Hiking the customer decision journey

Like a hike with surprising twists and turns, today’s better business model pivots away from the traditional linear funnel by drawing customers into a circular, multi-dimensional “loyalty loop.”


I was recently hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu.

At the start of the trail, the path forked, and I chose the path that seemed to have fewer hikers.

I hiked for about four hours until I reached what appeared to be the end of the trail. Disappointed, I returned the way I came.

If I had veered the other direction at the split, I would have traversed a complete loop with vistas of both the Pacific Ocean and the wildflower-dotted mountains.

My hiking options — the linear and circular paths — can be used to illustrate a metaphor of what was coined in a 2009 McKinsey Quarterly publication as the “Consumer Decision Journey.”

The traditional purchase funnel starts with a large pool of brands from which consumers can choose; narrows to fewer choices as they gather information and are exposed to ads or sales pitches; and, finally, results in the sale.

This is where the funnel stops — the end of the linear trail.

However, as the study proposes, the journey in the digital era is much more like the trail that loops.

There are many places to diverge from or connect to the loop, as well as points to maintain interest and motivation to continue on, rather than back track. Also, the hike is more likely to result in repeat visits, social recommendations, and future group outings with friends.

The CDJ model describes this as the post-purchase experience, which leads to a “loyalty loop” in which the customer continues along the path in an even tighter relationship with the brand.

For news organisations, a traditional funnel might look like this:

Customer has a variety of news publications to choose from.

Customer picks up a copy of the Los Angeles Times at the newsstand.

Customer views insert promoting a special subscription offer.

Customer calls to subscribe.
With the shift to digital and publishers seeking to both monetise and gain customer loyalty in different ways (such as through a paid content strategy), the Consumer Decision Journey can cross both online and offline channels, as well as multiple devices, and might follow a never-ending path that starts like this:

Customer reads a news story on Facebook posted by a friend.

Customer searches for local news and ends up visiting the same site.

Customer has strong reaction to story and registers in order to be able to add his or her comment.

Customer registration includes delivery of a newsletter with daily stories and alerts, creating a conduit for more frequent visits and developing brand loyalty.

Customer hits a paywall.
For news sites metering content and limiting the number of articles a person can read without paying, this is a crucial point in the CDJ.

If the reader’s experience has been rich and filled with positive interactions up to this point, the impetus for purchase is clear.

If not, he or she might be confused and frustrated by being asked to pay and completely drop off the path to purchase, or take an offline route and contact customer service via phone to complain.

Once the reader has successfully purchased and navigated into the loyalty loop, it is essential the relationship is nurtured and continues to evolve. Offers for new digital products and special experiences will enhance the value to the subscriber and encourage him or her to be a positive mouthpiece in the social sphere.

Amazon Prime is a great example of how to propel the CDJ.

The Prime service requires payment of an annual fee, yet also offers immediate savings with free shipping on many products. Membership offers digital access to music, books and movies, as well as several attractive automation options such as one-click purchasing via Amazon’s mobile apps, two-day shipping, and scheduled shipments.

Amazon continually improves product offerings and purchasing experiences, recently offering “add ons” at steep discounts when orders surpass a minimum cost. The site’s product reviews are also informative and help guide purchase decisions.

Amazon excels at gaining subscribers through recommendations by their friends (I subscribed for this very reason). Jason Calacanis’ aptly titled article, “The Cult of Amazon Prime,” estimates the site will reach 30 to 40 million subscribers by 2016.

From the most recent numbers I could track down, it appears they’re about halfway there.

To funnel readers smoothly through the CDJ, attract them to our brand, and keep them on the path and in the “loyalty loop,” we can evaluate a few key areas:

Customer feedback: Some of the best insights can come from direct customer feedback, including shiftable brand perceptions and consumer wants and needs.

Importantly, this is also a great mechanism to learn what consumers don’t want or need. Especially with limited resources, feedback helps identify where you should and shouldn’t focus company efforts.

Site analytics: How are readers getting to your site? Referring search keywords, types of posts, time of day, geo-location, and device specifics can all inform which strategy will work to compel the casual reader into a deeper relationship along the CDJ.

Look also for user trends, i.e., who is and isn’t converting. Consider appending third-party data sources, like Acxiom, Lotame, or Rapleaf, and consolidate both online and offline data to create a singular view of the customer.

Site user experience (UX): Feedback and site analytics can often lead to greater understanding of where there might be UX problems. Consider using A/B or multi-variate tests on purchase and site registration flows to better pinpoint the best consumer experience.

Customer service: It’s important to come up with cross-departmental strategies that bridge media and break down silos between customer service, marketing, public relations, and editorial staffs.

Empower teams with tools to monitor social networks, respond to issues immediately, and facilitate communication between all who interact with readers to maximise response efficiencies and customer experience across every touchpoint.

At the iStrategy conference I attended in April, Umang Shah, director of social strategy for Walmart, stated that by putting monitoring/notification tools in place that enabled the appropriate internal subject matter experts to respond, Walmart saw a 36% increase in followers and a 1211% increase in engagement.

Social media: Many of your biggest advocates and enemies can be found here. It’s crucial to cultivate relationships and engage in conversations with readers who share content and participate. Consider developing special programmes for your most active influencers.

Author and social media thought leader Mari Smith also shared a study at the iStrategy event that found the average response time from Facebook pages of businesses was 13.7 hours! While this might have been acceptable in the past, customers now expect a response via social media in just 30 minutes.

Product: Use all the feedback, analytics, and social conversation data you’ve gathered to inform the creation of new products.

Continual improvements of site features and services that meet utilitarian and customer service needs, encouragement of social interaction, and unification of digital and offline experiences can make your brand an ever-present and essential consideration in each individual’s CDJ.

Like going on a hike that loops, the shift away from a traditional linear funnel to one that is circular and never-ending provides many more opportunities for publishers to keep, or if not carefully navigated, lose customers.

It is a multi-dimensional path and requires disruption of the traditional approach. But the views are great and well worth the climb.

Read more: http://www.inma.org/blogs/value-content/post.cfm/hiking-the-customer-decision-journey#ixzz2UDLjQzFT