Understanding Your Customer’s Journey
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At the end of the day, people just want to be happy. Especially these days. Sure, they also want to be safe and prosperous. That goes without saying. But one of the ways that people derive happiness is by buying things. Why, because it probably makes them happy and brings them joy. But why do people buy one product or service versus the other? As you can imagine, the internet plays a huge part in this these days. People are already being introduced and programed, yes programed, what to buy through various algorithms employed by big-tech used in their advertising and on social media to prioritize what content customers see long before they set out to purchase a product or service. Because, without social media algorithms, sifting through all the content on the internet would be all but impossible. So, algorithms do the legwork of delivering what you want and weeding out content that is deemed to be irrelevant. ¹
According to GE Capital Retail Bank, 81% of consumers are now conducting online research before buying. ² This has caused marketeers to increase their digital marketing spend to address the masses that stayed home during the pandemic with nothing else to do but binge-watch their favorite show on Netflix and buy things online to find the happiness they once enjoyed. So, how does a company create a brand strategy that makes their customers feel good and want to buy?
To answer that question, we need to first understand our customer’s journey which is the complete sum of experiences that they go through when interacting with your company and brand. ³ At the foundation of this understanding is their self-actualization needs that were first introduced back in 1943 by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. ⁴ Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is now a decades old theory of motivation that is no longer current, let alone relevant when applied to business today because it lacks a current understanding of what is motivating customers here in the age of the internet. How could it possibly, it was written nearly 80-years ago before the internet was invented. But for the sake of argument, let us assume that customers will focus on their own needs being met first. Once those lower-level needs have been met, Maslow says that their attention will naturally shift to the next higher level of the hierarchy. ⁵
Fascinated by this observation, The Deerborne Group, a boutique management consulting firm located in San Diego, CA, began conducting their own qualitative research with their customers in the broader life sciences. This research provided them with brand new insights into who their ideal customer was and what this customer wanted most. Not surprisingly, what they discovered was, that customers being human, will initially internalize their own needs first which falls in line with what Maslow said about people focusing on their most basic physiological needs being met first.
Based on the insights derived from their qualitative research, The Deerborne Group developed the “Customer Motivation Pyramid” to explain their observations that, when applied to customers today, can help companies better understand their customer’s buying persona and journey.
Looking at the Customer Motivation Pyramid, you will find than an individual customer’s first impressions, which are usually subjective, are based on emotions. Even though we were taught by our parents to never judge a book by its cover, we still do it. It is almost like we cannot help ourselves. In fact, research conducted at Princeton University found that it takes only one-tenth of a second for people to make up their minds about other people. ⁶ But that’s people you say, what about a brand or a company? As it turns out, it is pretty much the same. Buyer psychology is a field of study that combines the insights of economics, psychology, and communications. It seeks to understand how people form their beliefs about a brand and its products and how those feelings translate to purchasing behaviors. ⁷ This is why it is so important for companies to create a strong brand personality that is memorable for customers to connect with. Because customers with an emotional connection to brands, have a 306% better lifetime value than even satisfied customers have. ⁸
According to Harvard Business School, 95% of purchasing decisions are based on feelings instead of logic. ⁶ People apparently choose brands based on their first impression or initial assessment and those that appeal to their subconscious. Which explains why brands that rely on their humanness tend to do better than those that rely on statistics or rationality. ⁹
Based on one’s initial assessment, expectations are already being formed in the customer’s mind. By definition, customer expectations are any set of behaviors or actions that individuals anticipate when interacting with a company. ¹⁰ There’s also an expectation that certain hygiene factors exist. It is during their initial internet search that they find the various attributes that matter to them most. These hygiene factors can range from basic must haves like a 1-800 number or customer service department all the way to a product satisfaction guarantee. Regardless, every company must have these very basic hygiene factors to even be considered.
Next up on the Customer Motivation Pyramid you will find validation. As part of their decision-making process, customers will begin to validate their initial observations and expectations. They will use various means such as conducting an internet search to research the company further that includes looking at competitive products or services that are out there.
Lastly, after they have made their initial assessment, ensured that most of their expectations are met, and validated their observations, the customer’s needs will ultimately shift to the highest level of the pyramid. Here at the top of the pyramid where a customer’s core values, driven by their initial emotions, have the potential to ultimately be in alignment with their perception of the company’s core values. When the two ends meet, you have the potential to develop a true advocate who is then willing, able, and ready to do business with your company.
Let’s put this customer journey into perspective by looking at a company’s brand identity as an example. Frist, brand identity is made up of visible elements of the brand that include color, design, and logo, that identify and distinguish the brand in the customer’s mind. All this did not happen by chance. At some point, someone or some agency or firm helped develop the company’s brand strategy. ¹¹
So, what is a brand strategy? It is a long-term plan to achieve a series of goals that ultimately result in the identification and preference of your brand by customers. A brand strategy successfully executed results in the articulation of your brand’s mission, its promises to customers, and how they are communicated. ¹² This sounds a lot like one is at the top of the Customer Motivational Pyramid.
Prior to articulating your brand strategy however, you have got some homework to do. This includes ensuring that there is an understanding of the company’s internal brand or mission, vision, and values. Assuming that there is alignment there, you’ll next want to conduct your primary or qualitative research with your company’s external customers looking for insights that you can then validate quantitatively in a much larger cohort (there are a number of online survey tools that can help you do this). Based on your voice-of-customer research (VOC), you will start to create a mind map that graphically depicts how your customers think which then informs on the development of your brand persona, brand statement, and brand pillars. Thereafter, all these customer insights collectively give way to the development and articulation of your company’s brand strategy, which should all be based on your customer’s journey.
By now you should have a basic understanding of the accepted process used by companies to gain the insights into what motivates their customers to buy their products and services. But before you attempt this exercise, ensure that you have taken the time and properly mapped out your customer’s journey. This activity will afford you the opportunity to better understand the customer experience as it relates to interacting with your company and brand. In doing so, you will be happy to know that you have built a competitive, sustainable, and memorable brand strategy that your customers both want and need.
About The Deerborne Group:
The Deerborne Group is a boutique management consulting firm that focuses exclusively on the global biotechnology, in-vitro diagnostics, and life sciences industries. Their primary focus is advising corporations, venture capital, and private equity firms on commercial, operations, and corporate strategy. They help clients identify opportunities, minimize risks, and how best to overcome and solve their most difficult management challenges.
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