Customer Experience Martech Data & Privacy

Are marketers chasing a false nirvana of connected customer journeys?

By Simon Collister, Director, the human understanding lab



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December 15, 2022 | 7 min read

How can marketers be armed to deliver better customer experiences in 2023? Simon Collister of Unlimited urges them to rethink the tech-determinist view of the joined-up customer journey.

Paw prints in sand

Is the glorified joined-up customer journey necessarily a true picture of consumer behavior? / Nick Fewings via Unsplash

In our technology- and data-driven marketing world, clients are increasingly seeking joined-up customer journeys. Pan-European research published this week by Unlimited Group and Serviceplan shows that developing an excellent customer experience (CX) ranks as the number one priority for chief marketing officers (CMOs) in 2023.

Yet, in all the hubris of marketers' headlong rush into the world of first-party data and the proliferation of martech stacks, is there a risk we're chasing a tech-determinist fever dream?

Have we stopped and asked ourselves (and our clients) a key question: is a fully joined-up customer journey even possible in the near term?

Ask any data scientist or martech consultant and they will argue that a connected customer journey is a technical possibility. But looking beyond the levels of pure data and technology, creating seamless customer journeys is, in reality, hard to achieve and doesn't reflect brands’ or consumers’ needs and behaviors.

The data-tech discrepancy

Despite CMOs’ stated priorities, many underestimate how well their business and agency partners are structured for this. While connected CX is easily represented in a strategy presentation, the parts of a business responsible for delivering each stage of the journey are usually very disconnected and often don't communicate on day-to-day operations (let alone collaborate on strategic growth).

I’ve seen it before: brand and marketing want to deliver growth with a seamless, creative-led approach connecting high-impact advertising through to customer loyalty and up-sell. But as soon as the customer shifts beyond pure brand exposure into lead generation, the journey starts to break down. Then you discover the customer engagement team doesn't have the right software to follow up and target leads, and the customer data is in no fit state for up-selling.

Admittedly, these are often issues for legacy brands. Digital-first or scale-up businesses may have been designed for the connected experience from day one. But even here, there are structural challenges.

Mirroring the internal specialisms of brands, agency partners often focus on delivering one part of the customer experience. From creative to advertising/paid media to search to acquisition to customer relationship management, being able to step back and see the complete picture is not the ‘default’ mode for agencies.

Consumer behavior is often illogical

Even within big agency groups, the drive for divisional revenue means it's rare to see true collaboration, even when the client seeks it and would benefit from it. All too often, agencies just aren’t set up to deliver.

Clients benefit most when agencies can bring together not just the creative and activation layers of marketing but also data and technology. Integrating these capabilities, guided by a centralized strategic team that puts the consumer first, is a solid way to join up journey planning and delivery.

This can help tackle another big risk for marketers: overlooking the complex needs of consumers. While data and martech can build journeys around logical pathways to purchase, this often fails to account for the mainly illogical behaviors exhibited by consumers.

For example, we know from neuroscience and behavioral science research that our brains are designed to feel rather than think first. Decisions are made subconsciously and are highly influenced by context. That reality is often at odds with linear customer journeys designed around rational interactions.

Abandoning the tech-determinist view

The window of opportunity to influence consumers is fleeting: less than 50 milliseconds on a digital touchpoint, and less than two seconds for a Facebook ad. These experiences are much harder to plan than simply providing technological opportunities. Similarly, 'loyalty' drivers owe more to familiarity and subconscious nudges than CRM specialists give credit for.

Acknowledging this complexity of human behavior is the first step to getting us closer to the solution. Refocusing our efforts on creating human-first, connected consumer journeys can help the data and martech layers work better and move us closer to the goal of seamlessness.

If we recognize the need to blend the capabilities of data and tech with the realities of understanding and designing around real human needs and behaviors, we can break out from the tech-determinist dead-end and start to create powerful human-first experiences.

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