Why does the customer journey matter?
It matters because it guides our message and content strategies.
We’re a marketing automation agency, which means we’re a customer journey agency. Marketing automation exists and thrives on the notion of two things: personalisation and timing, the proven idea that sending pertinent, timely and relevant messages to customers helps foster engagement and ultimately sales.
When clients ask us to help optimise their marketing automation platforms it’s rarely a technical challenge - moreover it’s more a strategic messaging and content challenge, and probably a data quality challenge too (you can’t personalise messaging if you don’t have the data).
So for us, this model, this approach is a foundation, our most important cornerstone framework and guiding model that informs everything we do. It’s our most used framework, it’s easy to implement, adds massive value quickly and universally liked by colleagues and clients. Our specific model has been honed over the years on hundreds of projects for some of the world’s leading brands - with a little help from AI analysis of B2B content.
TL;DR - Use a customer journey model, it doesn’t need to be ours, there are plenty out there (we discuss the origins below), you could always borrow, adapt and refine your own - but use one.
Ultimately, marketing is a simple premise - sure people, agencies, clients and experts often look to make things seem difficult and complex (usually to make you doubt yourself - and sell you something) but it’s really not.
ACME Imaging helps companies struggling to digitise their documents by automating scanning, reading and saving your files - saving you time and money.
That’s marketing in a nutshell. We help X solve Y problem resulting in X benefits. It’s a hugely simplified (but effective) customer message, a journey baked into one sentence. It’s how, in the Mad Men era of advertising copy and messages were generated for adverts with precious page space. A lot can be learned from that era in fact, before we deep dive our models and approaches let’s take a stroll through the history of the buyer’s journey - then look at the modern nuances with channels for the B2B buyer.
The history of the customer journey
So to recap:
The customer journey is the process that a consumer goes through when interacting with a product or service. It includes every touchpoint a customer has with a brand, from initial awareness to post-purchase follow-up. The concept of the customer journey has evolved over time, with various models and frameworks being introduced to help businesses understand and optimise their customer experiences.
Early Conceptions of the Customer Journey
The earliest conceptualisations of the customer journey date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1898, the founder of Sears, Roebuck and Co., Richard Sears, famously said, "The man who is too busy to advertise, is the man who is too busy to make money." This quote speaks to the importance of awareness and advertising in the customer journey, even in its earliest days.
In the mid-20th century, a number of psychologists and marketers began to study consumer behaviour in more detail. One of the most influential of these was Ernest Dichter, who conducted extensive research on the psychology of consumer desire. In his book "The Strategy of Desire," Dichter wrote, "We buy things not for what they are, but for what they can do for us."
The Funnel Model
One of the most enduring models of the customer journey is the funnel model, which was first introduced in the early 20th century by advertising executive E. St. Elmo Lewis. The funnel model suggests that customers move through a series of stages, from awareness to consideration to decision-making. These concepts are not new, and still resonate today.
In the 1960s, the funnel model was further developed by AIDA, an acronym that stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. This model is still widely used today and is considered a cornerstone of modern marketing.
The Customer Experience Journey
In the 21st century, the focus on the customer journey shifted from a funnel model to a more holistic approach, taking into account the entire customer experience. In 2003, Joe Pine and James Gilmore published their book "The Experience Economy," which argued that businesses must focus on creating memorable experiences for their customers to succeed.
This idea was further expanded upon in 2007 with the introduction of the Customer Experience Journey, which maps out the customer experience across all touchpoints. In this model, the focus is on delivering consistent experiences that exceed customer expectations at every point of contact with the brand.
Omnichannel and Digital Transformation
In recent years, the rise of digital technology and social media has transformed the customer journey even further. Customers now have more touchpoints than ever before, and businesses must be able to engage with them across a variety of channels.
A side note on the evolution of advertising channels:
Advertising channels have undergone significant changes over the past two centuries, driven by technological advances and shifts in consumer behavior. Here's a brief overview of the evolution of advertising channels across the decades:
1800s-1900s: The Early Days of Print Advertising
The earliest forms of advertising appeared in the 1800s, when businesses began using newspapers and magazines to promote their products and services. In the United States, the first magazine advertisements were published in Benjamin Franklin's General Magazine in 1741. By the late 1800s, advertising had become a thriving industry, with major brands like Coca-Cola and Kodak using print ads to reach consumers.
1900s-1920s: The Rise of Outdoor Advertising
In the early 1900s, businesses began using billboards and posters to advertise their products to a wider audience. The introduction of the automobile also led to the rise of roadside advertising, as businesses sought to capture the attention of drivers and passengers. By the 1920s, outdoor advertising had become a major industry, with companies like the Outdoor Advertising Association of America working to regulate the use of billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising.
1930s-1950s: The Golden Age of Radio and Television Advertising
In the 1930s, radio emerged as a new advertising channel, allowing businesses to reach consumers through sponsored programs and commercials. The introduction of television in the 1950s brought even more opportunities for advertisers, with major brands like Procter & Gamble and General Motors investing heavily in TV advertising. Advertising agencies also emerged as a major force during this time, with firms like J. Walter Thompson and Leo Burnett creating some of the most memorable ad campaigns of the era.
1960s-1980s: The Age of Mass Media
The 1960s and 1970s saw the continued growth of television advertising, as well as the rise of other mass media channels like newspapers and magazines. During this time, businesses began using market research and other tools to better understand consumer behavior and create more targeted ad campaigns. The 1980s saw the introduction of cable television, which brought even more opportunities for advertisers to reach specific audiences.
1990s-2000s: The Internet and Digital Advertising
The rise of the internet in the 1990s brought about a new era of advertising, with businesses using websites, email, and other digital channels to reach consumers. The introduction of search engines like Google and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter further transformed the advertising landscape, as businesses could now target specific demographics and track the effectiveness of their ad campaigns in real time.
2020s-Present: Mobile and Native Advertising
In the present day, mobile advertising has become a dominant force, as consumers increasingly rely on their smartphones and tablets for information and entertainment. Native advertising, which blends seamlessly with the content on a website or app, has also become popular, as businesses seek to create more engaging and less intrusive ad experiences for consumers.
The evolution of advertising channels has been shaped by a variety of factors, including technological advancements, changes in consumer behaviour, and the growth of new media platforms. As businesses continue to adapt to these changes, the advertising landscape will undoubtedly continue to evolve in the years to come.
The Omnichannel model emerged in response to this shift, emphasising the need for businesses to provide a seamless, integrated customer experience across all channels. This model has been adopted by many leading consumer and B2B brands.
The Protocol B2B Customer Journey Model
We have various versions and iterations of our model, in real life practice we use Excel, Powerpoint, illustration versions - but the most commonly used and shared is this one, based on the infinity shape:
This is the powerpoint slide friendly version, often used to describe the process at a high level.
How did we construct this?
Our infinite loop (in truth not the ideal shape, but the best we’ve found yet) is split into two sides, the left is for prospects pre-purchase, the right existing customers. Most of our clients spend most of their time dwelling on the left side - finding and attracting new customers, nurturing known contacts and converting them into customers. The entire loop (with its little exit tail thingy) comprises 9 stages.
The left ‘Prospect’ half works off of three key stages, Awareness, Consideration and Decision. In our model these are renamed to Discover, Consider and Justify - we find these words better reflect the business-to-business model.
These are the stages we will focus primarily on in this guide, the customer sections being quite self explanatory (but just as important).
So the core stages and substages are thus (with considerations and example content headlines):
How did we settle on this model?
With many things in marketing, we take a constantly evolving iterative approach. Sometimes the models differ slightly, the words change here and there but it largely stays the same. Back in 2019 we undertook a project to deconstruct ‘the perfect nurture’ stream. We wrote a machine learning model that examines the language used in a set of nurture streams across different platforms for different clients.
What we discovered was a few things:
- Successful campaigns (those with higher MQL’s) used a broad variety of content covering the whole customer journey.
- Campaigns that had content gaps in sub-stages (often top of funnel, experience it and justify stages) performed below average
- Campaigns that allowed customers to self-navigate, or presented content non-sequentially fared better. Our take out being that customers go up and down the journey in a scattered approach (because we are all human and unpredictable)
- Campaigns that featured third party content in Justify performed notably higher.
- Content performed better when it had a highly defined purpose in the journey (rather than large catch all pieces)
Using the model in practice
So how do you operationalise this in your campaign? We take a few different approaches, they all work and often depend greatly on time, budget, team size and effort.
Customer journey question approach
Take this model, use the template and set up a brainstorming session with sales and marketing. For each stage of the customer journey write down the questions customers would ask at each stage, this works well because:
- It forces you to think in the customers mindset
- You use their language (not your internal jargon)
- It allows you to ideate/evaluate content that answers those questions
- It helps you perform keyword analysis to support your concepts
- You can turn questions into headlines, subject lines and more
- It helps you develop a content strategy that answers all your customers questions and fill any gaps you may have
Content audit approach
Using this model, build out a content audit that looks at your existing content and aligns them to this journey. This works well if:
- You know your customers and messaging and need to build a nurture stream
- You have vast amounts of content and need to review it’s fit for purpose
- You want to adapt content with new headlines and promotion
- You need to find content that can be used in lead gen (often Discover content)
Existing solution/new paradigm
Something to consider is a customer's general knowledge of your product and solution, and where you prioritise content and messaging.
An example being, if your audience knows exactly the problems with internet speeds, the challenges are broadly known and instead you need to focus your efforts on middle of the funnel content (features, benefits, speeds, costs).
Timing, number of touches and cadence
The customer journey model is very helpful when designing omni-channel campaigns, especially nurture campaigns and a common question is the number of touches required.
So what is the ideal number of touches in B2B marketing?
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, research suggests that it takes an average of 6 to 8 touches to generate a sales lead in B2B marketing. However, this number can vary widely depending on factors such as the industry, product complexity, and target audience.
Further reading on cadence and touchpoints:
The Rule of Seven for Marketing: https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2015/01/23/the-rule-of-seven-for-marketing/
This article cites the "Rule of Seven," which suggests that prospects need to see a marketing message at least seven times before they will take action.
The Definitive Guide to Lead Generation: https://www.hubspot.com/lead-generation
This guide from HubSpot suggests that it takes an average of 6 to 8 touches to generate a sales lead in B2B marketing.
The Power of Multi-Touch Marketing: https://www.marketo.com/ebooks/the-power-of-multi-touch-marketing/
This eBook from Marketo discusses the importance of a multi-touch marketing approach, including the use of multiple channels to reach prospects and the need for consistency in messaging across touchpoints.
B2B Sales: Why It Takes More Than Just One Touch: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2020/09/15/b2b-sales-why-it-takes-more-than-just-one-touch/?sh=2dc7f9b61c20
This Forbes article discusses the idea that multiple touches are necessary in B2B sales, citing a study that found that the average number of touches required to make a sale in B2B sales is between 8 and 12.
Our approach is to look at the average buying cycle in months and work back from there. So if your customers generally take 3 months to discover, research and evaluate solutions, and you send fortnightly emails you’re looking at 6 touches minimum. Assuming they will ignore (or not see) many pieces of content then doubling or tripling it seems sensible.
Seem like a lot of content? Remember, your customers now expect to self-research and discover much of the customer journey under their own steam (rather than rely on sales) so it makes sense.
Need help with your customer journey marketing? Talk to us.
- Lewis, E. St. Elmo. "The Anatomy of Advertising." The Journal of Marketing, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Jul., 1945), pp. 25-34.
- Dichter, Ernest. "The Strategy of Desire." Doubleday, 1960.
- Pine, B. Joseph, and James H. Gilmore. "The Experience Economy." Harvard Business Review Press, 2011.
- Meyer, C. and Schwager, A. "Understanding Customer Experience." Harvard Business Review, Vol. 85, No. 2 (Feb., 2007), pp. 116-