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The Trouble with Buyer’s Journey Maps

Let me ask you a controversial question: Is it time for you to rethink the buyer’s journey for your business? I know that for many companies buyer’s journeys represent a relatively new approach, but some recent shifts in the marketplace suggest there might be a better way.

Don’t get me wrong. Developing personas and journey maps for your business is almost always a worthwhile exercise. Your marketing strategists and creative agencies craft personas, buyers’ journeys, and similar tools to anticipate customer needs. And that’s a Good Thing™. Anything that helps get you closer to your customer and better understand what drives their behaviors is a huge win.

Most companies who invest in personas, journey maps, and comparable tools do so to understand customer behavior, anticipate their needs, and develop appropriate responses to guide customers along their purchase path. You’re trying to understand which phase of their journey your customer is in – research, comparison, buying, using, and so on – so you can create the right content to answer their questions and help them progress towards their end goal. And, to be fair, yours too.

At the same time, you should think about whether you might have another, better option to accomplish the same objective for your business.

The real reason journey maps, personas, and similar tools exist is because we don’t know what customers want. Those journey maps serve as proxies for actual behaviors because we don’t have a clear picture of precisely what a given customer is doing at any given moment. These “steps,” “phases,” or “stages” at least give us somewhere to aim. But, let’s be honest, they’re not the same as connecting with actual customers at their precise moment of truth. In practice, doing that has been tough to pull off.

Or, at least that used to be true.

One consequence of the floods of data your customers leave behind during visits to your site or app is that they provide amazing training data for machine learning algorithms. And those machine learning algorithms are beginning to understand and predict the behaviors your customers exhibit, not just as part of a segment, but as individuals. After all, as someone once said, AI makes big data little. And that suddenly opens the door to personalization for many businesses in a very real way. There are a number of startups doing some truly amazing work in this area (Full disclosure: I’m a partner in one of them). And it’s time for you take note.

Now, yes, the history of personalization is rife with over-promised and under-delivered “solutions.” And, again to be completely honest, you’re unlikely to create individualized content for every single person on your site (more on this in a moment). But, these tools do offer the ability to point customers to your existing content that’s most appropriate to where they actually are… not just where you think they might be. This is a hugely important development. And one you should be prepared to take advantage of.

Does this mean that your investment of time and money into developing personas and journey maps was wasted? No. Definitely not. As I mentioned a moment ago, it’s still challenging for companies above a certain size to create individualized content for every distinct person who might be on their site. Not at scale, anyway. But what you can do is use your personas and buyer journey maps to create content that suits customers at various stages of their journey, then use smart technology to point those customers to that content at exactly the moment where it can do the most good towards moving customers towards their goal. And that’s a huge win for everyone.

So, to return to my controversial question, do I think it’s time to rethink buyers’ journeys? I do. Do I think that better tools exist to help customers progress along their purchase path? Absolutely. Do I think that means your existing personas and buyer journey maps have no value? Definitely… not. Instead, it’s time to use each tool where they’re most effective. And to create the right experience for your customer at every touchpoint. And there’s nothing controversial about that.

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Tim Peter

Tim Peter built his first website in 1995 and loves that he still gets to do that every day. Tim has spent almost two decades figuring out where customers are, how they interact with brands online, and delivering those customers to his clients’ front door. These efforts have generated billions of dollars in revenue and reduced costs. Tim works with client organizations to build effective teams focused on converting browsers to buyers and building their brand and business. He helps those companies discover how marketing, technology, and analytics tie together to drive business results. He doesn't get excited because of the toys or tech. He gets excited because of what it all means for the bottom line. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, web development, search marketing, and analytics, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results. He is a member of the Search Engine Marketers Professional Organization (SEMPO), HSMAI, and the Digital Analytics Association. Tim Peter’s recent client work covers a wide range of digital marketing activities including developing digital and mobile marketing strategies, creating digital product roadmaps, assessing organizational capabilities, and conducting vendor evaluations for diverse clients including major hospitality companies, real estate brands, SaaS providers, and marketing agencies. Prior to launching Tim Peter & Associates, LLC, a full-service e-commerce and internet marketing consulting firm in early 2011, he worked with the world’s largest hotel franchisor, the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm, and a major financial services firm, developing various award-winning products and services for his customers. Tim can be reached at tim@timpeter.com or by phone at 201-305-0055.

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