This week, the subject is conversion, acquisition and retention. Click on the speakers’ names below for an overview of their session.

Since it sits at the heart of the conversion, acquisition and retention, let’s start with your definition of the oft-mentioned term; “the customer journey”…

Alistair Dent (iCrossing): People are mental, and everybody’s journey is unpredictable and unique. We desperately want to judge which of our touch points were influential on aggregate, but this disparity between individuals makes it different. So unless we get some sort of magical perfect information, a customer journey is nothing more than a than a guideline guess about how people experience our brand.

Dave Gowans (Browser to Buyer): It’s the whole experience the customer goes through – from the first moment of awareness where they have a problem to be solved or realise they have a need, right through to the ongoing relationship they have with you far beyond a purchase.

Bea Patman (Greenlight Digital): People often conflate “customer journey” and “path to purchase”, when in fact the customer journey is much more than a simple sales funnel. Rather, it’s the aggregate of all the interactions that take place between a brand and its audience. I might see a TV ad that features a hashtag, for example, then check it out on Twitter and from there follow a link to a post on the brand’s site about that campaign. That would be my personal customer journey.

Aaron Bali (House of Kaizen): The customer journey is pretty simple; the sum total of all the experiences that your customers go through when they interact with your organisation.

How has the customer journey changed in recent years, in general terms, and how is this affecting retailers’ and advertisers’ ability to acquire, convert and retain them? 

AD: People are in more control of their interactions than ever before. We can still push media to them, but even when we think search is ubiquitous it somehow becomes a bigger deal every year. When a higher proportion of engagements are pulled by the consumer rather than pushed by the brand, we have to tap into demand where we used to look to create demand.

DG: Fundamentally, consumers are so much more sophisticated online now, the old techniques just don’t cut it. Just take examples of online techniques moving offline – Trustpilot ratings being featured in TV Adverts – and the evolution of how sites need to engage with users in a genuine and useful way, rather than just appearing to!.

Things like simple social proof, great UX, etc. were always ways for advanced companies to boost their conversion rates and improve the customer journey, now every business has to get these basics right. Consumers are savvy and expect these things. As consumers have become more sophisticated, the approach to the customer journey has to be too.

BP: We still tend to think of a customer journey as linear, when the reality these days is that most customers are interacting with brands in parallel – searching products on a tablet while a commercial plays on TV, for example. This has made granular analytics and attribution more important than ever because in order to engage audiences in the most effective manner we need to be able to pick apart the layers of these simultaneous interactions.

AB: The customer journey has definitely shifted touchpoints; with bigger chunks moving from in-store, to phone, to digital over the years. This shift, as well as the simultaneous growth of analytics capabilities has allowed us to really drill down into insights and optimise journeys. 

However, it’s somewhat of a Faustian bargain. Our ability to track customers across all channels can lead to a blinkered, ‘revenue-at-all-costs’ view of optimisation. It’s tempting to want to optimise purely for the numbers while forgetting the real humans that make up your customer base. That’s why I’m a big advocate for human-centred design in performance marketing. Focusing on solving customer needs and problems in their journey allows your organisation to focus on what matters, while still driving revenue.

With that in mind, where should the average retailer look to focus their efforts to improve on the above?

AD: Retailers are in a difficult position now to please everybody and be relevant to every journey – we have to do everything well. That means having content that appeals to a variety of tastes; presence on a variety of platforms; seamless movement between those platforms. These are all very challenging but make things easier for customers.

DG: The approach I always take to the customer journey is to really understand your visitors. Fundamentally retailers need to understand what stops people from buying, and what people should know about their offering to make them more likely to buy.

That means constantly doing research to understand your visitors and making sure your site, marketing and product addresses their issues. Once you’ve got that sorted at a high level, it’s all about intelligent segmentation and personalisation. How can you identify, target and overcome the problems of each of your key audiences to deliver them the most compelling customer journey?

For me, this should all start from your website as it’s the part of the journey you have the most control over. Research and test on your visitors, learn what makes them convert and keep applying this to the other stages of the journey.

BP: Google stated a few years ago that brands should stop worrying about where a conversion happens and instead just focus on the fact that a conversion took place. That seemed a little idealistic at the time, but I think brands are now coming to realise that it’s true. What matters is understanding our audience and reaching them with bespoke, compelling messaging. Whether they then choose to interact in-store or online is secondary to the fact that we’ve engaged them.

AB: It is naturally, dependent on contextual variables. However, the average retailer can always benefit from more customer insight and I would always suggest that more insight will illuminate the path to mutually-beneficial, human-centred and profitable projects.

What sort of tools and techniques should marketers have in place for the best insight into their audience’s path to purchase? 

AD: The tools don’t matter. Even simple tools can do a lot when they’re pushed to their limits. What matters is a willingness to invest in areas that offer unpredictable returns, and being able to break longstanding ingrained beliefs about what customers want. In 2010, when some business owners still said “My customers aren’t looking for us on mobile”, those businesses missed a huge swathe of their most engaged potential customers. Now companies say “My target demographic isn’t on Snapchat” or “People prefer to buy my products in store not online” and shut themselves out from entire new swathes of potential customers.

DG: Your analytics will always be the biggest and best source of large-scale data. On top of that, session recording, form analysis and heat mapping tools like Hotjar give really great insights into user behaviour. Spending an hour watching users interacting with your site in session recordings could be the best hour you’ll spend all month!

Fundamentally, though, you need to get your actual users and customers talking about their problems and needs. Whether that’s through surveys, phone calls or meeting them face to face, nothing beats talking to real customers.

BP: Greenlight Digital’s acquisition of a DMP [data management platform] has revolutionised the way in which we think about audiences, often helping to shine a light on demographics that brands would never otherwise have known about. Being able to think about customers as real people with their own idiosyncratic buying habits allows us as marketers to be laser-focused with our messaging, which is compelling for customers, cost-effective for brands, and much more fun to execute.

AB: I’d suggest a mix of methods to break apart the idea of a single homogenous path to purchase for the audience. For customer insight, I’d advocate a blend of quantitative and qualitative research, both on and off owned platforms. For channel and platform insights, I’d recommend a robust business intelligence platform which can synthesise marketing channel data into attributed models. These can then be combined to understand which audiences undertake which journeys. Once you know who does what, it’s easy to make things better on specific journeys for specific audiences. Otherwise, you’re just trying to boil the ocean.

Finally, give us a brief taster of what we can expect from your session at PI LIVE?

AD: We’re going to talk about how L’oréal adapt to changing types of engagement, for example voice search and search without a screen.

DG: A big challenge for performance marketers is that they often only deal with a small slice of the customer journey. The purchase or enquiry almost always happens in the retailer’s funnel where you have no control. This shouldn’t limit your ability to understand, influence and convert your users, however. I’ll be talking about how to do conversion optimisation when you don’t control the funnel and how affiliates can use it to hugely increase clicks and sales.

BP: I hope to leave attendees much more aware of the unbroken thread that connects acquisition and conversion driving channels, and inspired to take a more collaborative approach to their site optimisation moving forward. The session will be a little bit interactive, too – with any luck helping to remind us all that we’re consumers as much as we’re marketers, so our opinions and gut instincts are more than valid. 

AB: I’m going to be talking about the joy of Customer Journey Mapping; how building optimisation programmes around customer-centred insights can lead to breaking down organisational silos, making your customers happier, and driving revenues up sustainably. 

View the PerformanceIN Live agenda here.