Fueling the Customer Decision Journey by Understanding Intent

By Publicis Media InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: Fueling the Customer Decision Journey by Understanding Intent

At this year's Advertising Week New York , brands, advertising agencies, and technology platforms came together to share insights around a common theme: How do we better align to customer expectations in an age of constant digital disruption?

I took the stage to discuss navigating the complexity of today's customer journey with Nikki Isaac, global strategic agency analytical lead for Microsoft Advertising. Nikki presented new research from Microsoft Advertising around the Customer Experience Quotient (CXQ), a term they coined.

CXQ looks at the marketer's ability to better understand and market to the customer decision journey; the combination of these two competencies makes up a marketer's CXQ. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft found that only 20 percent of marketers surveyed fall into the category of "high performance in the CXQ," meaning they are "excellent" at both and are achieving a high return on investment as a result.

How can marketers increase their CXQ aptitude? Nikki suggests that the key lies in a few important best practice data strategies that were uncovered in the research, which surveyed more than 200 marketers and agencies in the U.S. and UK. According to Microsoft Advertising, marketers who have a better understanding of the full customer decision journey see an average 45 percent incremental lift in their ad spend's ROI.

We've been talking about better understanding the customer journey for years. But marketers still struggle in this regard, as evidenced by their low CXQ aptitude. One reason: Many marketers only have visibility into portions of the customer journey. They also struggle with what's measurable and what's not. And they focus only on what they can see and measure — often the final conversion — unintentionally relegating all efforts to lower-funnel strategies and constraining investment into the holistic customer journey.

To respond to these challenges, I advocate a new approach: intent-based marketing. As customers move through their decision journeys, their mindsets and intentions are constantly shifting. Who they are — e.g., their demographics, lifestyles, affinities — becomes less important than what they want. That means, to both understand and market to the customer journey, marketers must differentiate identityfrom context. This enables us to personalize brand experiences to people's intentions at each stage of the journey, delivering relevant experiences that match their intentions, not just their identities.

Underlying this approach is a framework that maps different mindsets to stages in the journey. To illustrate: At Performics , we're reading the level of concreteness in peoples' search query language to identify exactly where people are in their journeys. The more concrete the search query, the closer the person is to purchase. We score ads and landing pages to ensure that they match the level of concreteness and specificity of the consumer's mindset, as shown in this case study.

An approach rooted in intentions enables marketers to untether themselves from the idea that the journey is linear. Customers don't generally follow a specific set of steps from unaware, to aware, to consideration, to purchase. This traditional funnel partitions the roles of channels into inflexible buckets, preventing budget fluidity and relevant personalization. Additionally, an intent-based approach better aligns with customer expectations surrounding trust and privacy. Instead of chasing customers with remarketing tactics — based on identity — that may be annoying or intrusive, we can let the customer give us their signal of intent before presenting them with a relevant and assistive experience.

Marketers looking to understand the customer journey at scale must also use an effective data strategy, as Nikki suggested. The key to this lies in combining traditional attribute-based audience definitions with customer intent signals. The merger of first-party CRM data, third-party data, and intent data creates an especially powerful aggregate dataset that marketers can use to build high-propensity audiences and cross-channel experiences aligned to customer intent.

The truth is that digital disruption will continue to accelerate an understanding that the customer journey is only going to become more challenging. The industry will continue to focus on this theme. Siloes and walled gardens will further fragment and isolate the views of the customer.

Marketers must ensure that consumers get value for the data they agree to provide, while respecting their privacy. As long as brands keep consumer intent at the forefront — relying on frameworks, data strategies, and machine learning to extract greater understanding from data to optimize the journey — they'll be ready to deliver more value to customers.

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