Today we’re featuring a guest post from Daniel Benton. Daniel is the General Manager of Search at Salmat, a full-service marketing and communications company based in Australia. 

Gone are the days when buyers simply point, click, and buy. In fact, did they ever really do that? Either way, today’s customer journey is long and complex, full of twists, turns, diversions, and even breakdowns along the way.

Marketers need to ensure they not only know the whole journey, but also have the right mechanisms in place to stop customers slipping through the cracks and into the hands of the competition.

There is no “silver bullet”

Chances are your customer journey is a lot more complex than you realise. Consumers today go through lots of touchpoints and channels before they become a customer – they’ll see paid search ads, receive emails, click through organic search results and more. Sometimes this journey can take days, sometimes weeks or months. And, much to the frustration of digital marketers, there’s no “silver bullet” that will drive them straight to your door.

Adding to the complexity, the journey changes drastically depending on the individual buyer and industry vertical.

For example, a Google analysis found that car buyers in Australia are more likely to be affected by paid search near the middle of the journey, whereas those buying beauty products are swayed by paid search closer to the beginning of their decision making journey.

This isn’t an exact science, but it does go some way to proving that there’s no one size fits all. You need to take the time to work out the journey for your customers.

But wait, there’s more than one customer journey.

There could be thousands of potential journeys a customer might take before converting, and our e-commerce retail clients are living proof.

One retailer had a staggering 4,495 different online conversion paths in April 2015. That’s 4,495 different paths taken by users on their way to becoming customers. More than half of those paths involved two or more channel touchpoints.

Another e-commerce retailer had “only” 2,050 distinct paths to purchase, but 37% of conversions involved ten or more touchpoints.

Let’s zoom in a little closer to see the exact path taken by converted customers. This particular path delivered 8 conversions for an e-commerce retailer.  During this journey, the consumer had multiple instances of the following activities: visiting the e-commerce site from paid search, receiving promotional emails, viewing display impressions, and interacting with organic search results, all before making the final conversion.

The lesson here is that purchase journeys can be incredibly complex, and marketers need to know how their target audiences behave online in order to be in the right place with the right message.

Just because the customer journey is complex, doesn’t mean it cannot be navigated.

There are big rewards for those brands that dedicate time and resources to understanding and optimising their customer’s digital paths.

Take the example above – through each of the various touchpoints, the retailer managed to hold onto the consumer and not lose them to the competition. 

Your next steps

The first and most important step is to understand the journey your customers are taking. Once you have a handle on what the customer journey looks like, there are a few essential techniques to optimise your digital campaigns and ensure potential customers don’t slip through the cracks:

1.    Review your attribution model

Marketing attribution is the process of dividing up the value of an online conversion and distributing fractions across the different touch points that led to the conversion.

If you’re running a last touch attribution model, you’re probably not evaluating channel performance correctly. As attribution methods evolve to capture cross-device and cross-channel activity, use a data-driven approach to track and value all touchpoints that led to the desired outcome.

2.    Get your analytics in order

If your analytics set-up is incomplete, sort it out immediately. This means paying some much-needed attention to incomplete tagging, inaccurate goal data, and so on. Web analytics is the equivalent to the radar in the plane you are flying. A poor radar means you won’t get to your destination.

If you haven’t upgraded to Google’s Universal Analytics, I would recommend you do so now. While not perfect, it’s an example of one tool available to help you measure success in today’s multi-screen, multi-device world.

3. Use your data

Leverage your data in real time to better control your customers journey and keep them engaged with your brand. This might seem overwhelming but this is why you let technology do the hard work. For example, Kenshoo’s Intent-Driven Audiences uses advanced algorithms to apply search intent data to your social campaigns in Facebook allowing you to re-engage via Custom Audiences or create lookalike audiences.

4.    Tailor messages per channel

Once various channels are in play, you need to tailor the messages to audiences based on their stage in the decision process. The continually brilliant analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik, provides a simple but incisive framework for messaging.

5.    Be realistic with timing

Consider the most appropriate look-back window based on the time lag data in your analytics. If you’re selling an expensive or high consideration product don’t be surprised to see long lags between first touch and conversion.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on luck.

Underestimating the complexity of the customer journey means you cannot possibly be hitting your targets with the right message in the right place at the right time… unless you happen to be very lucky. You need to ensure your brand is there at the very moment the consumer is ready to buy – and that means being on multiple channels in tandem, with a relevant message.

Get this right or get left behind.