Customer behaviour: How to navigate the customer journey

Discovering exactly which channel delivers the sale is a tricky issue for marketers. However, some brands have found a solution, writes Craig Smith.

Customer behaviour: How to navigate the customer journey

You step through the door of Starbucks. Not your usual branch, but you were tempted by a Facebook Deals offer. Ordering the Mocha Coconut Frappucino, which is not your usual choice, you reach into your pocket to pay, only to find you've come out without any cash. You hand over your phone instead; there's plenty of credit on your Starbucks Card Mobile because a friend has reloaded it through Facebook in a random act of kindness. And the barista seems genuinely to find you attractive. It's a good day.

Inspired, you take a seat and log on to My Starbucks Idea to suggest that every customer gets a free coffee on their birthday. Naturally, you take a picture of the frothy concoction in front of you and upload it to the Starbucks Facebook page as you take the first sip. Interesting, but from tomorrow you'll stick to the lattes.

It's an entirely plausible customer journey, but how and where would you begin mapping it? Which elements are part of the customer experience and which are media touchpoints? Did this sale begin with Facebook Deals, or might 40 years of largely positive brand saliency have something to do with it?

Marketing quandary

The predicament facing many marketers is that while technology has made it easier to track parts of the customer journey in minute detail, the vast array of customer touchpoints has made tracking the customer journey all the more complex and elusive. We're on the ground looking at fragments of a detailed map while the aerial view hovers enticingly out of reach.

There is no better illustration of the gap between aspiration and reality than the fact that customer journey-mapping means different things to different marketers. Depending on their role within their organisation, the customer journey may be allied to either service design and customer experience or media effectiveness and planning. The challenge is to gain a clear picture of both, and to understand how transactions relate to communications and vice versa.

There is no lack of data to draw on. Insurance company RSA Group's chief marketing officer, Pete Markey, for example, has access to a twice-daily Twitter report and weekly social media analysis, though both can be tracked in real time. There is an online brand tracker, and measurement of media and PR effectiveness. Website performance is charted using A/B testing, and affiliate and direct phone conversions are monitored.

'Customers don't respond in a linear way,' says Markey. 'They see you as one business. From a direct mail pack they may visit the website but then want to speak to sales. They may visit a price-comparison site, but then ring up for a direct quote and to purchase.'

Markey acknowledges that, for all the data, the challenge of deciding where to put the marketing budget is addressed by intellect and not a little instinct. 'Sales numbers and retention figures overlay media data; together they can point to something similar going on and we act on that,' he adds.

The argument for applying customer sales and behaviour data as a sense-filter to stated media ROI is a valid one, not least for the credence it can bring with other functions in your organisation. Greg Grimmer, partner at ad agency HMDG, is opposed to agencies 'marking their own homework', pointing out that if the ROI of every media used by a brand were added up, it would lead to about 1000% of the claimed sale.

'Ad agencies using econometrics to prove that advertising works is a bad thing; Accenture doing the same is not so bad - but still your financial director might reject the claimed effect,' says Grimmer.

Mapping procedures

The direct link between advertising and sales is proven, not least courtesy of the IPA's dataBANK case study service, but how different customers respond to the same stimuli is a more complex correlation. Every customer starts from a different place; it is the essence of segmentation.

'A John Lewis loyalist can see a TV campaign and have it trigger their immediate need. A considerer of John Lewis may act six months later. A current rejecter can see the same campaign but buy from DFS; in five years' time they may buy from John Lewis,' says Grimmer. 'Accurately mapping those customer journeys is the holy grail, and having access to real-time ad tracking won't help.'

Catherine Salway, the former Virgin Group brand director, is familiar with the challenge in relation to Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Active and Virgin Media. As a foil to the complexity of myriad customer journeys, Virgin has started to use the simplicity of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) alongside other customer satisfaction measures. The 'one number' approach of NPS means that it is not a universally loved measure in the marketing industry, which Salway acknowledges.

For Virgin Group, however, NPS presents an easy win in terms of knowing where the pressure points are in a business.

'NPS shows us what to fix first and what to differentiate,' says Salway, who is on a quest to unlock the relationship between NPS and profitability.

Virgin Atlantic's 'Limo to Lounge in 10 minutes' proposition is cited by Salway as an example of how product development and marketing communications functions can work together using the same customer journey-mapping as their guide.

Customer interaction

Outside brands' own customer journey-mapping, it is media agencies that make the best fist of understanding the behaviours that make different customers interact with brands in different ways and applying that learning to media deployment.

ZenithOptimedia has its Touchpoints tool, Carat uses its Consumer Connection Study, while Initiative combines its Connections Panel with the Matrix media planning tool.

Initiative's worldwide director, performance, Jeffrey Graham, argues that the dual approach balances insight with analytics. Marketing mix modelling gives an understanding of which media investments drive sales for specific target groups, but used on its own, modelling cannot see beyond what has been done before. Starting with the Connections Panel, however, which comprises 175,000 consumers across 45 markets, provides insights into journeys in categories across different markets. These factors, claims Graham, shift constantly and therefore gaining a better understanding of them represents a never-ending research question.

CASE STUDY - How Best Western optimised its channel mix

Search, or more specifically Google, often gets more credit than it deserves. It is the 'last click phenomenon', or an incorrect emphasis on the line of sight between media and action. Google, as the final step in the customer journey, is credited with delivering the final sale for a brand, product or service, without any real understanding of what drove the customer to search for the term in the first place.

It is an attribution and investment trap into which global hotel chain Best Western could easily have fallen. Insight from Initiative's Connections Panel showed that search was a key driver of sales for the category - with customers typing in the brand name or different hotel terms. What was missing was an understanding of what drove search.

Using marketing mix response modelling, Best Western discovered that online display, even where the customer was not clicking on the ad, created demand. Higher levels of online display were used because of its positive impact on search. TV advertising also increased the incidence of search around the Best Western brand, which changed its weighting within the media plan.

Using the Connections Panel, Initiative looked into how other customer touchpoints could be associated with search. There was a strong association with mobile, which led to the creation of a Best Western mobile search app and placement partnerships within satnav search functionality.

Best Western bought branded and non-branded keywords on Google's mobile search engine and found that nine times higher click-through-rates and a higher percentage of overall purchases occurred within branded keyword searches. In its search ads it incorporated Click-to-WAP and Click-To-Call methods for contacting its hotels, which helped increase overall click activity by 30%.