How the non-linear customer journey changes marketing

Khoros Staff

The customer journey isn’t what it used to be: you no longer see an ad, come into the store, and buy a product. The steps between awareness and purchase are many and varied, and they often loop back on each other, from a Facebook ad to email to a Pinterest board to a website to a YouTube tutorial to an Instagram feed, and so on.

The internet and social media platforms have transformed advertising and traditional brand-to-consumer contact, and the rapid spread of mobile shopping means every stage of the customer’s journey is now disrupted. Marketers today need to be able to capture the attention of consumers constantly inundated with content, ads, and distractions, but it’s no longer marketers who lay out a linear purchase path along which to guide consumers (specific best practices are described in our Social Media Pocket Guide).

“The only person who owns the customer journey is the customer,” said Spredfast's VP of Marketing Sarah Moore, at the start of the Smart Social NYC panel Off the Beaten Path: Exploring The Non-Linear Customer Journey. “The customer has more power than ever to decide when, how, and where to interact with brands on their own time — on their own terms.” And now is the time for digital marketers to adapt.

"The customer has more power than ever to decide when, how, and where to interact with brands on their own time — on their own terms" - Spredfast's VP of Marketing Sarah Moore

That's why at Smart Social NYC Facebook’s VP of Global Business Marketing Sarah Personette and JPMorgan Chase’s Executive Director, Head of Newsroom Brian Becker came together to discuss how brands can master this fragmented customer journey to meet their customers where they are and deliver the right message at the right time.

(Mobile) video is the future

To predict the trends that’ll shape the next 12-18 months, we have to look at the last five years, Personette says. The fastest shift in tech history was the shift to mobile. For perspective, consider it took 38 years for radio to hit fifty million users, 14 years for television, four years for web — and only two years for mobile to hit fifty million users. There’s no denying we are a mobile-first world, and with marketers’ fascination with video, it’s no surprise that today and the next 18 months will be about video becoming mobile.

Facebook’s video strategy is about understanding how people use their phones as a camera and a filming device to connect. And about discovering the distinction between which videos will be “lean-back” experiences, meaning, longer videos that viewers settle in for, and which videos can be consumed on-the-go (like GIFs and 3-5 second videos). Facebook needs to learn how to speak in a video language that hasn’t occurred before. No easy feat.

In describing Chase’s approach to video, which includes testing shorter, less-produced video as well as longer video that can tell a story, Becker captures how many marketers feel about the rise of mobile video: Excited — and terrified. Video made for mobile requires are a new breed of creative considerations. You can’t approach it the same way you would video on TV; consumer experience on mobile is much faster. Indeed, sometimes it feels like we live in an age of endless scrolling. After all, there’s so much content to see (27 million pieces of content are shared each day), so little time.

People speed through their feeds on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, yet the way your brain responds to information in a mobile environment is different than desktop, and your ability to recall stories from brands and friends is actually higher on mobile. As Becker points out, industry thinking has not reached maturity about how to approach video yet, let alone the unique demands of mobile video. The only answer is to explore what works for your brand.

Test, test, test

Among the numerous campaigns the Chase team is testing is a video series aimed at new and expectant parents. The series, titled “Ask a Mom,” explores the financial challenges that arise when having a baby and offers advice on how growing families can make the most of their money. Each Ask a Mom clip is full of relatable advice, but can also be aspirational — a winning mix for financial services.

An added bonus? Chase provides the full transcript of the video along with a blog post that supplements every Ask a Mom video. It’s easy to think video campaigns are solely about what people watch, but companies still need to think about what people read: supporting copy that translates or enhances what your viewers see in the video can be a make-or-break detail.

Another experiment is “Kneading Dough,” a series with professional athletes telling stories about financial experiences which launched on LeBron James’ digital media company Uninterrupted with Chase as the presenting partner. The first show highlights the experience of Golden State Warriors forward and two-time All-Star Draymond Green. Green reveals the pressure to land investments in startups and secure partnerships. There’s little doubt that world-class athletes are one way to grab viewers’ attention, but there’s a lot more to the series than flash.

Lois Backon, head of Corporate Partner Marketing at JPMorgan Chase, told Forbes: “Discussing finances can be difficult, and we think Kneading Dough has the chance to help normalize that conversation by allowing people to see some of the world’s highest profile athletes open up about their personal finances in an honest and authentic way.”

Video can be difficult to measure and monetize, and the challenge has been how to become a video creator while remaining a marketer. Every brand has to make a decision around the audience they’re trying to reach: Something might stop your viewers’ thumbs (LeBron James, for instance) but it’s up to marketers to ensure the campaign provides real value. Especially considering that with a non-linear customer journey, every campaign has the potential to be someone's first impression of your brand.

How to create change within a large organization

Thanks to social media, mobile, and digital advertising, people expect individualized experiences at all stages of the non-linear customer journey. To move the needle effectively, it's clear enterprise companies must align their marketing more closely with the questions and priorities of their customers to deliver a tailored approach at every digital touchpoint. The intrinsic challenge is that providing this type of holistic digital presence necessitates cross-team alignment. So how can you create change within a large organization to make sure your company stays competitive? Well, first thing: Lean into the process rather than demand instantaneous change.

“A lot of people come into digital jobs and have a great resumes but try to create change way too quickly,” says Becker. “At Chase we say it takes six months to a year just to figure out where the bathroom is.” Becker advises learning about departments across the organization, and spending time understanding their viewpoints in order to make a recommendation that feels natural to them. Commit to listening first in order to map your customer journey as it stands today and identify improvements for the future.

Innovation within the customer journey: where to next?

At Facebook, thinking about innovation within the customer journey inevitably leads to thinking about artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR). When it comes to AR, Personette says the goal is to make sure each platform can create the most immersive and expressive experience for every person — and the camera is at the core of that.

Facebook also wants to create the safest community possible and is investing in AI to make sure people can connect and share freely in a safe way. Millennials in particular expect businesses to be available through messaging platforms, whether big or small. And while it’s still in the early days, Facebook is thinking about how AI can make it easier to wrangle the considerable volume of messages and classify them, allowing for a natural-language response to those messages based on a diagram of key themes.

Of course, the future of a transformed customer journey exists outside advancements in AI/AR technology, too. The Chase team “builds audience, not content,” Becker explains. They do so with innovation in retargeting, story sequencing, and discovering how to drive people to the places they’re actually going to be interested in. The key to eventually driving people back to your brand according to Personette? Marketing with heart and empathy.

In this quickly changing space, there are a lot of transformative shifts underway. And an always-evolving mindset is crucial to keep pace. There may soon be an entire generation that skips the desktop experience in favor of mobile, says Personette, and if your brand can’t create meaningful connections through mobile you’ll be missing out on essential brand growth.

Not only are new ways to distribute content on the horizon, but next-generation consumers will be found in completely new places. With consumption patterns constantly changing for people, marketing strategy must also undergo constant revisions. Brands traditionally market through media companies and agencies, but even that’s wavering, according to Becker. Brands themselves are trying to become media companies and are taking over the role that agencies used to own, in some cases creating content more effectively or more quickly in-house.

“There’s so much at play right now that it’s a fun time to be a marketer," says Becker. "The people that take some risks and try things that are a little less safe are the ones that are going to succeed.”

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