What CMOs Need To Know About Online Buyer Journeys
The process by which an individual becomes a customer is called “the buyer’s journey.” But of course if you’re a CMO you know this. What you may not have thought through are the particular nuances of your customer’s buyer’s journey as it takes place online. But before we go there, let’s review the basics of the buyer’s journey as it might apply to a typical consumer purchase.
- Observe. The buyer becomes consciously aware she has a need or want.
- Orient. The buyer collects and analyzes relevant information, considering options and solutions.
- Decide. The buyer chooses an option, which includes details such as the product or service, vendor, location, and other details.
- Act. The buyer implements the decision.
Let’s see how this works in action.
This simple buyer persona sets the stage. Armed with this information, what steps can the jewelry website take to facilitate Sam’s journey from potential customer to pleased customer? Due to Sam’s age, her commute, and her busy lifestyle the jeweler might predict Sam will access the website on a smartphone while on the subway. If the jeweler were to take a look at its other buyer personas, analytics data, and general consumer trends, it’s likely it would come to the conclusion that more and more of its customers will access its website via a mobile device in the future. Therefore the jeweler would be wise to make the mobile experience of its website a high priority.
The Buyer Persona As Preparation
While the buyer journey is a tool that helps marketers see how customers buy their products and services, it is a weak tool when not accompanied by effective buyer personas. Whereas the buyer journey tells us how, the buyer persona tells us who. “The objective is to understand customer needs and wants and all the content that helps with meeting those needs,” says Guy Marion, CMO ofAutopilot, a marketing automation firm. “Marketers need an understanding of consumer demographics, behavior and engagement – how they engage with your content, where they go online and use products, how they use apps, and so on.”
In the modern day that last part is key. How do customers make decisions online? In order to map an online buyer journey, we must first make sure considerations about online behavior are part of the buyer personas we create.
The User Journey
The user journey is not the buyer’s journey, although they overlap. Whereas the buyer’s journey moves through initial interest, gathering information, exploring options, and purchasing decisions, the user journey as applied online gets more specific, answering questions such as how will Sam, our buyer persona, find the aforementioned jewelry website? What will Sam do once she’s on the website, based on what we know from her persona? What information is she looking for? What is she likely to click on? What path will she take through the website before making a purchase? Asking and answering these questions are the basics of creating user journey scenarios which, like buyer personas, help marketers discover the more obvious changes to make to their websites, social media channels, and other online marketing properties.
Where Are The Buyers And What Are They Doing Online?
A 2013 Google/Nielsen study showed that when it comes to mobile research, 48% of the time the common starting point is a search engine, followed by branded websites at 33%.
Search engine optimization (SEO) takes care of making sure a website shows up in search engines during this research phase, and conversion rate optimization (CRO) ensures once the buyer lands on a branded website she encounters an experience that delivers the information and features she’s looking for.
SEO, CRO, And The User Journey
While SEO is fairly straightforward and the basics are understood by most marketers, CRO is often neglected. For example, in an analysis I performed of the websites of major cosmetics brands in Hong Kong, I found many whose meta description tags provided a less than ideal experience for customers. While meta description tags don’t influence search engine rankings, they do show up in search engines, influencing whether or not someone clicks through to a website. They also set the expectation for a visitor of what she’ll find after she clicks through to the website. If the content in the meta description tag doesn’t match what is found on the accompanying web page, this creates cognitive dissonance. It may be unconscious, but the result is an increased likelihood the visitor will hit the back button and move on to the next search result. That’s not good for the user journey, and it interferes with the “orient” phase of the buyer’s journey.
To Improve CRO, Start With The Customer
Good CRO begins with an understanding of the user journey, and that comes from firsthand experience with customers. “Real-life testing of smartphone users shows that they’re so distracted and hurried that they rarely follow the script we’ve created for them,” says Michael Mace, VP of Mobile for UserTesting. In addition to gathering data, Mace advocates systems that match themselves to the changing needs of customers. “The customer journey, so elegant and straightforward when we sketch it on a whiteboard, is actually a random walk through a minefield of distractions and competing priorities. Creating a great customer experience in the multi-channel world requires a much higher standard for simplicity and flexibility than most of us realize.”
Many people associate CRO with A/B testing. In a standard A/B test you create two versions of the same web page, and you change something on one page. You then drive half of your traffic to one page, half to the other, and see which page converts better. In this case a conversion doesn’t necessarily mean a lead or sale, it means the visitor does what you want them to do, which may be buying something, or it may be navigating to a certain other page, or any number of possible actions. A/B testing is just one among many CRO tactics. Others include:
- Multivariate testing
- User testing
- Usability testing
- User surveying
- Eye tracking
- Heatmap analysis
- Analytics analysis
On-site CRO includes the type of content you create to accelerate buying decisions. It’s the way your website is built and hosted to ensure is fast, working, and functions well. It’s the way you design and architect your website to ensure it is easy to use and visitors can find the information they are looking for. It’s the lead nurturing journeys you set up through marketing automation to keep prospects coming back to the website. It’s in the data analysis you do to continually optimize the user experience.
It Begins And Ends With Data
The moment someone lands on your website you should already be collecting data about him. For many small businesses, Google Analytics is enough to provide more data than many marketers will know what to do with. For larger companies, there are plenty of enterprise analytics tools to choose from.
Like anything in science, the larger your sample size the more reliable your data. In order to engage in data-driven CRO, we advise our clients they need a minimum of 5,000 visitors per month coming to their website. Even for larger enterprises this can sometimes be a challenge if their website hasn’t been a core focus of their marketing in the past. If your site is receiving fewer than 5,000 visitors per month, you may want to invest in driving more traffic before you dive into analyzing the data for CRO purposes.
The Journey Never Ends
With both online and offline buyer’s journeys, it’s important to note the journey never ends. That is, it shouldn’t. “The buyer journey doesn’t end just because your customer completes your desired action,” says Tim Ash, CEO of online conversion consulting firm SiteTuners and founder of the international Conversion Conference event series. “CMOs and other marketers know it costs more to acquire new customers than keep the ones you already have, but when it comes to the online buyer’s journey many marketers don’t know how to build retention into the online experience. They’re too focused on the one-time transaction.” Ash recommends sending post-purchase emails to customers with cross-sell and up-sell offers, email list opt-in options, and incentives for connecting on social media. He also says marketers can turn customers into advocates by sharing content they’ll find valuable and want to share, by encouraging them to review products, and by asking for testimonials.
Done right, the online buyer’s journey doesn’t end with a sale, but with an ongoing relationship.