Technology has accelerated quickly in a relatively short amount of time, and is already driving user habits. People want to make more purchases online rather than going a traditional route, and conversations are taking place on social platforms, not face-to-face.

Companies have begun to embrace digital marketing as an ecosystem, and not just as a tactic. Big Spaceship CEO Michael Lebowitz describes the connected age very well when he says, “I think the challenge for the longest time was how to get things connected. Now, the challenge is how to make sense of it, how to bring strategy to it, how to organize it and how not to drown in it.”

In the past, customer journeys and touch points were illustrated by a simplistic and linear purchasing funnel like the one below:

Prospects entered from the top with brand or product awareness, and spiraled downward through their consideration to purchase, and ultimately, toward brand loyalty and advocacy. It was simplistic, and it worked because average customer journeys were marked more by physical steps, and marketers controlled the message. Consumers are shopping in different ways now. The Internet made the shopping-from-home experience possible. Now, mobile has become the primary way we access the Internet, bringing the retailers to us, no matter where we are. There’s even more potential now that marketers are using geolocalization, social media, and apps.

Consumers are more informed and empowered than ever before, pulling information they want from virtually anywhere. Think about all the peer reviews and user-generated content that you read on daily basis or the recommendations from friends. People can experience a brand in many ways other than product purchasing and usage. The funnel of years past fails to consider the complexity of people jumping in and out of the buying process at different levels.

Interactive President and CTO Scott Brinker makes the observation that the ancient linear marketing model is dismissing the “feedback loops that customers experience in social media.” This model also discounts the emerging customer who may not even be in the funnel, like 80% of individuals who are willing to trade personal information for personalized offerings, according to IBM’s presentation at the 2014 Customer Insights Conference at Yale.

As marketers, we will always care about the interpretation of an individual's relationship with a product or brand. Ultimately, when we strive to understand the ever-evolving purchasing journey of our target customer, this helps us market to them more effectively.

So how do you capture the key point when each customer is different, and may not follow a sequence or land on every step anymore? After all, you still want to be top-of-mind, and you always hope that your customer is foregoing the consideration of buying a competitor’s products or services when they are in purchase-mode.

Since the “always-on world” is constantly absorbing messages and gathering information about brands, “it should be less about getting people into an awareness stage and driving them down a funnel, and more about understanding how your audience makes decisions and how you can be there to support them and add value throughout the entire life cycle of their journey”, says Kimm Lincoln, VP of Digital Marketing at Nebo Agency.

Our advice on developing a successful buyer journey like the one Kimm talks about is much like Cisco Sytems’ CMO, Blair Christie: “Make your content king, digitize everything, and be customer-obsessed.”

 

Making Content King

Content marketing: you can’t escape it even if you try. It is one of the hottest, most discussed topics in marketing and media for a reason. Blogging creates more traffic, sources more leads, and fuels our social web. As we’ve seen over the last few years, quality content increases engagement and brand loyalty. Bottom line: content gets people to know, like, and trust your brand. Yet, you’re probably still thinking, “What does that mean for my business?” 78% of CMOs believe custom content is the future of marketing, and this is why it works:

  • Interesting content is one of the top 3 reasons why people follow brands on social media.

  • B2B companies with blogs generate 67% more leads per month on average than non-bloggers.

  • 82% of marketers who blog see positive ROI for their content-driven marketing.

  • 90% of consumers find custom content useful, and 78% believe that organizations providing custom content are interested in building good relationships with them.

(Source: http://www.slideshare.net/NewsCred/56-best-content-marketing-statistics)

The key is creating high quality content that caters to your target customers’ interests, and shows your human side as a brand. One aspect in increasing engagement and brand loyalty is through storytelling.

We, as humans, have always enjoyed stories. When you tell a story, you take the listener through a journey that moves him/her to feel different, and the result can often prompt action. Think about a time that you heard a traditional pitch with elements of facts and figures. Can you honestly remember or site a statistic from that pitch? Conversely, I am certain a whopping majority of us can remember a compelling story and recall details of that story because it invoked personal feelings or experiences.  

Now think about how you can apply this to your marketing efforts. Through storytelling, your brand/business can differentiate itself and cut through the content clutter. Your brand stories can stimulate the mind and send customers on journeys that lead them to solutions with your products, rather than continuing to use neutral words and phrases that lack narrative.

 

Digitize Everything

The age of abundance is here. Methods of communicating with people are no longer a scarcity thanks to digital. It is important to acknowledge digital as a series of interactions with each other and with everything around us. Eventually “digital” will become less and less relevant in terms of a combination of channels or platforms, and, more importantly, in terms of understanding all types of human behavior. Think about digital analytics. We know how things are reacting because people will let you know, and it gets us closer to that consumer faster.

Check out some of these mind-blowing stats about the current digital landscape. As you digitize your marketing strategy, think of this as a more meaningful engagement with customers. As you consider each customer touchpoint, both digital and traditional, make sure that they collectively create a seamless customer experience.

 

Customer-obsessed

Stephen Foxworthy, Strategy Director of Reactive, said it best: “Brands only succeed through their customers, so customer satisfaction remains one of the most important determining factors for brand success. Digital media, and particularly social networks, make a poor customer experience so easy to share.”

A big trend right now is focusing on the holistic customer experience. Personalized communication is becoming more important because marketers are taking into account the growing customer power when crafting a message or campaign. Since consumers already have a strong idea of which brands they will purchase before they start the buying process, the challenge now is centered on knowing how they’re being influenced. Once you get to know your core customer, create more contextually-relevant experiences that can be truly helpful in people’s lives.

Sources:

  • http://adamhcohen.com/wp-content/uploads/Rethinking-The-Funnel.gif
  • http://www.cmo.com/articles/2014/10/16/cisco_cmo_customer_j.html
  • https://hbr.org/2014/05/marketing-can-no-longer-rely-on-the-funnel/
  • http://marketingland.com/the-artist-formerly-known-as-the-marketing-funnel-60386
  • http://www.neboagency.com/blog/the-fallacy-of-the-funnel-how-to-leverage-the-new-buyer-journey/
  • http://www.pardot.com/blog/single-largest-element-b2b-content-marketing-missing/
  • http://www.pinterest.com/pin/15621929931872932/
  • http://www.pluck.com/customer-journey/
  • http://recode.net/sponsored-content/ending-funnel-vision-new-models-for-a-buyers-journey/

This post originally appeared on AgencySparks.com. All rights reserved

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