Whenever I talk to marketers and business owners who struggle with online advertising, I see the same root cause of disappointing results in nearly 100% of the cases. The problem is not having a good understanding and control of their Customer Journey. Why is this the #1 issue and what can we learn from their mistakes?
Understanding the Core Problem
Marketing newbies (and a few experienced folks) often desperately search for that one “silver bullet” solution that is supposed to magically make their advertising profitable. However, the reality is very different. In your marketing, every ingredient counts and could potentially make or break your target metrics, be they Cost Per Lead or Sales (CPL/CPS) or Lifetime Customer Value (LTV).
What are those ingredients? Here is a partial list:
- Marketing Channels: Paid vs. organic, online vs. offline, etc
- Advertising Platforms: Specific ad networks & systems
- Ad Formats: Specific ways to deliver the marketing message on these platforms
- Ad Targeting: Specific ways to identify your audience on these platforms
- Offers & Value Proposition: The nature of your product/service and its core promise
- Competition: What alternatives do your prospects have? How do they perceive your offers?
- Media Economics: What is the cost of getting quality traffic from your channels/platforms?
- Marketing Angles & Copy: Key messaging themes that convey your value proposition(s)
- Ad Creatives: Specific pieces of ad content expressing these themes within available formats
- Landing Pages: What happens after click/engagement with your ads?
- Sales Scripts: How the leads/sales are closed? VSL? Call center? Chat? In person? Self-serve?
- Retention: How does the product/service promote repeat business?
- … and a lot more
Successful campaigns always have all these ingredients working together, amplifying one another. On the other hand, any mismatch may easily tank your numbers. An easy way to see this is to compare your best and worst ads. The gap could be orders of magnitude!
How does one tame this complexity? This is where the Customer Journey Mapping comes in!
Definition of the Customer Journey
The idea of a Customer Journey Map is to distill all the factors, mentioned above, into one consistent view of the customer experience. Once we document the overall experience, we can review each ingredient, evaluate how it fits, and identify what to improve. All components of your marketing collapse into a unified roadmap!
We can define the term in several ways and here is one:
customer journey map
Diagram that visualizes
the actions, thoughts, and feelings
of your prospects and customers
In practice, this means that we look at the entire customer experience, break it down into a flow of steps , and document/review the “actions, thoughts, and feelings” at each step. Each step represents a specific customer interaction, that happens at a specific touchpoint, which could be a marketing, sales , or service system. Your own touchpoints could be your website, your Facebook page, your shopping cart, your call center, your physical store, etc. Touchpoints could also be owned by 3rd parties, for example, Facebook Ads or Google search page.
There could be many ways to visualize and document these steps. The crudest way is just to write them out in text. A finer presentation may produce a flow diagram that looks like this:
While nice presentation matters, the most important thing is the process of understanding and documenting the steps. Once you see the world through the eyes of your customers, you can design the marketing that works best!
Step 1: Map the “Current State” of your Customer Journey
Now that we understand the basic concepts, let’s talk about how to apply them to fix your marketing!
The first step is always to look at what is happening in your business right now! We won’t cover all the details in this blog post (but they are available to our managed service clients and in our upcoming training). Instead, let’s list some of the questions we’d ask:
- How did the existing customers become customers?
- Who are they? What are their traits? Where do they live?
- What do we know about the reasons they bought/converted?
- What are the current marketing touchpoints?
- How are the offers & marketing messages presented at each touchpoint?
- What is the current flow of customer interaction steps?
- What metrics are we tracking? Do we know conversion rates at each step?
- Are we running paid ads right now? On what channels/platforms/touchpoints?
- What ad creatives have been tested? Which ones worked? Which ones failed?
- What are the known marketing goals?
- … and a lot more
The output of this step is a document that puts the existing customer journey at your fingertips. You know it is done when any major question about the current customer experience can be answered using this document.
Step 2: Analyze and Reimagine the Journey’s Steps
Once the current state is properly documented, the next step is to review the details.
The main goals here is to understand what works, what does not work , and what needs to be changed. Here, we get very specific about the “future state”. Here are some of the questions we’d ask:
- Is the current marketing strategy working at all?
- Which journey steps are working best and which ones are broken?
- Do the flows & transitions between steps make sense for the customer?
- What are the conversion rates and where do we have the biggest drop-off?
- What are the most likely reasons for these drop-offs?
- Are all the existing touchpoints relevant and appropriate?
- Should we add or change some touchpoints and/or steps and/or offers?
- Is the current journey ready for starting or scaling paid traffic?
- Is sufficient tracking (Facebook Pixel, Google Analytics, etc) implemented?
- How should the journey be “redesigned” based on this entire analysis?
- … and a lot more
At the end of this step, the deliverable is a redesigned customer journey map, along with the plan and roadmap for getting it implemented. In most cases, there will be a list of easy changes to implement immediately as well as a longer-term wishlist that could be phased in over a longer period of time.
Step 3: Tailor Marketing Campaigns to Each Key Step
The final step is to turn the roadmap into action and get some ad tests going!
Having a well-defined customer journey map makes the questions about how to develop and target ads quite straightforward. We simply walk through the journey step by step, consider the customer mindset in the context of the touchpoint, and ask the question of what message is needed to motivate your customers to move from Point A to Point B. Specific questions:
- Which journey steps need paid ad campaigns?
- What are the key performance & optimization goals?
- What creative concepts would be relevant at each step?
- How to leverage existing creative assets vs. develop new ones?
- What are the sizes of the audience at each step?
- Which relevant targeting criteria are available (on Facebook, Google, etc)?
- What is the full list of options (targeting, creative, formats) to test?
- What questions are we are trying to answer in each test?
- How much to budget for collecting statistically significant data?
- What is the timeline for deployment/review/updating?
- … and a lot more
The output here are the marketing campaigns that fully align all of the ingredients we have highlighted in the “core problem” section. The customer journey map becomes the backbone of the marketing plan, and all the specific tactics neatly fall under the specific steps in journey. This enables quick review and iteration of the specific tests to optimize for the end-to-end performance goal.
- Understanding Customer Journeys is key to successful marketing
- Top marketers are already doing this, often describing it in other words
- Advertising can be run as a clearly documented process with checklists
- Modern ad platforms (e.g. Facebook) are a unique fit for this approach
- Did we mention we do this for our clients and will be teaching it via training?
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