Look Back At A Forward Looking Article

Sometimes it’s good to take another look back at something that changed the way you think. An article from four years ago in the Harvard Business Review by David Edelman and Marc Singer is one that deserves another look. In it, they offer some of the most interesting and cogent observations on Customer Journey Planning that we had read before and perhaps still to this day: “Competing on Customer Journeys.

We highly recommend you read the whole article, and, to motivate you to do so, here’s the spoiler: According to Edelman and Singer, customer journeys are “…becoming central to the customer’s experience of a brand—and as important as the products themselves in providing competitive advantage.” Pretty compelling stuff.

But, if that’s not enough to get you to download the whole article, here is a quick summary: For the past decade, nearly every one of our organizations—but retailers and service providers in particular—has been responding to the explosion of digital technologies that has transferred the power in the brand/customer relationship fully into the hands of the customer.

Today, your customer (physical or digital) can walk or surf into your store, take digital photos of your products, compare your pricing for the very same product with competitors on the spot, walk or surf out of your store, order the product from someone else and have it delivered within hours to their doorstep. In response, say Edelman and Singer, “…companies…have been trying to anticipate their (customers’) next moves and position themselves in shoppers’ paths as they navigate the decision journey from consideration to purchase.” Up until this point, most organizations’ efforts to address this have been largely reactive, “…improving the efficiency of existing journeys or identifying and fixing pain points in them.”

While figuring out the existing journey is certainly helpful and a step in the right direction for anyone not yet engaged in journey mapping (contact us, we’ll get you started!), it’s quickly becoming time to think beyond mapping. Emerging technologies that reflect a better understanding of customer pain points and decision-making processes, as well as changing organizational structures, are “…restoring the balance of power and creating new value for brands and buyers alike.

Central to this shift is a fresh way of thinking: Rather than merely reacting to the journeys that consumers themselves devise, companies are shaping their paths, leading rather than following,” say Edleman and Singer. This is a significant shift in strategy, and the Edelman/Singer piece reports that the move from primarily reactive to aggressively proactive is happening quickly: “Across retail, banking, travel, home services, and other industries, companies are designing and refining journeys to attract shoppers and keep them, creating customized experiences so finely tuned that once consumers get on the path, they are irresistibly and permanently engaged.”

This last point is critical: “Unlike the coercive strategies companies used a decade ago to lock in customers (think cellular service contracts), cutting-edge journeys succeed because they create new value for customers. Customers stay because they benefit from the journey itself.”

This is sophisticated marketing that has resulted in putting marketers in charge of managing the customer journey as they would the product itself.