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Top-performing marketers meet customers along their journey

Let’s not be coy — a marketer’s job is to persuade consumers to engage with brands and to make a purchase. Before marketers can wield that influence, they need to understand those they want to persuade — their target audience. Many marketing teams try to do that by developing buyer personas and mapping out consumer journeys; however, the most impactful journeys are focused on the customer experience.
Here’s an example hotel consumer journey from GCH Hotel Group:

Graphic view of consumer journey for hotel customer, with 5 stages: Travel inspiration, research, booking, on property, and post-stay.

In the first step, the consumer seeks travel inspiration, perhaps via social channels, discussions with friends, and communications from hotels. Once they decide on a destination, they start researching accommodation options. This stage often involves search engines, reading reviews, and reviewing hotel websites and social media accounts. At this stage, the hotel needs to deliver inspiration in the form of inviting images, tantalizing stories, and compelling reviews. 
After making a decision, the consumer needs to make a booking, usually done via either the hotel website, an online travel agent, or via email/telephone. The hotel wants to make this process as easy as possible.
Once the guest arrives, the experience with the brand takes on heightened significance as this can influence whether the guest returns and recommends the property to others in the future. The customer service is paramount, but thoughtful touches like a turndown service that includes turning on music and leaving a chocolate on the pillow can make a tremendous impression that the guest remembers post-stay. 
Focusing on the entire customer experience from inspiration to booking to the on-property experience, and engaging with the customer to ensure that their stay meets expectations, is what generates the data you need to fuel your marketing flywheel.

Anticipate consumer needs to influence their purchases

While this consumer decision journey (CDJ) is represented as a linear progression, the reality is that most of today’s CDJs are more like a spiderweb, lacking predefined stages. Some would describe the new CDJ as an intergalactic star featuring seemingly innumerable data points, as shown in this representation of one data set of search queries on Bing:

View of web-like visualization of search data on Bing.
What this signals is that each journey is highly personalized and varies in length and importance. With so many choices and so much information at their fingertips, consumers frequently jump on and off the path before arriving at their final destination. As a result, mapping out the CDJ is complicated, considering that every consumer’s journey will be unique.
Regardless of what a consumer is searching for or looking to buy, the key is reaching each one at the right moment with the right message and offer. What matters is acknowledging that every consumer is exposed to countless brand touchpoints — both directly from the brand and indirectly through various channels, along with their friends and other connections. While no single touchpoint is necessarily the catalyst for a purchase, the sum total of those touchpoint experiences can dramatically shape and impact the consumer’s experience and purchase decision — as well as their likelihood of advocating and sharing their experiences with others post-purchase.
A valuable use of a marketer’s time is identifying where a consumer is in their journey — coupled with predicting their intent at that stage — to present the most personalized, relevant messages and offers. Being able to identify and predict in this way depends heavily on using data strategically. 

Understand customers through data

This reality, if nothing else, should convince marketers that it’s a must to aggregate consumer-related data from all sources to arrive at a complete view of the consumer. In fact, this view is precisely what enables a customer-centric approach to marketing. And many marketers find search data provides unique insight into consumer intent.
According to Business Insider, after Amazon, a search engine is the second most popular resourcethat consumers use in their product search process. 20 percent turn to search engines to start looking for new products, 36 percent use them to check prices, and 32 percent use them to check reviews.
While search behavior is constantly evolving, it plays a pivotal role in the CDJ because the words that consumers use in their search queries can reveal their mindset and intent. With this insight, marketers can understand each consumer’s motivations to inform a personalized marketing strategy. That, in turn, enables more meaningful connections with consumers during their search and decision-making process.
However, every marketer can apply additional insights from their high-performing peers to better meet and connect with consumers on their journeys.

How high-performing marketers tackle the journey

To fully understand the complexities of the new CDJ, high-performing marketers are:
  • Leveraging cloud platforms to aggregate data.
  • Combining first-party, second-party, and third-party data to create holistic customer views.
  • Calling upon AI and machine learning to collect and analyze massive amounts of data.
  • Sharing data across all departments to arrive at greater customer insights
  • Partnering with technology providers and agencies that can figure out CDJs and analyze the impact of marketing and advertising on conversions.
By tapping into all the data at their disposal, today’s marketers:
  • Make their marketing more effective (such as by personalizing and remarketing).
  • Create data-driven touchpoints (including chatbots, digital assistants and other intelligent agents) that help to build momentum and further engage customers to boost revenue and ROI.
Microsoft Advertising research on creating smarter customer journeys has found that the top-performing marketers who leverage data to create more meaningful touchpoints can see up to a 45 percent incremental lift in ROI/ROAS. These marketers more deeply understand the consumer decision journey and, as a result, can better predict consumer behavior and intent. Download the eBook Microsoft Advertising wrote based on the results of this research for more insight into how you can call upon data and technology to understand and better market to the CDJ.