Has the starting point of customer journeys moved?

Discussion
Photo: @ninaidea via Twenty20
Aug 08, 2019
Nikki Baird

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the blog of Nikki Baird, VP of retail innovation at Aptos. The article first appeared on Forbes.com.

In customer journeys, triggers make consumers aware they have a need. Part of the challenge with customer journeys is that triggers are not well understood.

I hear discussion of customer journey triggers that start with “she sees an e-mail that has a sweater she likes,” but that’s way too late. Waiting until a customer actually opens an e-mail to see what you’ve got is not that far in concept from starting a customer journey with “she walks into a store.” Really? How did she get there? Why did she decide to walk into your store in the first place? How did she end up with your e-mail? Why did she opt in to begin with?

Consumer behavior has shifted towards brands that stand for something. Consumers increasingly want to discover a brand doing something cool and meaningful, and become interested in the brand because of what it stands for as an introduction to the products that it sells. Triggers need to shift from a focus on a buying need to more “values resonance.” If a shopper likes you for what you stand for, they’ll see if they like the products you sell. That gets you on a mental list of companies to start with when researching a product, when that old traditional trigger or need comes around. 

Rather than use the term “trigger” it might be more helpful to think of consumer objectives. Working from home, I’m always looking for comfy clothes that can, if matched with the jacket instead of the hoodie, pass for business casual when the need arises. That’s a general background objective. I have no trigger — I don’t “need” clothes in the traditional definition of a trigger as the awareness of a need. But I could be enticed to “want” something very badly, if it helps me achieve my objective.

Ultimately, we seem to have ended up in a place where retailers’ vision for customer journeys has stagnated, while customers have not stood still. Perhaps a new focus on “objectives” over “triggers” will get them back on track.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are triggers that start the customer journey frequently misunderstood and/or oversimplified? Have consumers’ relationships to brands changed in a way that are affecting what sets them off on journeys to purchase?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
" The starting point of the journey may be fuzzy and remain fuzzy for some time, but the objectives can be crystal clear."
"A key point is that the affiliation is not just with the values and behaviors of the brand, but also of the consumers who purchase that brand."
"The customer journey is not a straight line, but quite circular. Starting points can happen offline/online and either as a push/pull from the customer."

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17 Comments on "Has the starting point of customer journeys moved?"


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Art Suriano
BrainTrust

It’s wonderful that we live in a world today with so much technology and so many conveniences, but sometimes I think we have drifted far away from the basics and that is not a good thing. Reading this article shows how some retailers have forgotten why customers shop them as Nikki states and the need for value because they have become too focused on how to promote their business. They don’t take into account what they are promoting, and if it will matter to the customer. 

With competition as intense as it is today, every company needs to be a brand that stands for something, but that something should start with quality, value and most importantly a positive customer experience from purchase through continued use of the product. Customer journey triggers is another catchphrase that sounds good, but if you have something worth purchasing and promote it correctly, you’re going to succeed. If not, all the gimmicks in the world will not sustain growth for your business.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

It’s rare that I disagree with Nikki, but in this case I think much of her point is debatable. First, there’s little data that even suggests that what a brand or retailer stands for matters. If this did matter, one could never explain the success of Amazon or Walmart. Second, the whole question of customer journey is such a limited and limiting concept. For most of what we buy (CPG), there is no journey except a need/want (a trivial distinction in this context). You don’t go on a journey to buy your toilet paper, except that you are typically in the car and going to a store. By the time you’ve decided to go to Walmart or Target, it’s too late to influence that “journey.” Sorry Nikki — the triggers remain trivial and irrelevant for so much of what we do or who we are.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

The distinction between need and want is hardly trivial. “I need a known” and “I want an unknown” put in motion two completely different journeys. One is a quick buying journey and one is a slower shopping journey.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I think there are both triggers and objectives. The starting point of the journey may be fuzzy and remain fuzzy for some time, but the objectives can be crystal clear. I may be triggered by any number of things to want the new sweater, but an immediate filter kicks in. Is the sweater made from an eco-friendly yarn? The want goes on hold until the filter, or objective, is satisfied one way or the other. Clear branding becomes more important than ever. If the brand promise satisfies customer filters or objectives up front, the buy decision becomes all the easier.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Triggers are a complex topic. What is a trigger for one consumer may be completely ignored by another. That is why we have professionals called behaviorists and psychoanalysts. They study human behavior and may be able to determine – on an individual basis – who is triggered to act by what stimulus.

David Weinand
BrainTrust

I would say this depends on what is being sought out to purchase and the demographics of the buyer. I do agree that for things like apparel/sportswear, cosmetics, and even some consumer products – cool and meaningful has become more important (especially to the younger generations). But for low income or older buyers, price is often the one and only determining factor For say, consumer electronics, feature and functionality is far more important than cool and meaningful. So yes, it depends.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

It’s not that the journey is misunderstood. For some companies, they don’t realize where the journey starts. It could start with a customer searching and discovering the retailer during their search. How easy is it to find the retailer’s site? How easy is it to navigate the site? How easy is it to find directions, store hours, a phone number, etc. For the first time buyer, all of these are the beginning – not when they walk through the doors of a store, make a phone call or decide to click “buy” on the website.

Consumers expect an easy and frictionless interaction. The retailers, online and offline, must include delivering an easy and seamless experience to win over today’s consumer.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust

With the advance of the internet, online shopping and access to information, customers are so much better informed and more aware than they used to be. This naturally changes how they shop and what “triggers” their shop. Today most people do not have needs, they have wants and choice, so what makes them buy is driven more by the experience they expect from a retailer or online e-tailer.

This reverts back to what is becoming a very common theme in these pages – how do retailers create an enticing and enjoyable experience for the consumer to ensure that they want to come back, given that the need to come back is largely no longer relevant. Why is this a recurring theme? Because having a great shopping experience is the critical factor for retailer survival, especially when assortment and price can be so easily matched and checked.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I love the way you think, Nikki! You always have among the most relevant topics to discuss. This discussion is really around the intersection of how the shopper (before they become the “consumer”) approaches the “discover” phase of their shopping journey, and the myriad channels in which they live their lives. Their objectives have evolved as their lifestyles have, however retailers and brands have not kept up with how they think. Taking a closer look at their thought process of today should start with the defining of the persona who make up your target audience. e.g., who they are, what they do, how they work, etc.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

I’ve probably said this here before, but the “path to purchase” always looks linear when you start from the sale and look backwards. This is a common fallacy among marketers.
Pinpointing its point of origin, however, is seldom as straightforward. I suppose you might say the customer journey all begins in the womb. I know that sounds glib, but I’m trying to make the point that the diagram of the path to purchase is not a line, but a tree. Better yet, a tangle of interconnecting, looping vines.
This sometimes means that the seeds of a “want” or “need” may be planted and lie dormant for years before they are surfaced by a triggering event. These instances are very difficult for marketers to pinpoint.
Attribution has always been hard. It’s getting worse as the digital era has expanded the moments of influence exponentially. Against that backdrop it becomes even more important to establish and maintain the integrity and reputation of the brand. Maybe that’s the real starting point for the customer meander.

Mark Price
BrainTrust

I am not so sure that values resonance is a new-ish trend. Starbucks has become the “third place” for a specific consumer segment for some time, and Apple has been selling affiliation and attitude as much as electronics.

But the point is still valid — consumers do purchase more and more influenced by affiliation. A key point is that the affiliation is not just with the values and behaviors of the brand, but also of the consumers who purchase that brand. Word of mouth impact has been amplified by social media and increased 24×7 device usage (maybe 18×7 — people do need to sleep!). Retailers must seek to cultivate word of mouth as much as brand values to succeed in this very fast changing retail environment.

Paco Underhill
BrainTrust

I believe retail trends and housing trends are intertwined. As a research company we often start in the home asking people questions. Open the fridge — and ask who bought what and why. Ask the same question in the aisle you get a different answer. Take a tour of a family bathroom, or a mother’s bedroom make-up station and again a different answer than in-store, online, or on the telephone. One very interesting finding in a packaging research project for a liquor company was finding out how few homes displayed the liquor bottles they owned. “Top Shelf” booze was more likely to be locked up (away from the family’s teens) than displayed. One practical note: we run criminal background checks on the households we visit — to make sure our researchers are safe.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
I just got off a call talking to a media company about a new project of mine when this Today on RetailWire showed up with Nikki’s excellent piece on the “customer journey.” To be honest, I’m a little apprehensive that I’ll do poorly at explaining the thoughts that came to me bringing the two experiences together. I’ll try. For obvious reasons, retail’s objective is to understand what a customer goes through mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically beginning with what factors drive the creation of a thought right up to the point where he or she buys something. But, might this be as much about the retailer’s journey as the customer’s? Perhaps more? Can one appreciate my journey if they don’t understand their own? Seems to me that a good portion of the retail world is increasingly unsure about what road to follow. In other words … lost. My phone call with the media people, in essence, was about how to reverse the roles, that is how to help someone bring me something they believe is… Read more »
Ken Morris
BrainTrust
Ken Morris
Retail industry thought leader
2 months 8 days ago

I agree that objectives and brand value should be the focus rather than “triggers,” consumer behavior has changed and so has the customer journey. Retail disruption, driven by new technologies putting additional information and enhanced functionality into the hands of the customer, has increased expectations as she now has additional shopping options with more competitive pricing, greater merchandise assortments and faster delivery to get her desired product where and when she needs it. This makes the customer journey more complicated and fluid than ever before.

Consumers now start and stop their shopping journey in different channels, including online marketplaces and social media, and frequently shop for the same product across different retailers, both online and in the store. The only constant is the desire for a frictionless shopping experience across an entire brand and the ability to easily cross individual channels or locations as their shopping cart and browsing history seamlessly follow them throughout their journey.

Shikha Jain
BrainTrust

The customer journey is not a straight line, but quite circular. Starting points can happen offline/online and either as a push/pull from the customer. An offline push could be a friend recommendation. An offline pull is when the customer walks in to a store on an impulse. Examples of online push and pull are add pop-ups or general product searches, respectively.

It will always be hard to allocate attribution to the discovery process for a customer. What is clear is the objective for retailers — hard KPIs like same store sales, unique customers, average unit revenue, average basket etc. When it comes to purchase triggers (i.e. conversions), these can be a whole host of things from salespeople conversations, promotions, need etc.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

Customer journeys are longer, more complex and more difficult to understand than ever. Where they start varies so much, but understanding that is only the start. Myself and my colleagues at Software AG have done a lot of work helping retailers map customer journeys with ARIS alongside process mining in order to identify where journeys start and how points of friction can be eliminated. What always fascinates me is how things look very differently when we compare internal v external perspectives.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

There’s tremendous truth in what Nikki observes. As Mark Ritson recently noted, if you’re a diaper maker you must market to potential customers (including future grandparents) BEFORE the trigger of approaching childbirth. Otherwise, your brand won’t have the mental availability to be purchased.

That said, I’m not a fan of values as the basis for this. Brands are known by the products which fall within the brand. And brand is built most strongly through powerful consumer interaction with specific products.

A brand needs mental availability when the specific customer path occurs (trigger or not) and that only happens by relying on your products for building those mental brand paths.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
" The starting point of the journey may be fuzzy and remain fuzzy for some time, but the objectives can be crystal clear."
"A key point is that the affiliation is not just with the values and behaviors of the brand, but also of the consumers who purchase that brand."
"The customer journey is not a straight line, but quite circular. Starting points can happen offline/online and either as a push/pull from the customer."

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