The digital customer journey oftentimes reminds me of the action in the sci-fi movie Jumper.

The main character, David Rice, has a superpower that lets him teleport to anywhere on Earth in an instant. His life is full of pleasant distractions that he can jump to at any time, and whenever he gets bored or gets in trouble, blink, and he is on the other side of the room or the other side of the planet. Meanwhile, the other characters are standing around asking what happened.

It can be really difficult to talk to this character when he doesn’t want to listen.

That’s how it can feel to marketers as digital technology continues to fragment the customer journey. Now you see it, now you don’t. Even if your brand can get customers to your mobile-optimized website, in a blink they’ve jumped to message friends on Snapchat, play a game, or watch a good "old-fashioned" broadcast television program. Meanwhile, they flip through their favorite news reading app, intrigued by other ways of spending their time, which sends them back to their favorite search engine to look up movie times, bus schedules, weather reports, what’s on sale, when their favorite band is coming to town, and so on.

And who knows when your brand will get a moment in front of the "jumper" again.

Every Jump Is a Niche You Can Target

This fragmented customer journey presents a huge opportunity for brands -- if you’re up to the challenge.

Think about the upside to when television went from four channels to hundreds of specialized cable networks. Brands could niche their messaging to start better conversions with a narrower target audience.

Now, the chaos of multiple screens and channels creates a series of what Google has labeled micro-moments that let brands niche even more effectively. In these micro-moments, brands can hone in on a target audience of one. But to do that, brands have to be ready when the customer jumps.

You Have to Map Every Step to Find the Hidden Treasure

Consumers don’t wait to be educated about their problems and the solution you offer. They are educating themselves while they are living their problem, often “touching down” at multiple points spread over time.

For example, a friend of mine just got his first prescription for bifocals and is in the process of getting new glasses. Here are just some of the touch points he had or will have during this buyer journey:

  • Understanding the options for seeing better. (Drugstore "cheaters," reading glasses, bifocals).
  • With the progressive lenses prescription in hand, trying to understand if new ways of ordering glasses online (e.g., Warby Parker) are an option.
  • Deciphering the details on his written prescription.
  • Finding the nearest chain retailer. Finding time to drive there.
  • Figuring out the actual price versus the advertised price.
  • Considering how much more the local boutique retailer costs versus the discount store at the mall and if it’s worth the better service and selection. Finding what hours they are open.
  • Figuring out which glasses actually look good on him.

Eventually, he will post pictures of himself online wearing the new glasses, and he'll tell his friends about his experience.

All of this is spread out during a few weeks through multiple searches on multiple devices, and each moment is an opportunity for a brand to stand out, catch his attention, and keep it. But first, the brand needs to know and understand that path.

To determine this complicated journey, I recommend what I call “walk alongs,” which are similar to the work of ethnographers and field researchers.

Walk alongs help you glean the key insight that will lift your marketing approach from generic to truly unique. A terrific example in merchandising is the story of how 5-Hour Energy made the transformative decision to get its product in front of truckers on the counters of rest stops, rather than letting it get lost in the cooler with the competition.

To apply this tool to content marketing, remember that a key question in developing customer journey maps is, “What doubt or lack of understanding keeps the customer from moving through this stage?” When you clarify that, you know what content will actually be helpful to customers and possibly convert them or move them farther down the funnel.

To go back to our bifocals example: You may look at your in-store data and see that you’re losing potential customers at the shelf display. You assume that your design needs work, so you start A/B testing. But without really following along, you could be missing that customers are really stuck on how progressive lenses work compared to traditional bifocals or compared to what they’re used to wearing. In that case, you would be better off making it easy to get that question answered, perhaps through take-away materials, by revising the email marketing that they receive, or by developing a cool app that simulates the experience of wearing the glasses.

If you can "walk a mile" in your audience's shoes, you’ll be going the extra mile to develop content that truly gives them value.

When Your Customers Expect an Arms Race, Give Them a Hug Instead

You already know your customers expect it fast, and faster than they got it yesterday. And they expect everything your competitors provide, too, whether that’s free shipping, customization, concierge services, or a dozen color choices.

You can’t stop at matching the competition, though. Meeting customer expectations is just table stakes, and table stakes aren’t enough in this game. You need a way to turn the micro-moment into something unexpectedly awesome.

One touching example is how Canadian TD Bank turned average visits into a standout experience with an Automated Thanking Machine. Customers trying to get their cash encountered an ATM that seemed to know their favorite sports team or how they had two children. Then it began distributing progressively more precious gifts, starting at plush toys, T-shirts and flowers, and escalating to experiences such as visits from a major league baseball player and plane tickets so a worried mother could visit her sick daughter.

Customers will hardly register an ad bragging that a bank has more branches and lower fees. They already know you’re in an arms race with your competitors. So, in the midst of the arms race, TD paused to give its customers a hug.

Naturally, they recorded the encounters and created a moving video that has brightened the day of more than 22 million viewers on YouTube.

Turn Moments of Friction Into Moments of Delight

Nowhere is offering a positive experience more potent than in the moments of friction your customer experiences throughout the day: he’s bored, she’s hungry, he needs to confirm the delivery date, she needs to remind herself of an address.

These very small points of friction present fantastic opportunities to surprise and delight.

For example, on social media, machine learning and smart “triggers” can help brands pinpoint people who are posting complaints or using emojis, and then target them with on-brand messages about your product.

Kleenex did this during the winter cold season by searching on Facebook for people who complained about being sick. They then sent them a personalized get-well package, along with encouragement to post and hashtag the experience. Kleenex says 100% of those who received the package posted a photo of it on Facebook -- a terrific example of customer co-creation in social media marketing. Experience builds relationships, and relationships build brands. Kleenex created this positive experience by using digital channels and digital forms of communication.

Stand on Your Brand Pillars Instead of Twisting in the Wind

Brands that understand how their consumer is traveling through life can use micro-moments to stand on their brand pillars in a way that is authentic. You can’t catch the customer in the moment and then have an artificial presence.

For example: LEGO is one company that has mastered branded content. Joe Pulizzi wrote, "... it more closely resembles a media company than a toy company." LEGO wants to be able to harness inspiring moments when someone is thinking about creating something -- its archetype is the "artist." So at the core of many of it ads and projects, such as LEGO Club, is nurturing the artistic impulse, and then encouraging customers to share their creations and learn from one another.

Create an Emotional Shift for Brand Lift

You are competing not just with other brands in your vertical but with every other possible experience your customers can have in their lives. To keep up with the jumper, you need to insert your product or service into those points in their journey when they are time starved, unhappy, bored, or in search of help.

And then you have to design an experience that surprises and delights. Ask your team what you are doing to take advantage of these micro-moments. Are you finding the moments of stress and friction? Are you designing to capture hearts and minds with each glance? Are you innovating to create an emotional shift and generate a brand lift?

Because, if not, the jumper isn’t waiting around, and you’re missing out on some of the best opportunities in marketing.


Originally published Dec 2, 2015 7:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017


Brand Awareness