This is the first in a series of three articles on a timely topic as marketers tackle synchronizing content and channels. Content needs context, and that context is the customer’s buying journey. This first article explores defining the customer lifecycle and buying journey. The second article will explain mapping the buying journey. We will wrap up this series with a discussion on how content and the buyer’s journey must work together for effective marketing.
The Corporate Executive Board reports that B2B buyers are 57% of the way through the buying process before they engage a sales person. Both Gartner and Forrester predict that by 2020, more than 80% of the buying process will occur without any direct human-to-human interaction.
Clearly, this means that customers want to, and are, self-educating themselves about products and services long before engaging with your company. Therefore, you need to align your content and the rest of your marketing initiatives to the new way customers are buying and take the customer buying process into consideration when creating your content.
Start with the Customer Lifecycle and Buying Journey
An Aberdeen study, Crossing the Chaos: Managing Content Marketing Transformation, revealed just how few companies have truly mapped the customer buying process, moved from profiles to personas, and clearly understand their customer’s lifecycle. Because it is more cost effective and profitable to keep a customer than to acquire one, it is important to understand the connection between content, touchpoints, and channels in the buying journey.
One definition of customer lifecycle is “the progression of steps a customer goes through when considering, purchasing, using, and maintaining loyalty to a product or service.” The key point is to recognize that the lifecycle defines an ongoing relationship and continuous dialogue.
Forrester defines the customer lifecycle as, “The customers’ relationship with a brand as they continue to discover new options, explore their needs, make purchases, and engage with the product experience and their peers.” At VisionEdge Marketing, we advocate that there are Six Cs associated with this process:
Whether you use this concept or another, the premise of the customer lifecycle is the same: to capture potential and existing customers’ attention, preference, purchase, and loyalty.
As marketers, we can and must understand the customer buying journey and use the customer lifecycle as the basis for every marketing investment decision we make that is designed to acquire, retain, upsell, cross-sell, and create customer advocates. If you serve more than one market or region, and your product requires a consultative approach, it’s very likely that you will have multiple customers and will therefore need to map multiple buying journeys and lifecycles.
Only by understanding the customer, the buying process and the lifecycle, can marketers make better decisions about additional marketing investments of time, people, and cash on existing customer-targeted efforts. Armed with this foundation, you can develop content that delivers high quality, relevant and valuable information to prospects and customers in the right format in the right channel at the right time to drive profitable customer action.
How can we record this process when most customer buying journeys and lifecycles are not linear? While it is impossible to completely capture and monitor the entire buying journey and decision; mapping this process helps you capture their channel preferences and interactions. You may not be able to know exactly which colleague or analyst, or which on and offline channels a customer used, or which publication informed them, but mapping the buying journey and customer lifecycle will give you insight into when and how your customers are influenced.
Here is an example. Let’s say you currently market and sell a product to test emission safety for communication devices, which you sell to technicians, engineers and decision makers in the communications industry. The convergence of communications, computing, and the automotive industry suggests that there may be a strong growth opportunity in the automotive industry as the car has basically become a mobile communications and computing device. If you didn’t map the customer-buying journey, you might assume that the buying process for the automotive industry was the same as for the communications industry. And you might also assume that the profile of the technical buyer in the automotive industry would be the same as the technical buyer at the smartphone or tablet company. Only by mapping the buying process would you learn that these are two very different personas and two different buying processes with different marketing content implications. Analyst reports and webinars may be far more important in the early stages of the communications buying process, while standards committees and technical papers may be more important in the early stages of the buying process for the automotive buyers.
Now that you understand the customer-buying journey, you are primed for mapping it. Check out next week’s article to learn how to map the journey. In the meantime, take advantage of the opportunity to benchmark your marketing alignment and accountability by participating in the 2015 annual MPM Survey.
About Laura Patterson President and Founder, VisionEdge Marketing:
For 20+ years, Laura has been helping CEOs and Marketing Executives at companies such as Cisco, Elsevier, ING, Intel, Kennametal, and Southwest Airlines prove and improve the value of their marketing. She was an early advocate of using marketing data, processes, automation, metrics, and dashboards to link marketing initiatives and investments to business outcomes. She’s an experience practitioner with an extensive marketing and sales career in the financial services and technology industries. Laura has authored three books on marketing performance management, including the most recent: Metrics in Action: Creating a Performance Driven Marketing Organization. You can see Laura in action online at Marketing Made Simple, MarketingProfs, and Software Advice, or follow her on Twitter via: @LauraVEM.