The customer journey is changing. Buying journeys are now more self-directed, diverse, and influenced by peer information. In this environment, experiences provided by a brand can boost word-of-mouth recommendations and improve the efficiency of marketing investment. Alternatively, they can do the opposite and increase customer churn, diminish reputation, and threaten brand health.
Although marketing teams affect the buyer journey, they often lack the skills, process, and cross-functional influence to improve the complete customer experience (CX). A deep and collaborative relationship between CX teams, marketing channel leaders, and others who manage customer touch points is necessary for a CX to thrive.
In a world where customers expect a unified brand experience, strengthening the bond between marketing channel teams and the CX practice benefits everyone. CX teams improve customer understanding and outcomes when customer journeys are equipped with robust cross-channel marketing data. Channel leaders can improve marketing channel performance by understanding their role in delivering CX outcomes—not just in terms of sales and conversions, but also loyalty and advocacy. Marketers can better influence CX success by capturing critical insights and integrating them into the CX design process.
Consider the three connected cycles of the customer journey: Buy, Own, and Advocate.
Traditionally, marketers have focused on optimizing the Buy cycle. However, in the era of digitally empowered consumers, CX teams must collaborate with multichannel marketing leaders and other corporate functions to improve the journey before and after purchase. The Own cycle, for example, begins at the point of purchase and ends when your customers aren’t merely satisfied with your product but are in love with it. The job isn’t finished until your brand earns a loyal customer.
Although marketers often label a customer who purchases regularly as “loyal”, these customers are often less bound by loyalty than by convenience and habit. In the customer journey, however, loyalty means something more—a customer’s positive, active feelings of allegiance and affiliation with a brand.
Having loyal customers delivers two powerful, self-sustaining benefits for your brand: The first is that loyals stay in the Own cycle, buying more and deepening the relationship without fully returning to the Buy cycle to reconsider alternatives. The second benefit is advocacy. Although online and offline advocacy is nothing new to brands, it has become a more vital step along the CX journey in the era of word of mouth, online ratings, blogs, and social networks.
If your brand shepherds customers through the Own brand and delivers strong affinity, it earns an opportunity to activate the Advocate cycle, where loyals can be converted into something even more valuable—loyal advocates, or “loyads.” When properly fostered and encouraged, loyads positively influence awareness, consideration, and purchase by others. In so doing, they willingly funnel prospects back into the Buy cycle. The process begins anew; and, thanks to stronger word of mouth, your brand enjoys increased traffic, higher conversion rates, shorter sales cycles, and improved marketing results.
Together, the three cycles form a single cohesive journey that converts prospects to customers, and then to loyals and loyads. Planned and executed effectively, this CX journey delivers the loyalty and advocacy that creates strong, sustainable, and high-performing brands.
It’s worth underlining two vital junctures that hold together the customer journey:
The first is purchase. Without reaching purchase, prospects cannot enter the Own cycle, a crucial CX phase, often beyond the influence of marketing. Success in driving leads and prospects to this stage is, of course, easy to measure in sales and conversions.
The second is the love stage. Love is where your brand creates its most profitable customers and powerful advocates. Without love, you lack loyalty and advocacy. Without loyalty, your brand suffers churn and fails to deepen relationships. Without advocacy, your brand cannot capitalize on a significant driver of success—the word of mouth that lifts reputation, elevates awareness, increases consideration, and helps to fill your pipeline with new customers.
This is why the complete journey matters a great deal to the entire marketing department: Without love, your outbound marketing must swim upstream and rely too heavily on promotional strategies. With love, your outbound marketing benefits from the loyalty and advocacy tailwind that increases marketing efficiency.
Augie Ray is a research director at Gartner covering customer experience (CX) for marketing leaders. Follow Gartner for Marketing Leaders @GartnerDigital.