Marketing’s New Key Competence: Driving the Consumer’s Decision Journey…

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Over the past years a lot has been written on the importance of understanding and aligning with the Consumer Decision Journey and more specifically how it has changed with the rise of the Internet of Things. I like to refer to this combination of phenomena as the ‘ConsumerNet of Things’ for it stretches beyond the Internet into (real life) social networks and e.g. plain old brick & mortar stores as well. It’s the ‘web’ of resources (information, knowledge, connections, relationships, platforms, devices etc etc) available to Consumers (in a specific context) when searching for (and using) products and services to help them get their jobs done.
I don’t have to repeat that a Consumer/Customer’s capability to make (informed) decisions around the stuff they need has significantly improved over the past decade. And you should expect Customers to become even more savvy. It’s mind-boggling though how this has hardly resulted in a (noticeable) increase of company’s matching capability.
Of course there’s Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Advertising. And of course experts are trying to optimize conversion rates of the touch-points they are responsible for, e.g. the contact center or the online subscription form. Others are involved in dealing with affiliate partners or online aggregators. Most used strategy by all? Discounts and incentives! Few really talk to the Call Center employee, but maybe for when targets are set or a sales-boost is required. I think it’s safe to say many companies take their Consumer Decision Journey for granted.
I believe it is of vital importance companies start driving the Consumer Decision Journey. Classic campaign management is suffering diminishing returns for lack of relevancy. Content marketing is not by a stretch meeting the outcomes Customers are trying to achieve when going into orientation and purchase mode.  It’s still mainly a Goods Dominant Logic-fueled world out there. On top, people are overloaded with other things to do, as well as with information they (need to) consume. Information (e.g. interest-based ads) that Google is allowing them to opt-out from a lot more easy than before. Even to an extent that they make it easy to filter commercial messages from social and the real important stuff in your inbox. On first sight this new ‘feature’ will further reduce your ability to reach Customers via e-mail.
Yet we should not think that Consumers are in control now. Besides information overload, many products are not easy to find, nor easy to understand. And then there’s the fact that Customers do not know what they need. Make no mistake: 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 search-queries. But they do recognize it when something or someone is really helpful in getting them their job done!
In short: Consumers can use a lot more help than is available today. And from your point of view: there may not be a lot of opportunity in (aggressively) selling your stuff, there’s plenty of white-space in doing a better job at helping them understand what they need, help them find the right options and buy.
What does it take to make Driving the Consumer’s Decision Journey your key Competence?
I believe that getting this right will provide you with competitive advantage in your industry or category. That is, if you make it a core competence to drive the Consumer Decision Journey and stay ahead of competition by doing so. But what does it mean to build a key-competence in Driving the Consumer Decision Journey?
I think there are five capabilities that you need to operate – in close harmony – to master Driving the Consumer Decision Journey. Here they are:
Capability I: Mapping the Consumer (and Customer) Jobs & Outcomes..
..from the moment – and the context – in which the need becomes apparent, to when they finished it, including all the touch-points they encountered (not just your own). Needs emerge in a certain context, and most cannot be immediately satisfied because the resources (yes, you should include all resources Customers use in your map) to get it done, are just not available. So you need to start with the very beginning, for most potential gains are to be found there, in the context and how they can satisfy the need immediately or not. The insights you gain, and the solution you design, could potentially disrupt your industry.
This is not a one-off, 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. You need to stay on top whether new (micro-)jobs emerge, what their relative importance is, and how people are trying to deal with them. To get this right you need to be able to continuously observe and have dialogue with your prospects and Customers.
And don’t forget to capture the Customer way of measuring success. You’ll want to transfer them into metrics to track success of your efforts!
Capability II: Identify key partners from the Customer’s point of view and their contribution to the Customer’s process.
Customers/Consumers use many resources/touch-points to get their job done. And it is likely that many Customers use the same key resources, specifically on the journey to purchase. The organizations attached to these resources are your Customer’s key partners. Customer’s might not recognize them as such but it is important that you understand them. You not only need to understand the role they are taking or being granted in the Consumer Decision Journey, you should also understand it’s importance  to your Customer and the key-differentiating attribute.  And you should ask yourself whether you could do a better job (in the eyes of your Customer that is..). Again: this is not a one-off. New parties enter the market every day, as do new concepts and business models. Make it a task to stay on top of this at all times.
Capability III: Quantify and validate the decision journey and the contribution of each touch-point (including those of partners and outsiders) to Customer acquisition, lifetime development & satisfaction with the process.
The first two capabilities are based on qualitative research. The third one is hard-core analytical. It’s relatively easy to plot a journey, it’s more difficult to prove exactly how consumers take their paths, online & offline, and in what quantities. 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 bases and preferably follow their behavior for a longer period. And like the above, this is not a project, it’s a continuous and iterative process.
Capability IV: Select and Manage Key Partners
With the identification of your Customer’s key partners in their (Decision) Journey the need emerges to manage relationships with them. That is, with those stakeholders that really contribute to the Consumer’s Decision Journey and that can help you optimize (Customer’s and your) return of the touch-points with your spend on them. Unfortunately there’s a lot of chaff on the wheat, from small time crooks to parties that take entire industries ‘hostage’. Some legitimate, some not so much. If you want to drive the Customer’s Journey 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. For if it looks to good to be true, it probably isn’t (sustainably).
Capability V. Design & provide company (branded) touch-points that enable Customers to perform key-jobs and achieve key-outcomes in each phase of the Customers path to purchase
If and when you’ve got the first four bases covered you can safely and iteratively start to design and implement new touch-points into your Customer’s journey. And regardless of the insights you’ve gained, your ideas will not survive first contact with your Customers. That’s why one of the most important characteristics of this capability is agility. Your budgeting process might not approve, but I’m confident you’ll fins ways around that.
And don’t forget to measure the Customer’s perception of her success in meeting her desired outcomes. It may be tempting to see success in measuring increased sales and revenue alone. But if you’re doing it in a way Customers ultimately are not happy with you’re leaving valuable whitespace for the competition.
Bring it all together
It is likely that you have elements of all of the above capabilities operating hidden behind silo walls already. To get the maximum out of the obvious required collaboration it is not good enough to use collaborative technology alone. I recommend you get a team of people with the required skill-sets and embark upon your own journey by starting a Consumer Decision Journey Lab. This requires a cross-functional team that includes people from all internal stakeholders and who are dedicated to the topic. This team should also include key-partners and probably even (emergent) customers. Minimum requirement is a cool physical as well as digital home for your lab. Places that allow you to have dialogue with anyone interested and willing to contribute. Places where you can ideate, design, prototype and test your solutions. You get my drift.
That’s it. What do you think? Is driving the Customers Decision Journey a new Key Competence for marketing? Did I get the capabilities right? What have you learned about the Consumer Decision Journey that should not go unmentioned here? Please let me know in the comments.
Image via Flickr