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One Big Idea: The Customer Journey is Marketing

September 9, 2015

| Bill Gullan |

Much has been written about the customer experience — or ‘journey.’ In this episode, Bill discusses why the customer journey is essential to fostering brand advocacy and also why some corporate structures and/or attitudes hold brands back. If you enjoy our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

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Greetings one and all, this is Real-World Branding! I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. This is One Big Idea – in off weeks, between interviews, we have turned this into a bit more of soliloquy about a topic or one particular idea that reflects back on either what we’ve heard or what we’re experiencing here when it comes to building brands and businesses.

So this week’s One Big Idea is that “The Customer Journey is Marketing.” Let me explain to you what I mean. There’s been a lot of conversation about the so-called customer journey. First of all, what is that? The customer journey, or the patient journey when it comes to a healthcare institution, is really a combination of things that may have existed in a variety of functional areas in the past – in the way that retailers run their businesses [for example]. The customer journey is every experience that one has with a brand, product, or experience from the moment that they become aware or motivated, until when they walk out the door, pay the bill, or whatever it is, and everything in between. The entire customer journey is about what one experiences in a hard and soft way, how one feels, what one does, how one interacts with your business or brand.

The purpose of One Big Idea being about “The Customer Journey is Marketing” is, as noted, there has historically been a blurring of the lines as to who owns which components functionally. So if we look at the way that a retailer is organized, store operations has often owned things such as employee training and onboarding, and managing the visual and experiential aspects of the store itself. The reality is that the marketer’s and brand builder’s toolkit is about mastering the entirety of the customer journey. So this is one way in which organizations, large and small, need to rethink the way they draw lines and think about various aspects of how the business is built and delivered.

Marketing that is solely focused on driving awareness and demand through that traditional purchase funnel (meaning what are the tactics I’m using to attract), if marketing is that one dimensional it becomes very quickly obsolete. [This type of thinking is obsolete] today because it doesn’t attack the journey as a whole, rather it simply focuses on the front end of the funnel.

To that end, marketers, to their credit, have recognized that there needs to be deeper evaluation to potentially shift priorities toward the experience itself. As drivers of retention, loyalty, customer advocacy, and ambassadorship, a lot of people are tracking, for example, the net promoter score. Often that falls to marketing and to the insights or research people to track that net promoter. Advocacy often is a reflection, not just of the services or products that were bought, but of the way the experience felt.

Often times in fact, some of our research has shown, the drivers of being a promoter, for example on the net promoter score continuum, are increasingly about experience versus product or service. The brand and customer dynamic is no longer about isolated interactions. The consumer doesn’t have silos in his or her mind to think about these things in an isolated way. It’s a relationship! An ongoing relationship that really has to encompass all of the touchpoints that exist at a business’ disposal and track at every point on the customer journey.

The effect, ultimately, of a change in mindset is thinking of the journey as a more 3 dimensional cycle rather than demand, trial, preference, and loyalty. It has to and is beginning to ripple through marketing campaigns through the way that customer services personnel organize around marketing priorities and certainly the way that service providers, like us at Finch, serve our clients through what we offer, what we track, and how we build strategically and creatively.

So giving an example, recently, my father has been in a medical facility for a couple of weeks. When one asks how that experience has gone, they could mean any number of things. Typically, the answer that I give, and how positive or negative I am on that answer, has obviously to do with whether he’s getting better and whether the medicine they are giving him is working. That’s an important part, and a critically important ingredient as to how a medical center performs, but I find that the answers that I give, and the things the immediately spring to mind when I’m asked that question, has to do with how he is being treated – how engaged they are in his care; how well they seem to communicate with one another; are the nurses clearly happy in their jobs; do they have a “why” to what they do; do they love what they do; does it come through? How he’s being treated, even in a situation where our overriding goal is for him to get better clinically, matters so much to how I evaluate that experience. So the one recent example, but it speaks of this larger point about journey.

A couple of things to think about as a marketer, business and brand builder, when it comes to helping the customer journey of the organization get better, stronger, and more integrated. One is first of all a need to understand the journey itself, where it begins and ends, what are the channels, and what stages in the relationship cycle are you interacting with or seeking to interact with this customer. So first of all, you need to figure out where [the customers] are and the journey that they take. You build a map of what that journey is, of the various steps and you have to do that before you can evaluate what’s working and what isn’t.

Then you think through, as you build that map, what’s the information that they need to have at each stage? What is the information or experience that the customer is seeking to have at each stage? I mean for those of us who are fanatical about customer satisfaction, as everyone really should be, the challenge ultimately is how much do they need at any time – you don’t want the ‘just browsing’ effect to being approached in a retail store. Understanding consumer behaviors and desires and every step in the journey is really important.

The second thing to think about is that customer engagement starts with employee engagement. So one of the reasons that the traditional, functional breakdown of responsibilities doesn’t work anymore is that if customers think of their relationship as a journey, then having those who have direct dominion over employee engagement isolated or siloed from those who were expected, and ultimately evaluated on how they effectively engage the customer, doesn’t make any sense.

So if you understand that ultimately mastering the customer journey begins on the inside, and we talked about that in a previous podcast about how brands are built from the inside out, the customer journey is also perfected from the inside out. As in the hospital example, or any other example you can think of from your own life as a consumer, the degree that you were dealing with friendly, happy, motivated, positive, and knowledgeable people has a tremendous impact on how well that journey and that experience is perceived.

The second major point is that you’ve got to start on the inside and make sure that your employees are effectively engaged to deliver a well-choreographed customer journey, or else no matter how many things you write, sign, post, or clever lines you brainstorm, the journey doesn’t get better.

Then lastly, I think, one of the reasons why the customer journey is so important is because businesses are, very rightly, focused on the incredible value of having advocates in your customer base for your brands. Social media has obviously made the ability of sharing strong opinions, positively or negatively, as easy as it’s ever been. Certainly review sites – TripAdvisor, Yelp – have led folks that are compelled, either positively or negatively, to have their voice heard. So many consumers are making decisions based on what they hear, particularly when they are coupled with what has been well covered in the media, which is a loss of institutional trust, whether it be in government, media, businesses or corporate marketing or even institutions that are nonprofit. The degree to which consumers are skeptical about information that is delivered in a top down way makes brand advocacy from peers even more important.

So the value of advocates across just traditional word of mouth – talking over the fence to your neighbor, obviously the social media dialogue which is a high tech version of that – that role in helping drive trials is critically important. The role of advocacy in one’s own repeat purchases is also critically important, obviously creating some level of loyalty that bring people back again and again. Then the value of advocates as important drivers of insight can’t be understated.

When we do marketing and brand research for clients, you definitely want a mix of folks based on some of the opinions they’ve formed about the business. Often times you’re looking at those who are unhappy about what will address that unhappiness, what did it come from, what is the source of it. But sometimes it’s important to learn about what went right and why, surely, you can operationally replicate that. Another thing about earning brand advocates is that customer experience, as noted, is the driver of advocacy even beyond product satisfaction and service satisfaction.

A couple key things about the customer journey again, just to reiterate, one you need to really understand the journey, you need to map it and determine where it begins and ends. Two, you need to understand that customer engagement and the customer journey is often itself created and then reinforced by employee engagement, the customer journey is perfected from the inside out. Lastly, the journey should be focused in many ways and have touchpoints not about customer satisfactions but customer advocacy and ambassadorial behavior. It is so important to the future of businesses and brands that rely on consumer goodwill, which is all of us. Whether we be consumers or business people, what is that goodwill that creates brand equity and drives long-term financial performance?

So to sum it up today’s topic for One Big Idea is that “The Customer Journey is Marketing.” Organizationally, that needs to be understood. Obviously, it relates to the importance of it and how to make it better within your own organization. That is it for me this week; hope you enjoy what we’re doing here. I’ll sign off from the Cradle of Liberty.

About The Author: Bill Gullan

Bill Gullan is the President of Finch Brands. His nearly 30-year (ugh!) career in branding has revolved around naming, messaging, M&A brand integration, and qualitative research. He has been with Finch Brands since 2001.

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