Why Every Marketer Needs a GPS Device to Follow Today’s Customer Buying Journey

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at a marketing summit in Italy. The event was jointly presented by SAP and Largo Consumo Magazine, one of Italy’s leading trade publications. Early in my career, I was fortunate to be offered a job assignment in Italy that broadened my perspective and provided a “career compass” that guided my professional path. I also met my wife while working in Italy, so it is always special, personally and professionally, to spend time there.

For two days, I had the chance to meet with executives from some of Italy’s leading consumer companies and spend time discussing a common challenge: the elusive customer.

The Buying Journey Has Radically Changed

Despite the many different perspectives from the attendees, we all agreed that the customer’s buying journey has drastically changed.

When I started my marketing career, the traditional B2C and B2B buying journeys were:

  • Linear
  • Well-defined
  • Reasonably predictable

If you followed the established marketing “formula,” it at least gave your company a chance to play the game.

During my remarks, I told the marketers in attendance that the digital/phenomenon has changed all the rules…forever.

The customers are empowered and truly in charge. The modern-day buying journey of customers is anything but linear and far from predictable. It has become a complex network of channels, social platforms and touch points.

I told the audience to take a look at the traditional customer buyer’s journey and pack it in a time capsule. It’s time to bury it because it is a relic of marketing’s history.

The good news is that the function of Marketing is uniquely positioned to capture the opportunities of these seismic changes.

The New Marketing Mindset

The way we market has to change dramatically in order to remain relevant and appealing to our target audiences. As marketers, all of us need to engage customers with a new marketing mindset. In my view, it should be based on these principles:

  • Be everywhere…and be relevant. Companies need to “be everywhere” their customers are, and the messaging has to be appropriate for the new channels and online communities where their audiences are found.
  • Adapt to the new business  model. Every marketer has a responsibility to show their senior leadership in the executive suites that this is not a short-term trend or just a “marketing issue,” but something that is transforming the entire business. If the business model does not change, companies will put the health and future of their business at risk.
  • Get in sync with customers. Many times, companies losing market share today are often out of sync with the way customers behave. Your marketing cannot be based on outdated behaviors and market realities. Marketing has to be designed to run in parallel to the changing buyer’s journey of customers.
  • Stop guessing. Organizations need to take the guesswork out of marketing decisions by making better use out of customer data, market intelligence and other predictive tools. For instance, at SAP we have taken big steps in socializing and mobilizing the SAP brand in order to reach and engage our customers. It was not based on a hunch; our research indicated customers were migrating to new channels, social platforms and online communities. We adapted and brought our marketing to where our customers are.

The New Buying Journey Requires a Marketing GPS Device

Garmin GPS

The new customer buying journey is no longer a straight path. Companies, brands and marketers need a “marketing GPS device” to keep pace with their customers and stay on the right path.

I believe GPS devices are one of the most valuable innovations of our lifetime. Isn’t it reassuring to have a GPS device in your car when you’re driving in an unfamiliar area?

A GPS device provides me with peace of mind and has saved countless in-car arguments between me and my wife (after all, refusing to stop and ask for directions is a universal trait of every man on the planet!).

But what happens when we do not update the GPS software after a few years? Roads and highways change and the directions become outdated and unreliable.

Similarly, you cannot rely on outdated marketing assumptions. Do you truly understand your fragmented customer? What are you doing to drive a “social business” strategy to engage customers? Are you fully utilizing your data to make your customer marketing more predictive?

If you cannot answer each of those questions with a loud and emphatic “YES,” then you run the real risk of getting left behind as your customers’ buying journey evolves and changes.

The new breed of customer is empowered and elusive. Six of the most dangerous words a marketer can utter, particularly today, are “we’ve always done it that way.” If the GPS of your marketing strategy is not updated and aligned continually to keep pace with the “Digital Disruption,” your brand can get lost in a cluttered, competitive market.

What are the biggest changes in customer purchasing behavior that you have seen, and how have you re-calibrated your marketing strategy to respond to those changes?

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