Digital Success Begins with Understanding the Digital Customer Journey
In order to succeed as a company in today’s digital world, you will inevitably need to resort to and invest in advertising and marketing. Consequently, it is vital to understand the different journeys customers make when visiting a website, physical store, or a similar venue, as these journeys are the foundations of marketing campaigns and decide the results that can be achieved. However, the journeys of physical and digital customers are not at all comparable and cannot be treated similarly. It is therefore key to understand the digital customer journey before initiating digital marketing efforts and to not fall prey to the all-too-common misconception that the path a digital customer travels before purchasing a product or service is the same as the path of a physical visitor.
There are countless fancy terms, graphs, and diagrams that can be used to describe the journey of a digital customer, which often only serve to confuse. This confusion is completely unnecessary, however, as the journey of a digital customer is not as complicated as it seems since the only major hurdle to understanding the difference between a digital and a physical visitor is very straightforward: digital customers are not physically present. This difference is incredibly important because it prevents the creation of a trusting relationship with digital visitors, relationships that have shown to often be necessary for the completion of a successful sale.
Due to this absence, the customer usually doesn’t feel the same level of pressure to make a purchase. Ultimately, there is nothing keeping the customer from simply changing his mind and leaving your website other than his interest for your product. With just a few clicks, your potential customer has jumped from your store to your competitor’s, all without any chance of interference from your side and without the need for any uncomfortable confrontations on his behalf.
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The Physical and Digital Customer Journeys
The Physical Customer Journey:
- The customer realizes that he is interested in a product or a service.
- The customer investigates where he can find a solution to his need. In 81% of cases, the customer will conduct online research prior to visiting a store and potentially buying a product.
- The customer visits your physical store and receives customer service.
- The customer either
- (4A) Buys your product or service or
- (4B) Changes his mind and leaves your store.
The Digital Customer Journey:
- Your online marketing initiatives result in a customer visiting your website (e.g. Facebook Ads, Google Ads, SEO, or through organic searches for your content)
- Within 2 seconds the customer decides if he wants to continue browsing your website. If he stays, he will look at your products and services and start his research.
- The customer considers buying your product or service. If you are dealing with e-Commerce, he will typically add the product to his shopping basket at this point – if he has not already decided to leave your site.
- The customer either
- (4A) Buys your product or service or
- (4B) Leaves your website, which happens on average 70% the time.
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At first sight, the two customer journeys don’t seem all too different. However, there are two fundamental differences between the two. First, whereas the physical journey offers little room for reflection (it isn’t possible to easily leave the store, reflect, and return to the store), the digital customer journey offers plenty (you can revisit the website in seconds).
Second, once people make it to your physical store, they are a lot more likely to actually go through with a purchase. As touched upon previously, almost 70% of potential digital customers abandon their purchase. In this context, it is important to understand that these are highly relevant potential customers. Since they are often visiting your site as a result of your marketing efforts, they will almost always fall within your exact customer segment, searching for your exact product, or even for your exact company.
What does that mean for you?
Crudely put, there is a very fine line between digital marketing that is successful and digital marketing that is needlessly expensive (and thus unsuccessful). Crossing this line can be avoided. Digital marketing offers plenty of opportunities to successfully convert customers. The truth is, the digital customer journey does not necessarily end after the potential customer has left your website (see step 4b provided above) – instead it is exactly then, after the customer has left, that your attention is needed the most and when the majority of conversions will happen.
Modern digital marketing makes it possible to follow, advertise to, service, guide, and convince the potential customer long after he has left your site. And it pays off every time. This is because you have already paid to find the right customer and have already invested into bringing him onto your site once, resulting in the beginning of his customer journey. It is thus essentially a lot cheaper to help him finish his purchase than it is to find a new potential customer and start the customer journey all anew. On platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Instagram you have the opportunity to create so-called remarketing and retargeting campaigns, which are advertisements that show customer-tailored ads online to your previous visitors based on their subsequent behavior and interest in your product or service. These advertisements can be set up in many different ways and their ideal content differs from customer to customer.
Remarketing can be compared to customer service in a physical store as both serve similar functions. Picture the following scenario in a brick-and-mortar store: the store is full of potential customers and there are more people walking by. Would you focus on getting more and more people into your store or on helping the potential customers in your store actually complete purchases before they leave your now overcrowded building? In e-Commerce, the people walking by are people who have not yet visited your website and the potential customers already inside the store are people who have already visited your website. It is definitely important to get people to visit your website in the first place, but the priority should, as with physical store owners, be converting visitors into customers, as they have already shown interest and only need a bit more pushing before making a purchase.
Luckily, all marketing platforms provide a variety of analytical tools to optimize your advertisements and to ensure that you are sharing the right content, to the right people, at the right time. These advertisements can, for instance, be used to remind customers of a product that they have shown interest in, but not yet purchased. They can also be used to introduce a video that brings new information or to show a selection of reviews that boosts trustworthiness and awareness of the quality of the product or service you are offering. You could also use a combination of all of the above and create a story that guides the customer through all the steps he must take in order to complete a purchase – from simply being aware of the product’s existence to knowing about and trusting in its quality and feeling he truly needs it.
This is often necessary for more expensive products. Few will buy a car simply because they’ve seen one ad but will instead need to be fed much more information about said car before leaving the dealership with their newest automobile. People buy Volvo’s because they believe (know) Volvo’s are safe, and they do so because they’ve been told that this is the case numerous times, in a multitude of different ways.
Similarly, few families will book a vacation after having seen one small advertisement that states a location and starting price while displaying a couple kissing in front of a romantic sunset. It is much more common for them to see the ad, become interested, and then start on a journey that will take them to the advertiser’s website and his offers as well as to his competitors, ending only after a suitable trip has been found or all interest has been lost and the potential trip forgotten. The key to digital marketing – specifically remarketing – is not letting the customer forget.
At the end of the day, digital marketing should hold the customer’s hand from the beginning of his journey to the end; from attracting him to your website in the first place to re-attracting him after he abandoned his online shopping cart. Throughout this entire process it is vital you remind your customer that he is facing a problem that you (or your product) can solve, all-the-while giving him the necessary incentive to finish the purchase he started.
If you fail to convincingly remind the customer about your product or service, he will end up at your competitor almost every time. Unlike in a physical store, the customer hasn’t had the chance to build a relationship with you and your brand and thus has little customer loyalty, if any. So, when the customer finally decides to finish his purchase and buy a certain product or service, he will resume his search – and this time it is possibly your competitor that will show up and reap the benefits of the seeds you had already sown.