How Marketers Must Navigate The Non-Linear Customer Journey

A Recap from Social Media Week London

The customer journey was once a clear and straightforward path. A straight line started at “Awareness,” ended at “Purchase,” with stop-offs at “Interest” and “Desire” on the way. Now, the customer takes a much more complicated journey. Some brave it on their own. Others need help and support. But the reality is the customer is empowered more than ever on their journey—and in their purchase decisions.

Last week at Social Media Week London, Spredfast brought some of the industry’s brightest minds to the stage to discuss how the customer journey has transformed, factors that have brought about this transformation, and what brands need to do to meet their customer along the journey consistently.

Leo Ryan, Vice President of Customer Success at Spredfast, opened the session by taking us down memory lane—discussing the origins of the customer journey.

It was E. St. Elmo Lewis who, in 1898, summarized the four stages of a theoretical customer journey, now known as AIDA:

• Awareness – being aware of the existence of a product or service

• Interest – actively expressing an interest in a product group

• Desire – aspiring to a particular brand or product

• Action – taking the next step towards purchasing the chosen product.

But this flow, or funnel as we now know it, is no longer so straightforward. The simplicity of this journey has been replaced with a much more complex map of twists and turns that our customers can take. Former Head of Content for Charlotte Tilbury Beauty, and now Founder of HUSTLE + hush, Tee Tyford, took to the stage and talked us through this new path.

“As marketers, we’ve been able to sit there in our ivory towers and assume we’re pushing customers through this very linear customer journey. Now, I like to call this journey the Squiggly Mess. If we take our brand and marketing hats off for a second and consider ourselves consumers again, the way that we act as consumers and customers…there are all sorts of things happening in that Squiggly Mess that are in no way compatible with the four-part funnel."

Tyford added that because our audiences have a broad range of influence and influencers to aid their journey, as brands, it’s more important that we can listen to the customer than speak at them. We need to understand what it is they want, when they want it, and how they want it. Brands that amplify the voice of others will avoid creating an echo-chamber.

As brands, it’s more important that we can listen to the customer than speak at them.


Right Place, Right Time, Right Content

More than ever, brands need to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right content. Social media, of course, is one of the leading destinations at which to meet our customers. Dr. Jillian Ney, Behavioural Scientist, stopped the Social Media Week audience in their tracks with insights on our customers’ behaviors, which are driving the new and unpredictable journeys.

Dr. Ney specializes in the analysis of social data to understand why customers make decisions. Dr. Ney discussed with the audience the need for marketers to rethink their approach to content creation. “Marketing isn’t just about communication and persuasion. It’s more of a creative science, born out of how people make decisions. We now need to understand what grabs attention and to follow that through the journey until they make a decision.”

Dr. Ney continued, “The brain pulls from the past to make decisions about the future.” As customers, our previous experience dictates how we make decisions today. Choosing a flight might be affected by recalling airlines who have recently been on strike, or previously had reportedly lost baggage. Online retail purchase might not be so straightforward if online reviews demonstrate that the brand has recognizable return policy issues.

Dr. Ney then discussed how branded content needs a new framework. “The purpose of your content should not be to sell. It is to set the psychological frame and to prime the audience for when they’re ready to make a bigger decision.”

The customer and the on-demand economy

We’re in agreement that the customer journey has changed. But this journey also contains added complexity when we consider the on-demand economy. Rachel Kneen, Head of Social at online food order and delivery service, JUST EAT, knows this better than most with a customer base that often want their service immediately.

The on-demand economy has also changed the customer journey.


“We want everything. We want it now. And we want it faster.” Kneen put this on-demand economy into context citing JUST EAT figures for the first three months of 2017 at 24 million takeaways sold in the UK and 39 million sold globally. That’s almost five takeaways sold per second. Staggering numbers.

Kneen followed this by discussing the power of social media to fuel this on-demand appetite, but also the importance of brands being actually relevant on this fast-paced customer journey.

“Social media is amazing as we can create content for awareness, consideration, and driving traffic to purchase. Because we can do everything so well, we struggle to narrow down on what we should be doing and the things that are best for our audience. We now need to think audience first and consider the audience type during the customer journey and the right media or content for them.”

The customer is always right

The phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of the Selfridge's department store in London.

The phase was introduced to ensure good service. But in a Forbes article in 2016, research showed most customers—82%—conduct research online before making a purchase. The customer is always right because they’ve done their online homework before talking to the brand or retailer. Their knowledge is their power.

Brands now need to develop trust on the customer journey. They need to add value—like a Mount Everest Sherpa. Bear with me on the metaphor: Sherpas are highly skilled and experienced. They are there to prepare the route for climbers to follow, fix ropes in place, carry the necessary equipment up the mountain, and support the climber on every step of the journey.

Being a Sherpa requires in-depth knowledge of the journey. Social is a great channel to inform and engage at checkpoints along this journey. Be like a Sherpa and guide and support your customers to their destination.

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Graham leads Spredfast marketing efforts across EMEA and APAC to help organisations understand how to create social campaigns that resonate, curate relevant social content across every major social network to create incredible social experiences and access real-time insights, and historical data, to plan campaigns and develop content strategies.