The Customer Journey

When training groups of digital/SEO specialists in PR principles recently, I’ve been amazed by how little thought is often given to the customer journey. But then I sat back and thought about it. When we look at what is measurable, and what Google says about the customer journey, it’s unsurprising that many people focus on the search from the time the customer comes online.

With the advent of location based services, and even more once wearables take hold, people’s offline behaviours are starting to feed into this information pool, but for the most part this is not a huge part of consideration, either because of the product or because of currently limited adoption of technologies.

What I rarely see in group of SEO/digital experts is the more profound understanding of consumer/customer behaviour from the point of need.

Impulse Buying

For some products, impulse online purchase is a strong possibility. I, for example, regularly see adverts for dresses, shoes, handbags, furniture that I will click on because they’re beautiful. The only habit that has driven that purchase is spending too much time on Facebook. For most purchases, however, there’s a bigger back story.

Some of those back stories are so embedded into our thinking we rarely think of them as such. The dresses offered to me at this time of year are party frocks as the Christmas party season gets into full swing. Ads for romantic venues or dating sites ramp up just before Valentine’s day, depending on whether my online profile indicates I’m saying I’m loved up and going to be under pressure to demonstrate how much I care, or I’m a single whose going to be heartily hacked off by all these loved up couples demonstrating their affection for each other.

Valentine's Day

Same Keyword, Different Need

Others are less obvious. If I come online looking for information about Internet safety for teenagers, it may be for a number of reasons. My search starts way before I arrive at any device’s ‘on’ button. It may be that I will buy the same ‘net nanny’ type products, or download the same information, but an understanding of why I may have an issue could be a clue to far more useful and engaging content to ensure the customer finds your offering more compelling than the other products on the market.

For example, my errant teenager may have been watching violent films of which I don’t approve of. How much would I love some reassurance that my child isn’t going to become a violent social pariah because of their watching habits, and some advice (non-patronising, please) on how to manage a teenager with a ‘violent film’ habit?

Perhaps I’m concerned about Internet bullying. Very different needs, very different things likely to make me want to engage with your product. Yet I may only ever key in ‘Internet security’. It’s only by talking to people who purchase, in person or a survey, that you will discover what’s bringing me to your door. And, of course, it may be a piece of your existing content that’s bringing me to your door. If you’ve got cyberbullying covered, but don’t have the ’stop kids watching graphic violence’ filter covered, I may well automatically go elsewhere.

I recently used the example of dog food. Someone searching for ‘dog food’ online may have a specific need. Perhaps they want to but in bulk to save money. Perhaps they have a specific need surrounding their dog: a glossier coat, an allergy, a behaviour we’re trying to manage. If you only look at their online journey, you may only see ‘dog food’ or ‘gluten free dog food. You don’t see the sick or unsettled pet that’s causing concern.

Dog Food

Understand Customer Needs

It’s only by gaining an understanding about customers’ needs that you can find out their motivations for coming to you, and by providing the right answers, and maybe even products and affiliations, you can better meet their needs and generate both loyalty and reinforce brand values.

Moreover, a customer is far less likely to share socially that Dave’s Delicious Doggy Dinner tastes good (on second thoughts, if they’re tasting it they may, but probably not as a product endorsement!) than to share a piece of well-produced, helpful advice.

This approach can not only lead to commercial driven downloadable content, but can offer you the bases for media campaigns. For example, some research into Internet bullying may produce some interesting results that can be used with the media, perhaps even co-branded with advice from a bullying charity as part of the story. Animal welfare stories are emotive and appealing, especially if you have case studies and pet photos.

Real World First

Sometimes it’s easy to guess what the customer need is – a company has been set up specifically to deal with an issue. Sometimes, we need to apply some imagination. I may reach for a bar of chocolate because I’ve had a rough day at work, or because I’m tired after food shopping.

If we can identify with the run-ragged parent or the desperate dog owner, we stand far more success with both our content approach and our media/blogger outreach. If we can identify the broader issues (frustrations) that might make us reach for the chocolate, we may have a whole new campaign on our hands. We’re not looking for chocolate per se. We’re reaching for something to make us feel better.

The difference is between a bland nine out of ten people said x chocolate brand tastes great (try getting coverage on that one) and nine out of ten people say chocolate make you feel better, and dieticians suggest that because you do you are more positive have the energy to head to the gym and are fitter and healthier.

I concede that the chocolate example is, perhaps, wishful thinking. However, the principle of ‘real life first’ and getting an insight into customer behaviour is a sound one. It doesn’t need to be expensive. A couple of chats with customers can usually throw up several paths to pursue. You can back it up with online research and track the customer’s progress from there, of course. But the two should interplay. Online visitors rarely happen in a vacuum.

About Claire Thompson

Claire Thompson has has 15 years PR experience and runs Waves PR, which she founded. She has great taste in wine and lousy taste in music. The two are not unconnected!