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In a World of Abundant Marketing Tech, It's Still All About the Customer

By Adam Gay, Vice President Product Marketing & Strategy, McGraw-Hill - School

Adam Gay, Vice President Product Marketing & Strategy, McGraw-Hill - School

Adam Gay is an experienced leader specializing in marketing, strategy, analytics, and business intelligence. Gay has served in progressive leadership roles focused on strategy, marketing, research, analytics, business model design, and change management efforts across product and marketing to drive top and bottom-line growth. Currently he is the vice president of product marketing and strategy at McGraw-Hill Education

“What kind of return will the company get for this investment?”

For decades, marketers struggled to answer this seemingly straightforward question, relying on measures such as brand surveys, tracking data from television and radio outlets, and response rates from first direct mail and then email campaigns. In reality, the ability of the marketing team to influence purchase and usage behavior of potential customers was often not directly measurable. Marketers defended their work through thematic and highly generalized data points that implied the degree to which the marketing message had been received and understood by the targeted audiences.

Enter the age of Big Data, wherein highly detailed profiles of individual consumers emerged, and around them, new, innovative marketing systems powered by data-driven analytics. The promise of end-to-end customer decision-making process tracking and the ability to influence those decisions through marketing became a seemingly near-term reality. Organizations invested heavily based on this promise, and the measurable performance of marketing teams flowed through a stream of new data points generated by customer actions.

"A customer journey map allows the marketing team to re-evaluate and re-prioritize the strategies, tactics, and applications of in-house marketing technologies to greater effect"

Fast-forward to 2019 and while marketers are more reliant than ever on metrics to ascertain impact, downstream impact on revenue often remains elusive. But why? Often the disconnect lies in the organization’s understanding of the customer.

Center Marketing (and Metrics) Around the Customer

The ability to build a better understanding of an organization’s customers has recently become systematized through the process of creating a customer journey map.

A customer journey map attempts to simplify the stages of a customer’s decision-making process; their needs, actions, thoughts, and feelings at each stage; and the touch points where the customer may come into contact with your company. Central to the concept of a customer journey is that everything is articulated from the customer’s point of view.

A customer journey map allows the marketing team to re-evaluate and re-prioritize the strategies, tactics, and applications of in-house marketing technologies to greater effect. Creating a journey map is also fairly straightforward:

1) Build an internal draft- Within the span of a few committed days, an organization can articulate the stages of the customer journey and attempt to define the needs, actions, thoughts, and feelings of the customer at each stage. Journey maps tend to improve rapidly when marketing, sales, and key business leaders participate.

2) Test with the Customer, Iterate, and Test Again- A draft journey map created from within the walls of any organization is, at best, the well-defined articulation of what the organization thinks the customer experiences at each stage. Journey maps should be regularly vetted and iterated on based on customer feedback.

3) Align Marketing Strategies, Tactics, and Assets- The real benefit of a well-vetted customer journey map occurs once the marketing team has overlaid customer-facing activities onto the map. It becomes apparent quickly where gaps exist in as well as where well-intentioned work needs to be rethought.

4) Measure Smart- The power of modern marketing technology is the ability to measure a vast number of potential data points. A customer journey centered approach allows marketers to become more selective on the metrics chosen to determine impact because of the deeper understanding developed throughout the previous steps.

5) Invest Wisely- A customer journey centered approach to marketing also allows leaders from technology and marketing to refine investment decisions for new and existing marketing technology. Ongoing application of the above cycle helps to reveal the most important marketing metrics for each stage, empowering leadership to increase the organization’s expectations for potential vendors to demonstrate capabilities in a more precise way.

Customer journey maps are powerful tools to enable more effective marketing and marketing technology investment decisions. However, they are not without their own caveats. It is important to remember that especially in B2B or complex decision making processes, customer journeys differ by the role played various participants. Additionally, customer journeys are often not linear nor occur in a singular span of time. Internal and external factors (budgets, market events, personal preference shifts, etc.) can significantly alter a customer journey.

However, with an iterative process that regularly involves customer feedback and that keeps the above factors in mind, organizations can experience meaningful gains in the strategic application of in-house marketing technologies.

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