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Outlining the Customer Journey

This customer journey is a Marketing 101 topic. Despite being the foundation for any marketing strategy – digital or otherwise – many digital marketers and digital marketing strategists seem to ignore it.

How can you tell?

Often it’s how the conversation rolls out. The focus of these conversations are usually trends and trending platforms. I usually pull people back by asking them: “Is that what your target audience wants? What are you trying to accomplish?”

Distinct Stages of Customer Journey Overlapping the same Platforms

Let’s look at this customer journey proposed by P.R. Smith & Jonathan Taylor in their book Marketing Communications: An Integrated Approach 4th Edition.

Your target audience falls under one of these categories. Whether online or offline, your marketing activities should nudge them towards the right of the journey. Beginning from not knowing (unaware) all the way to becoming repeat (reassured) customers.

When you see their movement in this manner, you can develop a relationship between eyeballs (or reach) leading towards loyalty or revenue.

Examining the Different Stages of the Customer Journey

The customer journey influences how and what you're going to communicate to your audience. The six basic phases are: unaware, aware, accept, prefer, insist, and reassure.
Your customer journey helps you determine the function of a campaign or content rollout aims to do. It gives you a clearer picture of the bigger picture.

Stage 1: Unaware

Often enough we start at this stage: we don’t know that a brand or product exists. Sometimes we may not even know we had the problem! Can you think of those moments? For customers at this stage, your focus would be to get their attention.

AirAsia is a popular brand today. In 2019 over 22 million passengers flew with the low-cost carrier. Not many realise that this airline operated for 5 years before Tony Fernandes and Kamarudin Meranun bought it in 2001. Not only was the airline operating on a loss, no one knew it existed! It was so bad that the previous owners were willing to dispose of the company for RM1! Although AirAsia Group has more than 200 aircraft in its fleet today, it started with only 2 planes. This unknown carrier embarked on a massive and consistent campaign to raise awareness. AirAsia’s slogan, Now Everybody Can Fly, became its philosophy.

Today, there are many reasons why your target audience may not know you exist: you recently started the business, you recently rebranded, or you are entering a new market space.

For digital, the quickest way to create awareness is either an intrusively annoying online ad campaign or a campaign that resonates with your target audience.

On digital, you measure this through two matrices: ‘impressions’ and ‘reach’. ‘Impression’ is how many times your post or ad was seen. ‘Reach’ refers to how many people saw your post, content, or ad. A person may see your ad, content, or post more than once.

Stage 2: Awareness

Awareness comes next. This is when people know you exist. Awareness is neither bad nor good. Yet, it can be both good and bad.

Awareness is not reflected in your books. It is neither market share nor revenue. Yet, awareness could provide some value to your brand. It’s what legal practitioners would call ‘goodwill’.

Some brands have high levels of awareness. The Toyota Hilux pick-up truck is a good example. In Sarawak, lay-people may say they prefer to drive the Hilux over sedans but owns a Mitsubishi Triton (another pick-up model). Instead of merely being a brand, ‘Hilux’ becomes the noun communities use to refer to the whole segment or product.

Another example is ‘Pampers’ when the consumer meant ‘diapers’. It’s also akin to ‘Colgate’ when what the person means is ‘toothpaste’. Yet, the person talking may not be consumers of these brands per se.

Digital marketers can measure the state of awareness through several matrices:

  • Share of Voice: How many people are talking about your brand in a given period;
  • Social media followers: How many people follow your social media account?

Stage 3: Acceptance

The third stage is when your business or brand has a higher degree of trust: acceptance.

You often notice favourable association from non-target segments. Your product or brand is desired by your target audience. Where brands are equal, your consumers would not resist choosing what you have to offer.

Acceptance should also be distinguished from the next two stages. It’s akin to the bare minimum until the target audience is better educated about the issues and the options at hand.

This stage is also seen as the lukewarm stage. Your target audience would not have an emotive reason to select you. I would argue that when your brand is in Stage 3, you are subjected to the market’s unpredictable whims and fancy. Your brand is merely another commodity or convenience.

Sadly many brands – and organisations – are stuck here.

Stage 4: Preference

When your customers prefer your brand, you can say that you are now top-of-mind when it comes to recalling. If you’re selling canned food, your product would stand out on the shelves.

If it comes down to price, it takes a longer time for customers to settle for a cheaper alternative.

You would also be able to observe their preference, or conviction, online. Here is when you begin to have many advocates promoting your brand even though they may not have it. This large positive following is key in managing online reputation.

Imagine this: a competitor or an interest group starts to stir controversy against your brand. All of the sudden, amidst the negative backlash, is a group of Internet users – or Netizens – who come and defend your brand. They could be educating the undecided with their (organic) perspectives. When measuring sentiments, you could see a larger positive share of voice against the negative share of voice.

In traditional marketing, this is also akin to word-of-mouth marketing. Some customers or target audience are convinced of the benefits you provide even though they may not be a paying customer.

Stage 5: Insistence

Customers a step ahead would insist on the particular brand or product. They will not settle for anything less. It could be their first time buying from you. Even so, they are able to justify why they chose your product or service.

These customers or target audience are not those that stumble upon your brand by chance. They deliberately return to you.

Bear in mind that insistence can work against you. What I mean by that is when a particular audience or market segment insists on consciously not picking your brand. To a degree, it is like a boycott.

Stage 6: Reassurance

Reassurance is when your audience or customer habitually returns to you. They are happy with the experience that they got from you and would also be your advocates.

Apple has a significant following of Stage 6 customers. Likewise Google (and Google Chrome). In the example of Apple, you find many who are willing to line up for days before the release of a new Apple product. They are the feistiest proponents. No matter what Samsung or other brands have to offer, they remain loyal to Apple, the ecosystem, and the lifestyle that Apple represents.

In the entertainment industry, those in this stage are dubbed ‘diehard fans’.

The Customer Journey Ties Back to Your Business Model & End-Goals

Another fundamental understanding which strategists need to remember is this: the customer journey correlates with your business model.

Not all organisations would need a group of raving fans. If your business is selling commodities, marketing investments leading all the way to Stage 6 can be wasteful. The masses would not appreciate where the stones used in making the highway comes from.

Another factor to consider is what are you solving?

Related to the business model, if you are selling an intangible value through tangible products or quantifiable services, your approach would be different. The ‘end-goal’ would influence what deliverables you expect.

It is imperative to ensure that – even when adapting strategies and tactics – your campaigns are customised to your business objectives. Because your target audience has more choice than ever before, you need to make sure that your campaigns resonate with them as much as possible, in the right stages.

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