New Tenets of Digital Marketing: #2 Winning at Every Stage of the Customer Journey


Winning at Every Stage of the Customer Journey

This post is the second tenet in our series The New Tenets of Digital Marketing.

Marketers have long sought to better understand audiences’ needs in pursuit of deeper brand affinity and customer connection. And as the customer journey flexes to account for droves of online and offline touchpoints, it has become profoundly more complex for marketers to find, connect and win audiences at each stage of an iterative customer journey. 

Considering offline touchpoints alone – we have struggled to understand the influence of offline media on our customers’ behavior and particularly, the impact of offline marketing initiatives on sales – both online and offline sales. The arrival of a digital ecosystem appeared to offer some relief and hope for clarity; the promise of digital ad technology was always that it was trackable and accountable.  However, the reality of digital ecosystems manifested a little differently. As our largest digital channels grew and evolved separately, guided by no unifying principles of measurement, the promise of cross-channel trackability continued to elude marketers. Meaning, understanding our customers’ full digital journeys is now a discipline with its own complexity. And marketers, handcuffed by a lack of cross-channel insights, limited resources, and inadequate tools to match the demands of our customers’ non-linear and omnichannel journeys, find mastering the customer journey to be a continuing challenge.  Today, new intelligent automation technologies bridge substantial steps toward a solution. Intelligent automation platforms with cross-channel planning and execution capabilities offer holistic, cross-channel insights and most importantly, accelerate the ability to take action on those insights instantaneously. While not solving for walled gardens, these intelligent automation platforms allow marketers to better see the nuances of the online journey and to execute dynamic, personalized strategies effectively across channels. For marketers focused on achieving the optimal customer experience, intelligent automation partners allow them to power a customer-obsessed culture in fruitful ways.

Customer Obsession: Getting It Right

Marketers succeed only when they are able to anticipate customers’ needs and deliver along the customer journey when and where customers want them to. To this end, brands today are pursuing a customer-obsessed culture with renewed intensity. But, what does it take to be customer-obsessed?

Forrester defines customer obsession as: “Customer-led, insights-driven, fast, and connected.” In unpacking this and thinking about what our marketing teams need to have in order to achieve each, it quickly becomes apparent that customer-obsession requires bandwidth and the ability to track, analyze and execute on audience data at a volume and rate beyond average capability today. It is no surprise that effective customer obsession has been so difficult to achieve thus far.

Marketers will have to tackle a number of challenges in order to deliver on customer obsession, namely, leveraging data to draw meaningful and actionable customer insights, threading those insights through a cumbersome media planning process, and executing across an incongruous landscape. 

Moving Beyond Silos

In the typical media planning process today, marketers divide the customer journey into discrete phases, such as awareness, consideration, and intent. Within each phase, we identify the channels to invest in, targeting tactics to employ, the audiences to prioritize, the formats to use, and the messages to serve for the duration of the campaign. Inevitably, this presents a problem as it is an inflexible and fixed approach to channels and audiences which are by nature dynamic and iterative. Not only is it a labor-intensive strategy, but it is also one that relies on manual execution and thus leaves tremendous value on the table.

This siloed approach not only impedes marketers’ ability to make holistic decisions, but it also ignores opportunities to optimize across channels and audience phases. Some campaign management AI vendors have been able to offer minor improvements. For example, some ad tech vendors provide algorithmically driven capabilities to identify and adjust optimal spend for poor and well-performing audiences. However, these kinds of tools either hand off the actual spend adjustments to human teams or remain disconnected from other channels where this same insight could provide an advantage to better connect with audiences at other important touchpoints. On the creative side, some vendors who promise multivariate testing employ algorithms to determine ads that are ‘winners and losers,’ but are unable to then shift spend to winners in real-time, instead, once again, handing off action for manual execution. 

In order to achieve productive customer obsession, marketers need to move away from siloed channel execution and from relying on human action in order to take advantage of algorithmic learnings. Instead, we will discover the powerful ability of autonomous AI to identify and execute within the flexible and dynamic requirements of today’s digital media landscape.

Achieving Fast and Connected

How are customers interacting with the brand on and off-line? How can we create a more cohesive and impactful experience across both? Understanding the customer journey begins with actionable data. To answer these central questions, marketers will need to collect and synthesize data across channels. Today, this is a manual and time-consuming undertaking, but with new advanced technologies, this process can be largely automated.

Machine learning-driven technologies are able to analyze and execute not only across digital channels, but they are able to knock down barriers between the online and offline worlds as well. They can ingest and analyze not only digital advertising data, but also have the ability to collect and integrate data from the off-line world, such as inventory levels, call-center volume, and other supply-side data points. With autonomous AI platforms powering digital activity and informed by inventory levels in real-time, retail organizations can regulate – by geography – the amount of ad spend they place behind key low or high inventory products.

The ability to deliver on customer obsession will require marketers to understand some key truths. First, it requires the acceptance that humans are ill-equipped to predict when and where to meet each audience within their customer journey. Second, it takes the realization that machine-grade algorithmic technologies, and their multivariate testing and predictive modeling abilities, are necessary to meet and match customer needs in every moment.

Marketers will need to step back from channel-specific views and look to cross-channel strategies in order to capture insights and deliver value across the customer journey. Additionally, they will need to leverage more robust technologies, namely, intelligent automation, to achieve faster learning and more-informed execution. Ultimately, it is this improved learning and the ability to take action that will enable marketers to be more thoughtful and effective in their pursuit of customer obsession. 

Read more in our third post of the series – Tenet #3: Unlocking Cross-Platform Insights.

by Ashna Shah
Sr. Director of Strategy