Digital marketers need to keep customer journey and customer experience top of mind like never before to find success with their advertising efforts. Customer journey optimization, or CJO, can be defined as the combined UX & UI of the ad creative, messaging, landing pages, assets, app experience and web experience that a consumer encounters on her path to conversion. Think of it as a new discipline alongside existing core work like SEO, and an evolution of widely adopted principles like CRO. In this reference post, we’ll explore the principles of customer journey optimization, with examples of strong and weak customer journeys, and practical steps you can take to begin improving your customer experience today.

Customer Journey Optimization

Why the Customer Journey Has Become So Important

While digital ads are still relatively young, they are starting to mature. It’s tough to get a user’s attention online, and even more difficult to hold it for more than a few seconds. That means it’s not enough for you to expect that targeting your general audience with a bright and shiny ad is going to be enough to engage consumers.

Here’s an example: In the early days of television, advertisers effectively played radio ads on top a static image of the company’s name and product. Over time, advertisers innovated to more effectively capture the attention and imagination of consumers. Similarly, the first recorded banner ad by AT&T scored a 44% CTR looking like this…

Early Banner Ad

I’m guessing your banner ads are way better than this, but still don’t achieve a 44% CTR. This is due in part to the reality that digital banner ads are no longer a novelty, they’re everywhere. And more web users have gotten better at tuning them out, so it takes a far more sophisticated approach to targeting, messaging, and call-to-action to earn that click.

So, what else has changed? Up to the last decade, the online customer journey was pretty short: you clicked an ad from a desktop computer, landed on a website, and you either converted immediately, signed up for an email list, or you bounced. That was about it. But the number of digital touch points, ad channels, and web-enabled devices has exploded since then. And the longer a journey is, the more you care about the experience. (At 6-foot-7, I’ll squeeze into the back of a Toyota Prius for a five-minute Uber trip, but I’d never do it for a three-hour drive.)

Simultaneously, attention online has become an incredibly valuable commodity. Today’s consumers can access world class journalism, niche topic expertise, the world’s music, movies, TV shows, and billions of hours of free video on Google, news sites, Spotify, YouTube and more. With so many options, attention must be earned and not assumed, and the best way to earn your audience’s attention is by providing a great customer journey experience. Some examples:

  • Have you spent time on your mobile app to understand how ‘freemium’ customers will interact with it? At what point is it most likely/does it make the most sense to introduce the app into your customer journey? If you’re receiving a remarketing ad on a mobile app and you tap the ad, are you deep-linked to the most relevant experience in the app?
  • Are ads and landing pages personalized to who you are? This doesn’t have to be your name or your company’s name – it can manifest as recognition of your gender by showing appropriate products or imagery, your seniority by presenting the most relevant content offer, and many more factors.
  • Would you receive value from the assets being offered in return for a lead form fill?

After you’ve gone through that type of qualitative exercise, you can put some data behind it by better understanding the most effective parts of your existing customer journey. You might want to work with your web or product team, but Google Analytics or another web analytics tool is a great place to start for self-guided research. What are the most common paths to conversion? Are there landing pages with impressively low bounce rates? Are there landing pages that more frequently result in return visits? What are the most common pages visits on return visits? How would those top-performing elements fit into your customer journey optimization plan, and how does it compare to what you’re running now?

Example: Completing Your Own CJO

We worked with an ecommerce retailer that operates in designer furniture. They had particularly poor engagement, defined by high exit rates, low return visits, and low time-on-site for category pages when visitors had reached the site via general manufacturer searches (eg – { brand} furniture). These were pages with great offers and thousands of products on display. What home design enthusiast wouldn’t be in heaven?

Our theory, however, was that actual amateur and professional interior designers would be much more specific in what they’re looking for than a search for ‘brand +chairs.’ And, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, thousands of products splattered across the page can be overwhelming. Part of this company’s advantage is that it operates in a luxury niche, and customers don’t want to feel like they’re on eBay. As a result, we recommended they test out more curated collections pages that highlight top picks from their knowledgeable buyer and design teams. This would help visitors feel like they were discovering new trends, even if they didn’t purchase. It would also give users more confidence in their decision to purchase than someone staring down thousands of options. It solves a customer problem, removes hurdles to purchase, and compresses the customer journey. Sure enough, performance took off with the curated pages.

Customer Journey Mapping & Starting to Optimize

Once you’ve gone through your CJO review using the above tips as a guide, it’s time to start looking for actionable ways to improve your customer experience journey. Consider the following questions:

  1. Who is your audience, and where are they in the digital marketing funnel? Put another way: what do you already know about who you’re advertising to?
  2. What are their needs, and what creative will resonate most?
  3. Which landing page and corresponding offers will bring the most value to that audience at that point in the journey?
  4. How are you going to evaluate the efficacy of that creative and landing page experience?
Metric Theory Digital Marketing Funnel

If you’re evaluating the prospecting stage, which in most cases is when the audience has never been to your site or engaged with your brand, you should highlight different offers and provide a different landing page experience than you would offer to an audience that has been to the site multiple times. True customer journey mapping and evaluation across all permutations of your conversion path is probably impossible, but you can at least start by breaking things down at a macro level by using a digital marketing funnel, like Metric Theory’s shown here. However, with organized web analytics, you can probably prioritize the most common paths or the largest opportunities for improvement to maximize your business impact.

Customer Journey Experience Exploration: StockX

Let’s look at an example. My childhood obsession with sneakers dwindled over time but was recently rekindled through consuming Instagram content and men’s fashion blogs. StockX.com is a marketplace to buy and sell hard-to-find or rare sneakers. I’m a perfect audience member for StockX: I have a general interest in their product, but I have no real idea what I’m looking for, or even if I want to buy more sneakers. So, I’m not going to Google to search for the year, design, color scheme and product ID of a pair of shoes I know I want. StockX will need to work to get me to purchase.

Customer Journey Optimization Example

Now, I was pulling ad creative from MOAT and the Facebook ad library, as well as working off the best available landing page options on their site, so this is not necessarily the best journey StockX has to offer. That said, there are some clear gaps that pop up from this exercise:

  • The top of the funnel is weak in terms of creative and landing page pairings that offer a high-value experience for prospecting audiences
  • The SEM text ads (“Buy/Sell Authentic Guaranteed: Live marketplace for exclusive sneakers, streetwear, handbags & watches”) present information more related to education and awareness rather than selling people further down the funnel on why they should buy from StockX
  • The purchase phase is compelling, with value propositions about pricing, authenticity, new arrivals, etc., so we’ll focus our attention on optimizing the prospecting portion of the customer journey experience

Let’s revisit my comment about the Prospecting areas being weak. Why is that the case? It becomes clear quickly that there is not much value-building content for someone like me, a budding sneakerhead without specific intent. Sure, the experience is pretty good for someone searching for sneakers on Google, Pinterest, etc., and the ads on sneaker blogs are pretty strong. But they’re not performing much value-building on prospecting channels like Facebook and Instagram. There’s a good chance I’m part of a lookalike audience on Facebook and Instagram or third-party audience for sneakers just due to my content consumption on sneakers, but there’s not a lot for me. Even the home page goes right into buying and selling sneakers. What about blog content on major trends in sneakers? How about curated collections, like in our aforementioned designer furniture example, of the top shoes to kick off a sneaker collection? (See what I did there?) How about a quiz to match me to the right sneakers? More ambitious retailers can make the site experience responsive to its understanding of where the user is on the journey regardless of how they arrive at the site, but with digital advertising, you can mimic that by building specific landing pages that accomplish the same thing.

From that initial mapping, break the point of the customer journey experience down to its component parts.

Audience

What do you know about your audience, and what can you intuit about their different possible paths from initial entry to the site? If someone is coming to AirBnB’s site for the very first time via a display prospecting ad, they’ll get a very different experience than someone who is part of a remarketing audience and has searched “airbnb chicago 4br.” Similarly, what is a first-time visitor to StockX going to find most compelling? What content can they prioritize alongside the shopping experience that begins building a relationship with that user? Can they get into that visitor’s email inbox rather than just trying to drive them directly to buying?

Creative

Does your messaging and imagery reflect where that person is in their journey? StockX really didn’t have any ads for the discovery portion of their customer journey. But how can creative strategy help to develop a relationship with a prospect for such a niche retailer? Consider the process of buying an expensive pair of these sneakers from the buyer’s point of view. I would need to know that StockX knew good sneakers, that the sources were reputable if I’m shelling out that much money, and that they were likely to have ones that I wanted. Sure, all those things matter to me, but they also have a logical order. To consider buying from StockX, I first need to familiarize myself with the brand, so messaging about their expert curators. A video ad would be the perfect way to showcase that message. If you can get me to read your weekly newsletter about sneakers, now I’m more likely to be set up for an ad and user experience geared around selection or specific brands I’d been checking out. If AirBnB is marketing to real estate owners to try to increase their supply side, there are a number of different value propositions. It’s a way to make money, to share your home, to join a community, it’s safe and the insurance is covered, it’s easy to list your home, etc. That said, no homeowner is going to care at all about the insurance coverage if they’re not sold on the actual benefit of renting out their home (the money!). Hitting on the absence of liability and the easy listing process is great… if someone has already been to the site and recognizes the financial benefit.

Landing Page & Assets

This is where advertisers fail most often. Don’t try to hit a home run on your first swing! If StockX can deliver credibility and education early on in the journey for me, they’re probably going to put me on a path to an eventual purchase, but if they throw me right into a shopping experience with a bunch of expensive sneakers I’m not familiar with, they’ve lost me. But if they were able to present me with, say, a landing page that contains a handful of staff picks that list brief descriptions of the history and import of a selection of sneakers, that’s compelling. And hey, if by clicking one of those, they’re starting to get more of my brand and style preferences and can personalize the site shopping experience on subsequent visits, I’m that much more likely to buy sooner than later. If you’re asking yourself, how do I get a first time site visitor to convert, rather than how do I make sure a first time visitor has a good experience, you’ve probably lost here.

Ultimately, you’ll want to test all your assumptions, prioritized by impact, and get more detailed with your customer journey experience over time. Above all else, keep customer journey optimization top of mind when you get past the point of who you’re marketing to and you begin considering how you’re going to market to them.

If you’d like some help with your digital customer journey, just fill out the form below or contact our team.