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August 31, 2015

Organizing for the Digital Customer Journey

by Tom De Baere

Organizations in B2B and B2C increasingly need to organize for the digital customer journey.

It’s no secret that the buying behavior of customers is increasingly influenced through digital content consumption and digital interactions using smartphone apps, tablets, social media and now als wearables.

Baby boomers, generation X and millennial spend more time consuming content, up to 20% hours a week, according to a new study “The Generational Content Gap”, in which Fractal and Buzzstream surveyed over 1200 people about digital content consumption.

Companies need to respond by understanding this digital behavior, and rethink the organization. Internally, and externally. From a marketing perspective this requires a different type of marketing.

I usually call it modern marketing these days, because it’s difficult to cover this subject in a couple buzzwords.

But it boils down to:

  • applying modern digital marketing tactics,
  • a culture of digital optimization,
  • building a digital marketing technology backbone, and finally…
  • a new type of organization with new digital roles in the marketing department.

That’s a lot of change. Where do you start?

What is the initial spark that sets this change in motion?

Google taking over the monetary transaction

There’s something going on in Google “lala-land“. If you follow what Google has been doing the last couple of months, some clear trends are emerging.

In may this year Google announced it would be partnering with hotel chains. In recent months, hotels have agreed to test Google products, and Google reached a licensing agreement with a startup called Room 77 that lets guests compare hotel prices and book rooms. This means the monetary transaction of booking a hotel room would go through Google.


Google-renting movies


In the US, if you want to watch a movie, you just type in the movie “watch inception”, and Google will offer you the possibility to watch the movie on Google Play. I am not sure if this is entirely correct, and if anybody could confirm this, that would be great. 

But it’s another example in which Google is taking over the monetary transaction, in this case the monetary transaction of renting a movie.


In July 2015, Google announced “Purchases on Google, which will make it easier for consumers to buy products directly from mobile search ads.

For consumers, this will mean that you’ll see be a “buy” button in some promoted mobile search results, taking you to a page where you can buy the advertised product.


To me, these are all example of Google controlling more and more of the buying process, in which brands most probably in the future will have to pay to get their products seen and sold.

We’ll see what happens.






Content consumption controlled by GAFTAA

In a blog post I wrote earlier this year I talked about how social media networks are changing into paid media, and how brands can react by becoming a social business.

The blog post also talks about how the larger social media networks today control the “filter algorithm”. This is the algorithm that decides if your content will reach social media users or not. They control the filters. And if you want to get past those filters, you will have to pay.

The influence of the GAFTAA “maffia” (Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Alibaba) is growing into a big challenge for brands. Search is controlled by Google, and the majority of content on social media, is controlled by the big social media networks, in which I think we can also add LinkedIn. And we all know that search and content consumption are key to any digital marketing strategy.


use of social media by age

This is the new generation of young people that will be the decision makers of tomorrow. They use social media, together with search, as the source of information and advice.


The rise of I WANT IT NOW

Why are applications like Snapchat, Vine, WhatsApp, and even…god forbid… Tinder so successful today?

Why do 3 million people download a mobile App called Yo, which can only do one thing : send the word YO to your friend (today they added other stuff, but initially that’s what the app was about).

This is the new generation of young people that will be the decision makers of tomorrow. They use social media for information and advice, and use these types of Mobile apps to communicate in hyperspeed with others. Access to information is ubiquitous and they want it fast (70% of tablet users expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less (source: Compuware)).

A nice and funny illustration of this fast shifting young generation is in this hilarious video from Adobe. Are you on Woo Woo ?



Marketers are only “updating” Digital Touch Points

With all these changes, is digital changing the behavior of buyers, and as and extension of that, is digital changing customer behavior? Yes and No.

I believe the classic model where customers are triggered by something, then do their research, and then buy what they need or want, is still very valid. There are a lot of representations that visualize this buying journey and customer journey, and my favorite one is depicted below.

Why is my favorite picture? Because it’s simple, it shows how people jump from one channel to the other while going through the buying and customer phases.


buying and customer journey


What is different today is how people become triggered, how people do their research, and how they buy. You can debate a lot about the influence of digital in certain markets, but it is undeniable clear that customers today are using more digital channels, that they use these channels on different devices, and that they are doing all of this in real-time, when they want it and when they need it.

Brands have reacted to these changes by adding more digital channels. We now have email, e-commerce, blogs, social advertising, online advertising, whatever technology brings us. And we updated our website to become a mobile and responsive website. Much more things to do as a marketers, and I can tell you from experience, that’s one hell of a job to keep all these channels in the air.

But is this a digital customer journey?

Are you providing customers with a digital path which they can follow, where digital customer data is flowing from one touch point to the other? Where customer data is flowing from one department to the other? And is this data used to optimize the business and/or the customer experience across the complete customer journey?


digital customer journey_only updated digital touch-points


We marketers saw that customers used new digital channels, so we added new channels. Just like ‘we’ marketers are now jumping in 2015 on real-time messaging apps.

But at the core, nothing has changed. You are only responding to communication demands of customers by adding more and more digital channels. But with that, no real added value is brought to your customers.

According to Gartner, in 2020 about 85% of customers will manage their relationship with a business without talking to a human being. That obviously won’t happen in all industries, but one day or the other, every industry will feel the change.

How will you bring value to the digital customer journey?

The Core of the Digital Customer Journey : Customer Value

There is already plenty of advice for companies trying to up their game when it comes to a more modernized customer journey. Almost all of them are being told to map the new journey out in detail, which can indeed be useful.

Just type in the word customer journey mapping into Google Images, and you’ll get plenty of examples as the one below. Great stuff and pretty interesting, and some of these maps are really well done, but at the core I think it’s about something else.


digital customer journey mapping example


Customer experience experts such as Errant Roman, are suggesting to focus on:

  • Solve a problem: analyzing the current customer journey will surface pain points, frustrations, and barriers. These pain points must not be analyzed from a touch point perspective, but from a value perspective. What more value can we bring to customers through digital at a certain moment?
  • Make life simpler: remove the time, effort, and/or friction the customer has in engaging with you. Don’t look at this as customer dealing with customer service, or logistics. Look at it from an holistic point, where logistical information can improve the life of someone dealing with customer service.
  • Engage the customer: this is a difficult one for many companies. Digital data and the right tools and organization can help you in pro-actively engage with customers. Do this at scale, and make it a success by investing in the tools and organization to do the work that is required.


This requires a customer-centric view and and omni-channel view in itself, based upon the customer journey. That in itself is quite a challenge for most companies. And quite frankly, many companies just don’t pull this off. 

Many companies struggle with customer centricity, because it’s bigger than what one single department can handle. It’s cross-departmental. So you need attention to higher layers that function across the complete company (data, tools, organization, change, etc).


Developing this higher layer is not a simple job. Many have tried to implement the 360° CRM view, but have seen that it’s not that simple. Doing this kind of implementations takes years of work, and by the time it’s rolled out, you need to change it again.

People get tired, key people leave the company, and the once grande vision is reduced to serving the basic needs of departments. This is because we have been focusing on the tool and the value for our company, and not on the value our customers. We have been focusing on the dream of using the 360° customer data to improve customer service, improve targeting in marketing, to improve the follow-up of customers, to better identify growth potential at customers, etc.

The Spark that Initiates the Digital Customer Journey

OK, so, we need to focus on value. Fine.

Ah, we should not focus on the tools. Thanks for that.

Oh, we need a higher layer? Mmm, how do you do that?

The initial kick, the initial spark that companies need to start thinking differently, is by looking at marketing as something which needs to be useful and meaningful to customers. Call it content marketing, inbound marketing, Youtility, whatever. Usually content marketing is the first step they take in this area.

Look at marketing as something which needs to be useful and meaningful to customers.

Starting such valuable marketing initiatives inside your company, trigger some interesting side-effects. 

What I have seen, first hand and from my own experience, is that these new marketing initiatives bring digital change. It starts with the need for content marketing, but it quickly serves as the spark that brings other, much bigger change.

By going through the steps, from identifying your business objectives, segmenting your target audience, developing buyer insight, and creating a content strategy, already a lot of digital value is brought to customers.

Content marketing initiatives also help you to develop extremely valuable digital tools. And with value I mean value for customers (in the first place), and value to the business. Think of calculators, webinars, ebooks, games & pop-quizzes (hey, we want to be amused), dynamic and interactive content experiences, reports & studies, etc.

Further advanced are tools that help customers do a particular task better, faster, more efficient. You end up with Youtility applications that explain you how to remove stains, how to fold knots, how to maintain your garden, etc.

But equally important are new SaaS based marketing tools that are on the verge of breakthrough. These marketing applications allow marketers to quickly build quizzes & assessments, contest, calculators, wizards, configurators, catalogs, interactive white papers, surveys, conversion paths, etc.


Marketing app tools from companies like Cereos, iONinteractive, SnapApp, etc allow marketers to quickly build valuable marketing applications.

Marketing app tools from companies like Cereos, iONinteractive, SnapApp, etc allow marketers to quickly build valuable marketing applications.

The Slipstream of Content Marketing

Content marketing initiatives are only a part of getting organized for the digital customer journey.

Along, and in the slipstream of many content marketing initiatives, other grand things happen. Companies learn about inbound marketing, continuous marketing programs, digital optimization, marketing automation platforms, social business, and agile marketing.

The change that content marketing brings to companies is hugely positive and brings tremendous value to customers. These initiatives start an internal thinking process which pushes the organization to think about:

  • how we can improve our website and our digital content?
  • what content and digital tools engage customers?
  • how we can use customer data to better serve customers, to sell more, and to be more pro-active to customers etc… ?
  • what internal skills and organization we need to do this?
  • what tools and processes do we need?

Hey, as it seems we are now thinking about how digital can solve customer problems, make life simpler or improve the business of our customers, and how our content and digital presence engages with customers.

And that’s exactly the value and the experience that the digital customer journeys brings. Would you agree?
Warm regards,

Tom De Baere

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