degree in Chemistry, he started-out in brand management at Boots and Procter and Gamble, managed business planning at Reader’s Digest, before becoming Group Marketing Director, responsible 13 countries at media producer Softvision. As a consultant he has worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers, New Solutions (Omnicom) and KAE, before founding The Marketing Directors in 2005. He works around the world from our base in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. He is an avid water skiier, tennis player and #HCAFC supporter.

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