A thought that showed up this morning on a site called Flarrio. I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about artificial intelligence lately, especially in connection with digital commerce and, more specifically, the use of intent data to predict customer behavior.
Tag Archives: customer journey
Content strategists are buying into the concept of Customer Journey Mapping as a tool for planning content authoring. Martha Reifer Johnston’s article, published this morning, is only the most recent example of this — and it’s a good read.
I approve and concur. I’ve been saying this for more than two years:
- That the Customer Journey Map is an ideal way for marketers to visualize their content requirements; and
- That while digital commerce is driving the adoption of Customer Journey analysis (supplanting older “sales funnel” abstractions), this approach makes sense no matter where the marketer is in the adoption of automated content personalization.
- I’ve even taken my own stab at developing a tool for Customer Journey analysis specifically with content development in mind.
My intent, though, is not to position myself as a pundit or a digital marketing strategist — as much fun as those conversations are.
The long and short of it for me is this: No matter what new forms content takes; no matter how marketers slice, dice and personalize content; regardless of how you assess the future viability of long-form content…
…at the end of the day, somebody has to write words. That’s my craft. If Journey Mapping helps marketers decide what they need crafted and get those projects on the calendar, that’s a win for everybody.
I’ve checked, and yes, “Minority Report” was science fiction.
I frequently find myself at odds with the pundits in my field – it was a recurring theme of my years in the Knowledge Management field, and it seems to be my lot as a Content Marketing practitioner as well. I often have found the pronouncements of the personalities who present themselves as thought leaders to be unhelpfully far ahead of day-to-day reality.
I had an experience this week that vividly reinforced this impression, at an online “virtual trade show” hosted by the Content Marketing Institute. I sat in on a chat session moderated by a Content Marketing consultant who has a lot of visibility – certainly far more than I have at events like this. The subject was the use of content as a way to create good customer experiences. It was “open-mic,” so to speak, so I chimed in.
I’ve been interested for some time in the intersection between the Customer Experience (CX) discipline and Content Marketing, and the potential for the concept of “Customer Journey Mapping” to provide a useful roadmap for content strategy – or at least for the planning of what content to generate. I wrote about this last fall.
I’ve been sharing this idea fairly widely, and generally getting a warm response. Briefly summarized, the journey map will leverage a small set of “personas” – stereotypes of your typical customers, or at least an important slice of your audience, developed through analysis of a far-from-exhaustive but representative history of customer interactions.
The premise behind personas is that there are a finite number of well-worn paths by which people arrive at the realization that they have a need and that your product is an effective solution for it. The premise assumes that among customers who fit a given persona, people are reasonably consistent in how they approach the problem and resolve it.
In fact, there is enough consistency to allow you to draw a fairly reliable map of their process of deciding to buy your stuff – recognizing that along the way, most of them will have predictable “Moments of Truth” when they need a specific kind of information from you. Each of those Moments of Truth, given insightful analysis on your part, will reveal a need to create and deploy a specific kind of content.
Thus, by mapping out this “Customer Journey” for each of these personas, you also get a compelling plan of attack for filling out your library of essential Content Marketing materials.
As usual, participants in this week’s chat were warming to this concept – but not our moderator. His problem was with the personas.
Stereotyping customers in this way, he suggested, is outmoded – unscientific, even. It’s a shortcut, designed to make the marketer’s job easier, at the expense of precision in targeting the content. These days, he argued, marketers have access to Big Data on their prospects, and content should be tailored to individuals – not broad stereotypes. The objective should be personalized content. Personas are artifacts of the marketer’s laziness. The whole approach is outdated – “It’s lame,” he opined.
Years Ahead of Reality
I mulled this over as others in the chat started to climb on board with this idea.
“I get the point about Big Data and personalization,” I responded. “I just don’t think most companies are there yet. They don’t have the tools and their content isn’t nearly granular enough. This is one of those cases where the pundits are years ahead of field reality.”
Our host conceded this point. “Correct,” he replied. “Hardly anyone is there, which is why it’s important for us early adopters to move the needle in that direction.”
I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’m not sold.
I believe personas have years of useful life left in them, because they work, and are likely to continue to work. I have no specific data to support this, but my read is that people tend to approach a specific problem in consistent ways — not all the same way, but the variety of strategies is far from infinite. Stereotyping them sounds unfair, possibly archaic. But I believe for most marketers’ purposes, personas get close enough to reality to provide quantifiable value.
I’m as smitten as anyone with the marketing and customer relationship management possibilities in Big Data. I’m just not convinced that the buzz around data mining applies to content creation. Today, no one I know beyond the marquee Big Data pioneers (Facebook, Amazon, Google) has the capacity to generate marketing content of sufficient granularity to lend itself to individualization.
Even those companies are getting results – serving ads and offers on users’ personalized pages – that bemuse as often as they impress. (Yes, Facebook, I’d love to retire in Italy. No, I’m not in the market for a Bugatti. Where on Earth did you get that idea?)
At any company for whom I have worked, any effort to generate content sufficiently fine-grained to take advantage of individualization would collapse under its own weight. There simply isn’t the manpower or budget to support such an effort. (As a content creator, I’d love it if there were.)
It’s entirely possible that our moderator was right, that the siren song of content personalization is so seductive that today’s benighted marketers will simply have to come around. I’m doubtful, and no, I don’t think it’s important for us early adopters to move the needle in that direction. Not yet, anyway.
I think for most organizations, personalization makes far more sense if we get there by putting relatively standard (but effectively crafted) content in the hands of human agents – “touch points,” in Customer Experience jargon – who are in a position to take advantage of individualized targeting when they provide that content to the customer. Because it does make sense to personalize the experience; for crafting the content itself, my money for the foreseeable future is on personas.
I welcome your feedback. Heck, I welcome your pushback. Comments?
One of the most disorienting questions I get as a proponent of Content Marketing is this: “How do we know when we have the content we need?”
Why this question is disorienting should be obvious enough after a moment’s reflection, but it’s one I get fairly regularly. One might expect eventually to be “finished” creating marketing content if markets, products, buyer behavior, competitors, media, technology, social context or anything else that touches a business every day ever stopped evolving.
But of course, none of those things is ever static. There will always another question to answer, another objection to handle, another upheaval along the complicated road your customer travels before adopting your product.
The question beneath the question really is a rational one, however. The marketer really is looking for a way to prioritize, and to find a sense of equilibrium. He or she is really saying, “Look, we recognize that Content Marketing is a big commitment, and we just need a way to measure progress, and to know that there’s a ‘right’ way to do this.”
Actually, there is a way. Odds are that the organization’s marketing team already has a rather detailed roadmap that can give a discerning content marketer a clear and explicit picture of what content is needed to meet the company’s revenue objectives. It’s called the Customer Journey Map (or perhaps the Customer Experience Map).
The term “Customer Journey” has been gaining popularity over the last decade, as a way to capture the insight that your customer’s relationship with whatever it is that you sell is rarely love at first sight. This is especially true if your product is conceptual, digital, connected to the Web, or if it costs more than $100 or has more than half a dozen moving parts.
Your buyer travels a long and winding road to adoption, from recognition of a problem that needs solving (or simply an itch to own a widget like yours) to researching a solution, discovering that your product exists, sizing up its attributes, overcoming doubt, calming the naysayers who may have a stake in the decision, securing the funds, and ultimately getting to “Yes.”
Actually, from your perspective, the individual who buys your product still has a lengthy journey ahead. You’re looking for relationships that generate recurring revenue – follow-on sales, maintenance fees, upgrades, repeat purchases and the like. So the journey extends through the post-sale support phase as well.
It Probably Looks…Like a Map
It is likely that the Product Marketing or Product Management function took the lead in developing this map, as a way of understanding and gaining control over the customer experience. In flat organizations, Customer Journey Mapping may draw in quite senior executives, and probably involved direct input from customers as well. The product of this intensive introspection may take a variety of forms, including something that looks, quite literally, like a map. It may have features that remind you of a game.
I’ll provide some links below to articles that explain the Journey Mapping process in depth – it’s out of scope for this post. For now, I’ll note simply that it includes an effort to understand the buyers of your products as character stereotypes, called personas. It is useful to scope the exercise by limiting these personas to a small set, and classifying them by various demographic and psychographic characteristics.
The customer personas become characters in the linear narrative that plays out across your map, which is designed to capture the complex series of milestones each individual reaches on the way to becoming your customer. The traveler will experience an array of emotions along the way; sales people typically talk about “pain points,” and certainly discomfort gives rise to need. You hope to create elation at the discovery of your solution, but commitment to it will be punctuated by moments of skepticism, conflict and fear of making an expensive error, all of which must be anticipated and dealt with.
The Journey Map charts these emotional ups and downs, associating them with events in the sales cycle – some of which you can control and some you can’t. Also clearly visible on the map are your organization’s “touch points” – the actors on your side who interact with the customer and influence his or her decision. Over a sales cycle that may be months or even years long, there may be a number of touch points: Your advertising, your trade show staff, industry analysts or current reference customers of yours who know your product’s strengths and weaknesses, your inbound marketing team and inside sales force, the people who manage your social media presence, account executives, and eventually (you hope) post-sales support staff.
Moments of Truth
The Journey Map gives you a tool to understand what happens at each moment and each touch point, typically including certain “Moments of Truth” at which the buyer (and other stakeholders in the purchase decision, including supporters and potential naysayers) face complex and potentially make-or-break decisions. Having the map allows your product management and sales organizations to analyze how their touch points handle each of these predictable moments, to provide the best possible customer experience within the available budget, and maximize the likelihood of closing sales.
What does this war room exercise have to do with your role in content marketing?
Let’s return to the original question: What content do we need? Now think about what you can learn from the map. Over the time sequence that it represents, you can clearly see the points when and where the customer is going to lose her way and grasp for expert help. No doubt, you already know that content marketing includes the development of materials that help potential buyers to recognize the problem your product was designed to solve, understand the range of possible solutions available, and frame your offering in the best possible position among competing alternatives. But there are other times and places in the Customer Journey where your touch points have opportunities to influence the buyer’s decision-making.
At every moment of contact between the buyer and your touch points, there is an occasion to discover and list the issues and questions with which the buyer is grappling. Usually, the map will literally list those questions (sometimes in a table in a document, sometimes on a color-coded sticky note on a wall – there are many mapping techniques and styles).
Voila! Each question, at each point of contact on the map, is a clear indication that some type of content would be a valuable asset. Is there a complex technical issue the buyer will have to resolve for a stakeholder in her engineering department to get the OK to proceed? That’s a clear indication for a technical white paper or video – not only do you know it would have value, but you also know when in the sales cycle to introduce it, and through what touch points.
Is this the point where a buyer of this persona is experiencing uncertainty because of inevitable competitive noise? Now is the time to introduce a customer case study telling a success story involving a similar buyer with a related problem for which your product was the solution – or a reprint of an analyst report with your product in the “leader’s quadrant” for its category.
Many companies have undergone a Customer Experience or Customer Journey Mapping process and, ideally, are continuously updating and revising their maps. It doesn’t automatically follow that your content marketing team participated; you may not even know your company has such a map. It’s worth your while to find out. The place to look first is in Product Marketing or Product Management.
What you want from the custodians of the Journey Map is the opportunity to use it to build a catalog of must-have content. Bear in mind that some elements of your content inventory will be relatively durable – white papers, testimonial videos, case studies and certain kinds of infographics. Some of the needs you discover will be relatively ephemeral. Most of your social media elements will have this character – not a document to be written, but a series of posts in a blog or in social networks, each of which has a rhetorical lifespan measured in weeks, days, even hours in the case of a tweet.
The Journey Map will give you indications not only of what you should be building, but when it will be needed, by whom, for which buyer personas.
You also want to establish a relationship with the product team that brings content marketing into an active role in the process of updating, clarifying and enriching the map going forward. If your company’s Journey Map now lists the questions that arise at each point in the journey, it also should list the content you have or will generate to answer those questions.
Here are some resources to bring you up to speed on Journey Mapping, if you haven’t been involved before:
- “Using Customer Journey Maps to Improve Customer Experience” – Adam Richardson, Harvard Business Review
- “How To Map Your Customer Experience Journeys” – David Kay, DB Kay & Associates
- “Customer Interaction Maps: Plotting the Customer’s Journey” – Jeff Olsen, Allegiance Blog (Allegiance Software, Inc.)
A search will turn up dozens of other resources on Journey Mapping.
If your organization has never undergone a Journey Mapping process, Peter Dorfman Creative Services can facilitate a discussion to get that effort rolling. For more information on planning a Journey Mapping Workshop, contact Peter Dorfman.