How to optimize your customer journeys: It’s not just a technology challenge


Share on LinkedIn

As a marketer, your ability to provide optimized customer journeys across media and channels throughout the customer life cycle has a positive impact on both your customer and your brand.

The expectations of an always-on customer are always accelerating. Consumers are not just comparing their experiences with your brand against those they’ve had with your direct competitors; today, they’re comparing their experiences with your brand against the best experiences they’ve ever had – with any brand. And, consumers are fickle. In fact, 75 percent say they would be willing to stop doing business with your brand after just a single bad customer experience.

Overall, consumers actually prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to make all their experiences more relevant at every turn. They often interact with brands for a long period of time before they’re ready to buy. So, if the first time they’ve had a data-informed, personal experience with your brand is at the point of purchase, it could be too little too late.

Superior management of customer journeys also makes sense from a competitive standpoint. In Fall 2017, Aberdeen Group published an enlightening research paper about the business value of optimizing customer journeys. The research showed that, across the board, companies that manage their customer journeys outperform those that don’t. There’s little doubt that optimizing your customer journeys makes sense for your brand and your bottom line; but it’s easier said than done.

Let’s break down the steps necessary to optimize journeys.

First, it’s important to call out the difference of customer journey level vs. a typical campaign view. The fundamental difference is a mindset shift where the starting point is individuals and events over time, not executing media at a point in time. It sounds obvious, but has real implications when you dig under the hood. So, what are these implications?

First and foremost is that the data required needs to be at the lowest level granularity, meaning log-level and individual-level data, not aggregated data. As soon as you enter into this world, new challenges emerge: (1) You have to get access to and integrate the data (identity resolution); (2) you have to structure the data in a way that will facilitate your uses (event stream orientation); and (3) you need an environment that enables processing large amounts of data and decisioning on that data very quickly (environment like google cloud platform).

None of these are easy to do, and the data work certainly isn’t the flashiest part, but it is an absolutely essential part for everything else you will do. Also keep in mind this is not just a data integration challenge, it involves coordination across the entire execution process. Your log data may have a field like campaign ID, with values like 182953713. What does that mean? That data is coming via proper media tagging and that meta data is from those buying the media. Getting the data right requires a coordinated effort across the entire process; it’s not just a technology challenge.

Another implication of a people-based approach is to ensure the data and analytic environment is set up to enable processing large quantities of data in a fast and efficient way. Areas that need to be considered are: Where is the data going to live, and what tools are going to be used to process? Analyzing the data, how quickly can the platform scale up or down, and how is the data going to get into and out of this environment? Because it is not uncommon to be working with hundreds of millions or billions of records. Cloud environments like Google Cloud Platform, AWS, and Azure are the obvious top choices.

Data and analytics are critical for consumer journey optimization, but all the data and analytics will go nowhere without the right strategy in place and structure to take the insights and use them to change future execution. Using playbooks is one way organizations can approach ensuring strategy and execution are aligned.

Make it real through playbooks

Playbooks are crucial planning and evaluation tools that serve three important functions:

• Experience prioritization – Analyze and prioritize all experiences. Define key priorities within the journey to build out in detail for an omni-channel engagement roadmap.
• Messaging optimization – Build detailed message maps for new messaging. Streamline communication flow to members by integrating additive content into existing messages.
• Interaction maps – Outline each touchpoint across channels, including the proper interaction flow and communications. Identify next best action at each juncture.

Tips for optimizing customer journeys

• Accelerate your data and analytics roadmap.
• Know the value of interactions that aren’t conversions.
• Rationalize measurement into a single framework, then develop playbooks that bring it down to the customer, channel, and campaign levels.
• Think audience/segment first, not channels.
• Optimize to business outcomes rather than traditional media metrics.
• Cultural and organizational shifts are required to embrace more connected moments.

Consumers interact with brands in more ways, via more devices, and through more media than ever before, moving in non-linear patterns along the purchase funnel. The complexity caused by this evolution creates growing challenges in customer strategy, data, execution, and measurement. These challenges also create opportunity for brands to create competitive advantage – if they can lead the way in people-based marketing across the customer journey.

Optimizing customer relationships via a consumer journey approach requires:

• Map common and desired customer journeys
• Create customer segments that focus on motivations as one key dimension
• Focus on identity resolution and management
• Create data constructs that are designed to facilitate consumer journey insights and decisioning
• Establish an analytics sandbox with the most granular data possible,
• integrated from offline and online sources, and with the capacity and analytic tools necessary
• Focus on advanced targeting and testing approaches
• Provide detailed playbooks that guide them through prioritizing
• experiences, optimizing messages, and mapping out interaction

Taking a people-based marketing approach to maximize your customer relationships and gain competitive advantage is not a simple undertaking. It requires meticulous attention to every aspect of the customer journey to deliver experiences that are always relevant, always personal, always delightful.

Newman, Daniel. “Customer Service Goes Beyond Sales — Think Marketing.” CMO Network, October 6, 2015. Accessed July 7, 2017.
Nasri, Grace. “Why Consumers are Increasingly Willing to Trade Data for Personalization.”, December 10, 2012. Accessed July 07, 2017.
Minkara, Omer. “Customer Journey Mapping; Lead the Way to Advocacy.” PDF. Aberdeen Group, November 2016. Accessed July 7, 2017.

Scott Nuernberger
Scott has more than 10 years of experience developing and implementing analytical solutions into marketing programs for many different companies, including GEICO, AEGON, MBNA, Fidelity, DirectTV, Eli Lilly, GSK, and Dell. Prior to joining Merkle, Scott worked for American Express as a statistician and modeler and taught graduate statistical methods and experimental design at Cornell University. Scott has BS degrees in Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Statistics from The University of Rochester, a MS degree in Statistics from Cornell University, and an MBA from Johns Hopkins University.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here