Customer Journey or Engagement Pyramid?

It’s no secret that customer journeys are all the rage in the world of marketing technology.   Go to any trade show or listen to any sales pitch, and just about every company will inform you that they’re experts at implementing journeys.  There will be other companies happy to sell you software that supports an undoubtedly critical aspect of the journey.  Others will inform you of the imminent need for data scientists to understand all the information being captured.

The entire industry seems obsessed with them.  Therefore, it seems like it might be a good time to ask if a “journey” is really the right metaphor for how customers interact with brands.

When a person undertakes a journey, he or she plans the trip based on the destination they desire and the places they want to see along the way…

In some instances it makes perfect sense.  Merriam-Webster defines a journey as an “act or instance of traveling from one place to another,” and marketers are using the approach to better understand how prospective customers become actual customers and ultimately advocates, steps that can proceed from one to the next like moving from one location to another, or — forgive the mixed metaphor — following links in a chain.

In other instances, however, it can seem rather prescriptive for a series of interactions that isn’t actually directed by the customer themselves.  Normally, when a person undertakes a journey, he or she plans the trip based on a destination they desire and the places they want to see along the way.

In the case of a customer journey, the company is making the plans and leading them along, while the “explorer” might not even be aware that they’ve taken the first step or have any idea where they’re going.  He or she just ran a few search terms to learn a bit about a topic of mild interest, and now they find themselves in a corporate video game they never intended to play (to use yet another metaphor).

Journey diagrams so ridiculously detailed that the result was more impressionist painting of spaghetti thrown against the wall…

Are we at risk of over prescribing a potential prospects behavior and trying to fit the complex world of brand interactions that blend emotional and rational responses into neat and tidy boxes?

It’s a difficult question to answer, but I would make two points.  First, anyone that’s been in marketing for more than a New York minute can probably remember a fad that proved to be more inside baseball than anything else — Web 2.0, for instance?

Second, most of us have probably seen a few journey diagrams so ridiculously detailed that the result was more impressionist painting of spaghetti thrown against the wall than any actual marketing plan, maybe we even said to ourselves that there is no way anyone was ever going to finish this thing regardless of where they began.

Of course, I’m not trying to minimize the inherent value in organizing where a prospect or customer stands in relationship to a brand.  I’m only trying to suggest that, like many things in marketing, we need to be careful to question our own assumptions.  Returning to the comparison with Web 2.0, that phase didn’t turn out exactly as we planned in the early 2000’s, but many of the principles still apply in what ultimately became social media marketing and crowd sourcing.

In my opinion, it’s time to revisit the concept in conjunction with customer journeys

The question then becomes:  Can we better describe it without losing any analytical value?

In this very article, I’ve used the metaphor of both a chain and a video game, and both of them can apply to some extent (gamification being very apt if you are using sophisticated lead scoring), but perhaps the ideal metaphor is to pick up something that has been more prominent in social activism, namely the Engagement Pyramid.  It’s been used in marketing at times, specifically by Forrester Research and Charlene Li in describing social media activity, but to my knowledge has never really gained much traction in consumer marketing.

In my opinion, it’s time to revisit the concept in conjunction with customer journeys.  I believe there is a framework where journey terminology is used specifically to describe actions that follow prescribed steps like an automated marketing campaign, while the pyramid concept provides a more holistic approach to organizing your prospects and customers from general demand generation in broadcast or display media, to actively researching (retargeting ads for example), hot prospect (repeat website visits), customer and advocate (exact steps to be determined by organizational need, of course).

This approach appears to provide a number of advantages that we can expound upon in good time, but I feel they generally fall into the following two-part framework:

  1. Journey’s are inherently made shorter, more precise, and potentially more goal oriented, especially if we assume that an individual journey is explicitly designed to move a prospect up a step on the pyramid.  It also allows to envision multiple journeys on each level, as we will automatically expect that the levels comprise a range of behaviors with a similar audience profile.
  2. Engagement Pyramid levels inherently illustrate the variation in the actual people that occupy each level, preventing marketers from viewing individual customers and prospects as overly defined personas and enabling us to visualize a broader range of behavior.  This can be further fleshed out if we consider each level as a kind of spectrum and expect that unique individuals will exhibit unique behaviors and prefer to be engaged in unique ways.

What do you think?  Given the ongoing excitement around customer journey’s, I’m sure we will be returning to this topic in the coming days.  In the meantime, there are two other articles in progress before the end of the year, All I Want for Christmas is a Fully Functioning CRM and Have we Arrived at the Marketing Technology Singularity? 

 

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