Customer journeys is probably one of the most overused pieces of jargon in the marketing world, but not enough companies are making them the foundation of their growth marketing.

The most common response I get from founders and marketers when asking about their customer journeys is that they’ve analysed their website funnel in detail and optimised it through a range of tests and conversion rate optimisation. And that’s great! But a customer’s journey starts much earlier: when they just heard about your brand for the first time, probably well before they get to your website. And most of the journey is happening away from your website, whether that’s on ad ad platform, on email, or even just in someone’s head while they’re making a decision which brand to buy from. So, effective marketing needs to be built on customer journeys - before you think about which channels and campaigns to use.

It ultimately doesn’t matter that much which channels you use, as long as you understand how people decide to buy your product and you’re guiding them through the journey.

It’s tempting to find a marketing channel or two, which you know how to use and that seems to have your target audience on it, and then fully focus on that one to get people to your (well-optimised) website. In my view, it ultimately doesn’t matter that much which channels you use, as long as you understand how people decide to buy your product and you’re guiding them through the journey. This will be for another post at some point, but chances are that enough of your target audiences use Facebook or Instagram, Google search, email, and one of the main app stores, that you won’t have to worry about finding ‘the right channel’. Focus first on crafting the right customer journeys, and then fit those channels and campaigns into them.

The main benefits of starting with customer journeys in growth marketing

  • You’ll massively increase the cost-effectiveness of your paid advertising, partnerships, word of mouth or PR: The vast majority of people seeing your ad or campaign won’t buy or sign up for your product straight away. But not necessarily because they’re not interested. Most likely they’re just too busy right now, or want to do some googling or checking reviews, or asking their friends...and they probably forget soon after. Why not make it easy for them to come back: offer some audiences to sign up for some related content, email course or offer first. That way you’ll build relationships with potential customers and increase your chances of getting sales from your campaigns.
  • You will find the most relevant customers and keep them for longer, meaning higher lifetime value, a stronger brand and more referrals: If you guide people through their purchasing journey, and provide the most relevant information and offers depending on where they are, it’ll be a great experience for them. You’ll increase conversion, but also improve the relationship between your brand and your customers. That will mean they’re more likely to recommend you to others, stay with your brand for longer and leave positive reviews - all of which will be the foundation for sustainable growth.

The process to go through to build customer journeys for growth marketing

  1. Use intuitive understanding to draft the customer journeys: It’s very easy to collect data on marketing performance and user behaviour these days. But I believe it’s more important to start this process by putting yourself in the position of your future customers, try to understand them as people and individuals, and put down how you believe they will come to a decision to buy into your brand. We’re all consumers as well as marketers, after all. Even if your product is very niche or for specific target audiences, the decision-making process depends much more on your product price, how important it is to a customer’s life, and how urgently they need it. So you’ll likely have experienced buying something similar, which will enable you to empathise with your customers.
  2. Then use any data you might have to improve your initial draft of the journeys: You might gain some insight from looking at multi-step conversion paths, the time between first contact and making a purchasing decision, or the biggest drop-off points in your existing (product) funnel. If there are any strong suggestions of which steps seem to be particularly important to people, you might want to add additional pieces of content or sites into your journeys. Just keep in mind that most of your customer journeys will happen in places where you can’t measure anything, which is why it would be misleading to look at the data first to come up with the journey drafts.
  3. Choose marketing channels and campaigns to fit into the outline of the customer journeys, to guide people through as much of the journey as possible: Use paid advertising, email, sms, landing pages and content, to form the customer journeys. So for example an e-commerce brand might put together a simple email automation with their bestsellers and their top use cases, get signups for it through paid social campaigns, and then encourage the first purchase with a special offer email based on the content people engaged with previously. For a Fintech, future customers might want to sign up for a webinar first to build trust, then move into testing the product for free and sign up after getting a couple SMS offering assistance with signing up.
  4. Keep testing and improving journeys over time: On a monthly basis, review what steps and parts of the journeys work well or less well, split-test the elements or add completely new journeys. This is a long-term project, as long as your product and your customer base develops there’ll be more to learn.

Common obstacles and how to think about them

Even if this seems like a sensible approach, many companies might not get around to building their growth framework in this way. Let’s briefly look at what’s holding them back and how to avoid it:

  • Trying to find and build the complete customer journeys: Of course the more detailed your understanding of the best customer journeys, the better. But this shouldn’t hold companies back from making a start. Like I said, we’re all consumers and going through decision-making processes every day. So with some time and headspace, it’s very doable to come up with a solid initial draft of the most likely journeys. They’ll become more sophisticated over time, and even a first draft will definitely be better than ignoring how people make buying decisions.
  • Insisting on being led by data when building journeys: Data on how people move through your funnel, from analytics platforms or research, will help improve the journeys over time. But let’s not forget that effective marketing is mostly based on empathy and understanding your customers, and then using data to optimise. Many new ventures or even more established companies don’t have enough granular data or lack the expertise to analyse it, but again, this shouldn’t hold them back from making a start on journeys. They do have an understanding of their customers as people.
  • Working in silos within the team: Especially as companies grow their team, but even before, it’s common to find specialists in product management, paid advertising, PR, content, community etc. They all have their sets of targets and ambitions, but in order to come up with a coherent experience for your customers, everyone needs to work together. Not necessarily on a daily basis, but there needs to be an initial cross-functional planning phase and at least monthly or two-weekly sessions to review progress. The most important metric for every one of these specialists needs to how well their channel or area of the business supports the other parts of the customer journeys.

The best time to start thinking about customer journeys for growth is when you start your business. Alternatively, start now by setting up a session for your team, to spend some time thinking from the perspective of your customers and how they are likely to build their relationship with your brand. Use these draft customer journeys to decide on the combination of marketing channels and campaigns you’ll need to use, now and over the coming months and years. And keep iterating and finding more data insight to improve the customer journeys and your customers’ experience with your brand.