Why do we make it so hard for customers to buy from us?

Were you, like me, underwhelmed by the results of the latest Warc 100 rankings of the world’s best marketing campaigns and companies according to their business impact? Not the actual brands that were ranked the highest – to them I tip my hat – but to the conclusion drawn that digital delivers business results. Honestly, do we still need to be pointing that out?

Sadly it seems we do because otherwise why would so many advertising campaigns still be supported by such a poor digital buying experience? It’s as if no one is bothering to think through what the customer is meant to do next or even vaguely thinking about how to make their buying journey as easy as it can be.

To prove my point, I’m going to set you some homework. It’s going to involve going onto YouTube, watching an ad and then seeing how easy it is to go and buy that product. Count the amount of times the ad ends and then you are left to make your own decision about what you are meant to do next. Have a look at a range of different products. Cars, supermarkets, energy, whatever.

What I suspect you will quickly find is that there is no attempt at a digital journey. And to be clear, this has nothing to do with YouTube, it is endemic.

There are two downsides here. The first is the user experience. Customers need a frictionless buying experience. At this most basic level this does mean giving them the opportunity to go and buy. However, while that is a start it is an overly simplistic notion of customer behaviour as it takes no account of the psychological buying journey.

The second is the missed commercial opportunity for the brand. Whatever the campaign investment, why would you not want to make it easy for your potential customers to navigate their way through the buying journey? The engagement you are seeking to achieve through the campaign is, otherwise, a potentially wasted commercial opportunity. Even if the campaign is intended to drive brand awareness, there is absolutely no excuse for not giving the consumer the opportunity to engage further with the brand.

Digital has made this straightforward to achieve and is why it is staggering that campaigns can still be launched that lack a digital element. Not only has it made it possible to directly support the buying journey, it has also enabled smarter brands to gather a new set of metrics that directly attributes campaign investment to sales.

This is why I am one of those people who subscribes to the idea that digital can no longer be treated as a standalone function within a business. Digital is intrinsic to any customer engagement activity, and while we all need to surround ourselves with digital experts, these must be embedded across all marketing functions.

By doing so, perhaps we will also start to think beyond campaigning. The long tail of engagement needs to be given greater priority. The idea of sustaining the engagement of the audience we have engaged within a campaign needs to be given greater consideration. Otherwise we are continually reinvesting in grabbing their attention and wasting the commercial opportunity of repeat custom or future conversion.

When we think of adding people into the top of the funnel, we must respect the fact that these are probably not ‘new’ people and therefore if we had sustained their engagement they may never have left the funnel in the first place; instead they may just be taking their time to reach the bottom, for example.

I write this not as some great revelation about the possibilities of digital but out of bemusement that such basic approaches to customer journey mapping are routinely overlooked. If we want marketing to be seen as a commercial discipline then we need to collectively pull our socks up.

Scott McLean is co-founder of The Intelligent Marketing Institute