You Can't Own Your Customers' Decision Journey, but You Can Try

    By The Build Network staff | Small Business

    The job of marketing is not to sell more stuff. It is to solve consumers' biggest problems during critical points in the path toward resolution.

    Real-time technology and soapbox social media have flipped the marketing model upside-down. TV budgets and billboard buys no longer move Mastercards; it’s peer recommendations and strategic relationship management that drive sales today. That’s a (nearly) undisputed fact, yet what remains the most used marketing strategy in 2013? Discounts and incentives.

    In other words, we’re still trying to bribe the consumer when what she needs is contextual information.

    So asserts Wim Rampen in the blog post "Marketing’s New Key Competence: Driving the Consumer’s Decision Journey." According to Rampen, a veteran strategist, "It’s safe to say many companies take their consumers’ decision journey for granted. . . . Yet we should not think that consumers are in control now. Besides information overload, many products are [neither] easy to find nor easy to understand. And then there’s the fact that customers do not know what they need.

    "Make no mistake," he continues. "They know what they want to achieve, but they do not ‘actively’ know what their criteria are for being successful (i.e., how they can best achieve what they want and how they judge the journey of getting there), nor can they easily translate those needs and wants into search-engine queries. But they do recognize it when something or someone is really helpful in getting them their job done!"

    Rampen offers this five-point plan for understanding consumers' decision journeys and reimagining marketing’s role in solving their primary problems along the way.

    Step 1: Map the customer’s job and desired outcomes.

    From the moment the customer’s need becomes apparent to the point a final solution is reached, map all of the touch points that person encounters with your company, with competitors, and with distractions. Ask why your company’s solution is not immediately the most obvious one. Consider whether any drawbacks--real or imagined--to your solution overshadow its potential benefits. Think about how your company could better handle any "jobs" that emerge along the way. Be sure to define what success looks like.

    "This is not a one-off," Rampen writes. "Although customer jobs don’t really change that much over time. Yet in my experience the way they perform/experience the job, and how they think of the job changes with each attempt. . . . To get this right, you need to be able to continuously observe and have dialogue with your prospects and customers."

    Step 2: Identify key partners and their contributions.

    Perform this exercise from your customers’ point of view by asking these questions: What key resources are helping consumers solve their problems? What is the role, importance, and key point of differentiation for each resource? If your company can do a better job than whoever’s doing it now, why don’t people know that?

    Step 3: Quantify the contribution of each consumer touch point.

    At every stage in the problem-solving process, your company has an opportunity to save the day--but always at a cost. So, the question becomes: What impact does each potential touch point have on customer acquisition, lifetime development, and satisfaction? The answer is the only way to prioritize.

    "It’s relatively easy to plot a journey; it’s more difficult to prove exactly how consumers take their paths, online and offline, and in what quantities," Rampen writes. "It’s even more difficult to attribute touch points to customer and company outcomes. Available data will only bring you this far. To fill in the blanks, you will need to tap into many external data sources, and you likely need to survey your customers/prospects on a regular basis and preferably follow their behavior for a longer period."

    Step 4: Choose key partners strategically.

    Now that you know which stakeholders contribute to your consumers’ decision journeys, identify those that are not direct competitors and build partnerships with them.

    "Unfortunately, there’s a lot of chaff on the wheat, from small-time crooks to parties that take entire industries 'hostage,'" Rampen writes. ". . . It is imperative that you understand the ways of the Internet and the parties that think it’s theirs to take advantage of. And please don’t only look at the results on the surface."

    Step 5: Introduce and promote new touch points.

    This is where the more traditional "marketing" enters the picture--designing the right products at the right price, delivering them to consumers at the right time and place, and making sure they understand how to extract value from them.

    "Don’t forget to measure customers’ perception of [their] success in meeting [their] desired outcomes," Rampen writes. "It may be tempting to see success in increased sales and revenue alone. But if you’re doing it in a way customers ultimately are not happy with, you’re leaving valuable white space for the competition."

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