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Customer journeys

I have a good friend – a man whose friendship I value highly. After some decades in very senior marketing roles across the world he’s leaving the industry – and that’s a whole story in itself. I value his friendship not because he’s a highly competent and highly respected marketer but because he’s simply a good man – a good and utterly reliable friend.

But, in talking to him about that decision I discovered something else that I like about him – he, like me, hates the word “journey” being used in relation to a customer.

Every month McKinsey&Co publish the “Highlights” for the month – it’s always an interesting read.  This month’s is “The new consumer decision journey”.

In part, it says, “This tipping of the balance of power in favour of consumers has been evident for years. In 2009, we declared that the traditional “funnel” model—in which consumers began with a set number of brands in mind and whittled them down until they decided what to buy—had been usurped by what we called “the consumer decision journey.” This journey involved shoppers taking advantage of technology to evaluate products and services more actively, adding and removing choices over time. And it included a feedback loop, where customers kept evaluating products and services after purchase, pressuring products to perform and brands to deliver a superior experience on an ongoing basis.We now believe the consumer decision journey needs updating.”

You think so?

Under the headline they write – “For years, empowered consumers have held the upper hand when it comes to making purchasing decisions. But companies are fighting back.”

Fighting back? Against what? Against consumers exercising their rights to choose, or not choose your product?

Let’s face it, the McKinsey&Co article is about getting you to hire them. But I think it speaks to a larger underlying problem.

I think using jargon like “consumer journey” conceals a real paucity of wisdom and understanding.

Jargon is usually used to make people think you possess some genuine inside knowledge about something. Generally speaking though, if you can’t explain something clearly and simply then you don’t understand it well enough.

It takes a lot of analytical skill to map the decision making process of a consumer. But, to my mind, too many marketers think that consumers can be manipulated and that communicating with their potential customers is a battle. A battle to force them to spend their money on the product being marketed.

And more often than not that process involves a good deal of empty noise and a narrowing of choices for the consumer – I suppose we could call that constraining the “customer journey”. In any case, operating in an environment where you are “fighting” your customers is the wrong way to go.

Consumers have always had the volition to buy or not to buy. Consumers have always been in charge. And that’s never been clearer than now.

Online business has made the strength of the consumer’s ability to choose more visible.

Online business has also made the powerlessness of some businesses and some marketers easier to see.

A good product is simply that – a good product. If you make it easy to buy at a reasonable price you are more than half way there.

And while it’s true that it’s now possible to understand the decision making process in much greater detail – and therefore tailor your offer – that understanding is not going to make up for a poor product, nor will it save a business that’s being disrupted out of business.

If you must embark on a journey then make it a short one and please try not to get lost in the undergrowth.

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