The 3 Steps to Make Sense of the User Journey
Life would be easier for marketers and merchandisers if a person came to their website, found what they were looking for and checked out without distraction. Conversion rates would be near 100 percent and everyone would be happy, right?
User journeys are not, of course, linear like described above. Many brands have as much luck deciphering consumers’ path to purchase as they do figuring out what a young child drew. With a tilt of the head and some questions, however, savvy organisations can start to decipher the picture visitors are painting when they branch off from a site to visit other channels (e.g., email, social, search, text) and return any number of times – with or without converting. By understanding user interactions before conversion, organizations can pick up on interests and intent to learn about their customers in ways straight-to-conversion journeys could never offer.
To start making sense of the user journey, marketers and merchandisers must commit to tracking it and leveraging three important steps: analyse, action and experience.
Step 1: Analyse
Every business understands the importance of customer data; it can tell them what has happened historically, and, with the right technology, what is happening now. Digital analytics has moved forward, and vanity metrics such as sitewide bounce rates and top exit pages don’t tell brands anything they didn’t know already. The real value in this step is getting to know individual customer behaviour including every visit, click, email and purchase, from every channel and touchpoint.
On its own, data can be a very powerful tool in the hands of a skilled analyst or data scientist or, (and unfortunately this is most common), in the hands of unskilled analysts who end up reporting data for the sake of reporting data, without insights or strategy. To ensure an organisation tilts toward the former, they need to develop a business-oriented data collection and analysis strategy based on their goals and objectives such as (1) increase sales, (2) improve conversion rate and/or (3) grow the percentage of return visitors.
To make the visitor experience stand out to everyone, brands must deliver content that is engaging, based on its relevancy to their intent and interests. By building a profile of visitors, to include attributes such as personal data (name, age), preferences (likes, dislikes) and device history (web visits, mobile device, offline interactions), companies can begin to talk to their visitors individually like they would if the visitor was shopping in-store. Due to the countless technology solutions within their marketing-technology stack, most companies are unable to connect the dots between interactions and compile it into a single view of the customer. The implementation of a Customer Data Platform that tracks interactions from multiple touchpoints (combined with data from other sources) can help the marketer realise the “Holy Grail” of the Digital Marketer: The Single Customer View.
Once they have the 360-degree view of each individual, by utilizing data visualisation technology such as business intelligence dashboards, brands can understand a more holistic view of overall user behaviour. Marketers, merchandisers and business leaders can visualize how this aligns to their overarching business objectives. Success can be measured by metrics such as customer lifetime value or revenue recognition from specific campaigns tied to initiatives designed to drive these key performance indicators (KPIs).
Step 2: Action
Smart platforms can even take these learnings and start to make marketing and merchandising recommendations based on those metrics and the understanding of their visitors’ journeys because data is meaningless if analysis cannot be made and actions taken as a result. Brands need to act on visitor intelligence, in the right place, at the right time. Personalisation at each stage of the customer journey, across each device and channel is at the core of this and can be broken down into three tiers:
Tier 1: Basic/Standard
This is based on single data points such as age, gender, last purchase or time of day. While Tier 1 can engage large customer segments with content, it requires the understanding of the customer through explicitly declared information, such as by creating a user profile, or contextual information such as time, date, place etc., which can take development resources.
For example, a site’s message may read, “Good Morning Greg, Welcome Back.” As a message to the user, it has some level of recognition, but also includes time of day information and knows the person is a returning user, so the system treats him differently.
Tier 2: Segmentation
This requires further effort from marketers and merchandisers, to segment visitors based on common attributes, such as preferences, demographics, and order history to give them a more bespoke experience and show them content that will interest them. Typically, this will engage smaller, more targeted customer personas.
For example, a company may create a segment called British men who like music and sports and define the content that visitors who fall into that group should see.
Tier 3: Behavioural
Behavioural-based personalisation is possible through a combination of tracking the user journey across different touchpoints, and using artificial intelligence (AI), to deliver the relevant content (e.g., articles, images, video, audio) to each unique visitor at the right time to increase engagement and conversions.
For example: Organisations can track what content a visitor has browsed to, or which products they have shown interest in, and based on that information, and from people with similar behaviours like them, show them product or content that best fits that person.
While it may go without saying that brands want to evolve past basic personalization, segmentation is not without its challenges. Every organisation gets different visitors of different types interacting with their brand – new vs. returning users, those who have purchased before versus those who haven’t, male versus female etc. Essentially, marketers need to provide relevant experiences to customers as they traverse the different brand touchpoints. The problem is, each individual– versus every segment – has different needs and wants. To really individualise the experience for each visitor, defining and maintaining all these segments becomes nearly impossible to manage. As a result, organisations suffer from missed opportunities to connect with interested customers.
With machine-learning (a subset of AI), brands can start to make sense of huge data sets. Every click, every review (given or read), download, sign-up or add to the basket can aid in real-time decision making. Thanks to machine-learning, marketers, merchandisers and business decision makers can act on visitor intelligence data in real-time, which starts to present an individualised experience to each visitor, versus trapping them in a segmentation bucket. This approach evolves the idea of segmenting groups of individuals into creating a segment of one.
Step 3: Experience
Seventy-seven percent of consumers have recommended, chosen or paid more for a brand that provides a personalized service or experience according to Forrester. To know this is true, retailers must think of the many startups using AI-algorithms to curate the best possible product or content matches for their audiences. These disruptive companies are not always selling physical products, but rather selling the brand-experience, and delivering what customers want and when and how they want it. Brands of all types and sizes need to enhance the customer experience by customizing it to personas.
With behaviour-based personalisation, the system in place automatically learns and adjusts what products and contents are displayed at each point on a user’s journey. The content narrows down to relevant content for the individual (e.g., videos, text, images).
What’s more, it is not necessarily about getting these people to convert but rather to supplement their brand experience. For example, Facebook, Refinery29, and Adaptly held a study, which found that campaigns that tell a brand story before presenting a call-to-action (CTA) were more effective than campaigns that only focused on a CTA. In other words, brands that do not create experiences that standout to each single individual, will be forgotten.
Aside from personalization, customer experience is about knowing the user journey, across all channels both online and offline, and removing roadblocks to provide an engaging experience, which eventually will positively impact conversions and retention rate.
If Nothing Else
Making sense of the complete customer journey can be overwhelming for organisations with disparate marketing systems. So, if you don’t do anything else today, at least do the following: (1) physically map out the different channels and touchpoints that users can interact with your brand, before, during and after conversion; (2) define customer personas, of visitors that come to your site, and also of those you want to attract; and (3) test the experience, see which experiences deliver the most return and tailor your experience to suit.