How has digital marketing impacted the customer buying journey?

How has digital marketing impacted the customer buying journey?

Mapping the customer journey in the multi-faceted digital age has never been more important. Here’s why, with some simple tips to help you create a compelling path to purchase for your customer

Customer journey mapping has been a key component of a brand’s strategic planning for many years. Now is the time to have a re-think. Has your customer journey and the resulting customer experience adapted to the changing environment that we are in? You have more digital channels to consider, and your customers’ behaviours will undoubtedly have changed substantially in recent times.

Mohan Sawhney of Kellogg Business School once said to me: “The same rules still apply, we are just working on a broader canvas, with a richer set of colours”. Is that true? Do the same rules still apply?

I would argue that those same rules still do apply, but we must reconsider how we adapt them. The fundamentals of marketing are the same – we need clear objectives, segmentation, targeting, customer insight, great content ideas and measurement, as we always have done. But we need to re-think how to interpret those fundamentals.

We still need to segment, but maybe we use people’s behaviours rather than their demographics to identify and reach them. We still need to measure success, but we are now able to do it in an agile way as soon as our activity goes live, rather than waiting for results months after the campaign has ended.

Customer journey mapping is another case in point. The principles of why we do it stay the same, but how we do it and how we use it needs to reflect today’s marketing environment.

So, why do we do customer journey mapping? Because it…

  1. Helps with media planning
  2. Helps you to understand customers’ needs and behaviours
  3. Helps you understand what is important (when are the moments of truth?)
  4. Helps you plan data capture and personalisation
  5. Helps you to empathise with customers.

For example, media planning at a macro level can be improved by considering where your customers will hunt for information at each stage of the buying journey which means that, at a micro level, you can consider what keywords they might search for at each stage.

A buyer considering whether it is safe to book a holiday (at the start of their buying journey) might search for “Is it safe to travel?”, “What are the quarantine restrictions for this country?” or “Which countries have the lowest COVID infection rates?”. Then once they decide that they want to travel and identify specific countries to visit, they might search for “Which is the best cultural city in Italy?” or “What is the weather in Rome in Spring?”. Finally, as they close towards making a purchase, they may search for “Best 3* hotel in Rome with a pool” or “Festivals in Rome in May”. Your search strategy, as well as your advertising, PR and events strategy, needs to reflect the stage of the buying journey that each customer is at.

But customer journey mapping is not just about media planning. Doing it will enable you to think about how the customer is feeling at each stage, what barriers might stop them moving to the next stage and what propositions you could develop to convince them to buy from you.

It is not a quick, simple process. You need to collaborate with colleagues, research customers and give yourself sufficient time to really think it through. You also need to consider whether you need to develop different customer experiences for different types of customers and for different products and services or routes to market. Your customer experience for a millennial looking to buy from you for the first time, is likely to be substantially different to an older buyer who has bought products and services in your category for many years, as they may think they know what they want and where to get it.

A brand that has got it right is Allbirds, which is already picking up significant traction in the marketing community. It's a brand with a unique product (shoes made from natural wool) and a clear proposition that is focused on sustainability as well as a tone of voice that is consistent and approachable. That resulted in sales of $100 million in their first 2 years of trading. They don’t push a sales message too hard, they simply reinforce their brand values at each stage and make buying from them simple and fun. They have also reduced all the key barriers to buying shoes online by offering free shipping and a 30-day free return guarantee.


The best customer experiences, like Allbirds, are personalised to the user. When mapping your customer journey, also consider what data you can capture from the customer at each stage and then how you will use that data to personalise the experience at the next stage. The best brands also time their customer communications so that they are in response to a change in customer behaviour, rather than pushing out mass communications to all. For example, if a mobile phone network notices that you are making more international calls, then they will contact you to say that they have noticed the change and that they can save you money on these calls if you change your monthly price plan.

Predictive modelling and AI are now more accessible to all brands. Could you use statistical techniques like CHAID to predict which customers are most likely to buy or to cancel their contract, so that you can target them at the right time? Could you also use this technique to tell you which of your products the buyer might also be interested in? This is how Amazon and Tesco and other leading retailers make offers that are more relevant to you and increase your spend in each transaction.

In conclusion, here are my two top tips that will help you ensure your communications are more relevant to today’s consumer. Firstly, make sure that you demonstrate your purpose and engage empathetically with your audience. Then, finally and most importantly, focus on making the customer buying experience more personal, and therefore easier, for the buyer.

Ultimately, customers have always been more complex than traditional demographics allow for, and we now have the technology to map buying journeys more effectively and understand them better than ever before. This doesn’t mean that the golden rules of strategy have changed though, though the canvas is broader and the colours brighter, it’s still about using those tools to prioritise customer needs. More than ever, we know how we can meet and exceed them – and it all starts with your customer’s journey.


If you’d like to learn more about how to do this, why not have a look at CIM’s brand new Customer Journey Path to Purchase one-day virtual training course, where I’ll teach you how to set and meet your goals for your customer’s buying journey.

Nick Baggott Course director CIM
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