5 rules for building consumer journeys in a connected world

Today’s customers walk their own path to purchase. They make decisions on the fly, informed and empowered at speed by multiple touchpoints. They expect unprecedented convenience. They follow complex avenues of thought. Marketing to them means understanding the nuances of the new consumer journey, then building a connected pathway to match it, every step of the way. As a challenge, that can be daunting. The Google Digital Academy create transformational education programmes, and in doing so we’ve had a rare opportunity to see what works, what doesn’t, and what all campaigns have in common. To help you hone your latest campaign, here’s what we’ve learned: 5 key rules for building consumer journeys in a connected world.

Rule 1: Balance marketing goals with customer perspectives

As marketing professionals, we have to take two competing interests into account.

One of those is our focus on marketing goals, whether those are driving sales, or building a brand.

The other is the wellbeing of our customers. They want to get stuff done and feel good. They want entertainment, help, products and services.

Discovering the right balance between these two interests is crucial. Push marketing too hard, and you’ll damage your brand in the long-term, even if you drive short-term sales. Overemphasize customer wellbeing at the expense of advertising, and you’ll make no impact at all. Find the sweet spot where your commercial goals and the needs of your customers meet.

Rule 2: Challenge preconceptions to understand your customers

Recognise your preconceptions and challenge them. Two widespread assumptions that often make their way into campaigns are that sport is a man’s game, and that mainly men buy cars, but a recent study found that 60% of online searches for sporting goods and vehicles are made by women.1

A lot of those preconceptions are unconscious, so when you assess your customers, ask yourself:

  • Who are they?
  • Why do they buy?
  • Who do we want them to be?
  • What are their passions, needs and motivations?
  • What role does our product play in their life?
  • What media do they consume?
  • What informs their purchase process?

To find answers to these questions you can use data from your own research, web analytics tools, Google Trends, AdWords Keyword Planner, Google Consumer Surveys, and Consumer Barometer. But beyond those resources, talking to users and asking them about themselves is invaluable and no less important than crunching numbers.

The best customer knowledge comes from combining human insights with data from a variety of sources. Rely on hard data alone, and you risk focussing on a few indicators and missing the big picture. Depend exclusively on user interviews, and you won’t know whether you’re talking to a typical user or an outlier.

Rule 3: Recognise the right moment to connect

Take one user you’ve interviewed and consider their behaviour in a range of situations. Imagine that they are about to use a digital device, whether it’s a smartphone, a laptop, a desktop computer, or a connected TV. Then imagine them in different contexts, at home, at work, on a commute, on their way to meet friends. What’s mindset when they start to use the device? What is it they want to do? What do they want to know, watch, learn or buy in that moment?

To find that sweet spot between marketing goals and people’s well-being, we need to avoid intruding on certain moments. Some moments are too generic (“I want to set an alarm”), some are too vague (“I want to get healthy”), some too personal (“I want to text Jane about my job interview”) while others are too specific (“I want to watch a show on Netflix).

Aim instead for moments where you think a user might be open to inspiration or guidance, or those where they are seriously thinking about something you can offer them, whether they’re a fan of your product already or not. When you choose the optimal moments to target, be conscious of your brand identity. What moments could only you claim, or claim in a unique way?

This is where it’s important to clarify your brand’s mission and identity. A strong brand identity helps to convince customers to go with your brand, but it also helps you identify the most relevant moments for potential customers and the areas where your brand is uniquely positioned.

Make the most of your brand by asking yourself three questions:

1. Who are your two main competitors to this campaign?
2. What sets your brand apart from theirs?
3. What topics could only you claim, or claim in a unique way?

Rule 4: It’s all about intent

To work out what people intend to do, we recommend the See, Think, Do, Care model. Each of the four words in this model stands for a different level of intent, and each has its own relationship to the moment of purchase.

  • In the See stage a person may have never heard of your brand before. People in this stage constitute your broadest qualified addressable audience with no commercial intent. They are “qualified” by the fact that they are ready to hear from you.
  • People in Think might be familiar with your brand, but they haven’t made up their mind yet. They are the qualified addressable audience with some commercial intent. They signal through their behaviour that they are not too far away from a potential purchase.
  • The Do stage is packed with people who want to act. They want to buy, and they want to buy now. They are the qualified addressable audience with loads of commercial intent. Think of them as someone in a shop, looking at a shelf of products, money in their hand.
  • Customers in Care already have a relationship with you. They are an active customer of yours or someone who just loves what you do.

You might be thinking that this looks a lot like the Awareness, Consideration, Purchase and Advocacy model, but this is very different, for two main reasons.

Firstly, See, Think, Do Care is defined from a potential customer’s point of view, and only describes the intention of a person. You can’t assume that they’ll be interested in what you have to say. You have to figure it out and only speak when you get a clear signal of intent.

Secondly, there are no firm connections between the stages. No arrows. No funnel. And that’s because people rarely work that way in the real world. See if you can think of a purchase you’ve made in which you started unaware, saw an ad which made you consider the product, saw another ad that helped you make a decision, then saw a third ad with a call to action which led you to the website or to the brand’s physical store.

In reality, we go back and forth. We skip stages. We see inspiring ads about new products, talk to friends about them and decide to buy right away. But we get close to clicking the order button when we think perhaps another product might be better. The process is unpredictable, and so many things influence our purchase decisions.

As marketers, we need to be present in the right moments, and ready to match our message to a person’s level of intent.

Rule 5: Establish a test and learn culture

How can you know which messages work and what approaches have the best impact? Before you commit to them, test them. See how they perform in the real world by analyzing the impact of each signal at each chosen moment. Some might not work, or work only in combination with other signals. Some might damage your brand. Some might have advantages and potential that you didn’t expect.

When you experiment, start by creating a hypothesis. Set out your theory and the way you think it could work. Then try to verify your theory with data. For example, is there an audience big and meaningful enough for this project to be worth doing? If the theory seems sounds and data supports the presence of the market you’re aiming for, run a test to see how it works in reality. Experiment, adjust, and learn. It’s the fastest way to find what works best for you.


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