Mapping the Conversion Journey

In our Personalization & Optimization Workshop 2016 at Adobe Summit, I talked about data, data science, and personalization. Another key piece of the workshop? Mapping the conversion journey.

Giles Richardson, head of analytics at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), had already spoken at Summit, sharing insights and key takeaways from his Superstar DJ program — specifically, RBS’s unique optimization efforts and how they support 50 journey managers. These managers — as well as the work they do — are remarkable. They’ve really honed in on the value of each and every one of these journeys — not simply the value of the persona, the segment, or the conversion itself.

In a lot of ways, that is what we should all be discussing when we talk about mapping the customer journey. Today, it’s not enough to simply acknowledge and segment your audience based on their personas or conversion histories. Instead, we need to drill down on the real-time journeys happening all around us all the time. It’s becoming tougher and tougher to do that, but at the same time, increasingly critical to businesses achieving success — the multistep journeys that span multiple devices, creating constant experiences that remain contextual and cumulative — the list goes on and on. But, while today’s complex journey-mapping presents marketers with new challenges regarding conversions, it’s an essential shift we all have to make to keep driving effective, meaningful relevance at scale.

Fun with Journey Mapping at Adobe Summit
This portion was co-facilitated by my colleague, Consulting Manager Heather Razukas, and Susan Aldrich, a customer-experience expert and analyst at Patricia Seybold Group. This highly interactive session focused on putting customers at the center of everything by understanding what they are trying to do — something that many companies, believe it or not, fail to truly consider when designing experiences for them. This approach is less a persona play or segmentation exercise and more a journey-first approach to understanding the customer and building a meaningful optimization and personalization strategy from there.

It’s a major departure from how we’ve thought about our brands, and more importantly, how we’ve built meaningful customer experiences in the past. Traditionally, marketers have focused on personas, segments, and other related targeting cues and built from there. And why not? Chances are, you know who your customer is, right? Some have an archetype they feel they draw in or would like to draw in, while others have a full-blown series of personas and segments that they know are engaging and converting — and still others are somewhere in the middle. I remember visiting a company that had life-sized cutouts of their main personas filling common spaces and other high-traffic spots in the company — how’s that for getting to know your customer? Even better, everyone in the organization knew who they were reaching every single day — that wasn’t information reserved just for the marketers.

Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of other interesting examples tied to understanding the customer. Most commonly, though, I see teams sitting around conference-room tables, brainstorming, debating, and poring through reams and reams of data, questioning who this person really is: these are our five key personas, or that’s our core segment, and of course, this is what motivates them — sound familiar?

Think Journeys, Not Just Personas
It’s a valuable exercise, but at the end of the day, these personas are flat, flat, flat. Personas and segments are completely dynamic and change constantly as the customer journey progresses, which again, makes mapping journeys that much more challenging and that much higher in value. And, more often than not, the most valuable characteristics aren’t the obvious ones during these ever-changing journeys — at least not at first. She’s not just a soccer mom or hipster millennial or avid runner — perhaps, she’s a combination of A, B, and C; or maybe she is each of those things, just on different days of the week, depending on where her journey takes her. Again, there’s value in the persona, in the conversion — and above all, in the customer journey.

To uncover these diamonds in the rough, you need keen observation abilities — especially the abilities to listen and pay very close attention to what’s happening with this customer in this moment in time, honing in on the value of the journey first. The contextual nature in which customers experience your brand could change tremendously from minute to minute — or second to second, even — and that can change virtually anything about their behaviors and overall experiences.

And that’s a big reason why the customer journey has become so complex over time. Traveling the customer path from point A to point B — from the beginning of the journey to purchase, let’s say — is bumpier, curvier, and filled with more twists and turns than ever before. She’s moving from device to device, mobile to desktop, and interacting with your brand in a number of ways over different spans of time. Maybe she visits your store and behaves this way, then heads to your website for another type of experience, and then shares it all on social media — for good measure. Blink and you could miss her or mistake her for someone else. And, there’s really no business use for trying to squeeze her into a mold that doesn’t fit today — even if it did fit yesterday or even an hour ago.

That was the core purpose of this workshop exercise — to get marketers and other key stakeholders to think about various journeys, and above all, understand that it’s journeysplural. Because that singular customer journey is GONE (probably never existed). No longer is she the soccer mom/hipster millennial/avid runner on that single journey to buy. And, that makes these journeys even more important than the personas themselves. Trying to force your customers into these cardboard-flat personas will elude you nine-tenths of the time since we’re talking about an entirely different journey environment than we were not too long ago.

Today, the customer is at the center of the conversion journey, and if we approach people and build our marketing around these paths, we’ll be in much better shape than if we put constructs around how we expect them to interact. That simply won’t work in today’s consumer-led universe. But, getting to the bottom of customer journeys — and the touchpoints people encounter every step of the way — will give you a unique and highly relevant view of what’s important, what’s motivating, and what’s pushing the conversion envelope. Look at brands, like RBS, that are deeply focused on the customer journey, and you’ll see the benefits of this high-value, highly personalized approach: increased conversions, better pictures of your customers in real-time, more opportunities to deliver relevance — all results that, no matter your business, will always be right at the top of your list.