Introduction to consumer journeys

17 Nov 2019 » Marketing Team , MSA

The concept of consumer journeys is becoming one of the key techniques to digital marketing. It is an innovative way of creating campaigns, which requires all teams rowing together towards a common goal. If you have not heard about them, in the few posts I will explain consumer journeys in more detail.

Siloed legacy

As I explained in my previous post, we see many companies still working in silos. Each of the teams involved in digital marketing is only concerned with a part of the visitor.

  • The content velocity team only cares about what content a generic user wants to consume, regardless of the persona.
  • The personalisation team only considers what the user is doing on the website, ignoring interactions in display or emails received.
  • The email team only wants the consumer to open and click the email and could not care less what the consumer does once on the website.
  • The DMP team only thinks in terms of display advertising and knows nothing about what other teams are doing with the consumer.
  • The web analytics team is always playing catch-up with the other teams and nobody listens to their requests.

It is like staring at a 3D geometrical shape from a single angle and trying to figure out, which shape it is. Different angles will show different 2D shapes, leading sometimes to contradictions. For example, cone projections are a triangle and a circle. If each team only sees one angle, one will say it is a sphere and the other will say it is a pyramid. And both will think they are right and will work on the assumption that their idea of the 3D figure is the right one.

This approach means that nobody has a vision of the consumer as a whole. One solution in digital marketing is using consumer journeys to create campaigns.


There does not seem to be a single definition for consumer (or customer) journeys. Different people give slightly different definitions. Here you have some examples:

  • Describes the interactions people have with a company over time via all available channels.
  • Customer’s path, via touchpoints, to their decision to purchase an item.
  • Simplified e-commerce personas. A standard set of marketing personas will cover a vast range of demographic and user types […] Consumer journeys, on the other hand, are focused solely on how a user engages with your website.

I particularly like the first one, but all are good. I am sure there is a better definition, but I will go with it for now.

My first encounter

I first came across consumer journeys at the beginning of my career at Adobe. At that time I did not use this expression (I had never heard of it), but now I know I was thinking in consumer journeys. One of my clients had an issue with one report in Adobe Analytics. Adding up all the instances in the Marketing Channels report gave a larger figure than the total number of visits. That did not make any sense! Each visit should have only one marketing channel!

After some analysis and understanding the nature of the website, I realised that visitors where visiting the website multiple times in a short period of time. Each time they arrived from a different source. And all of that during the same visit, that is, leaving the website for less than 30 minutes. For example, they would first come from Google and, a few minutes later, from Facebook. Adobe Analytics’ reports were correctly counting the instances of the Marketing Channel detail and only one visit. We just needed to interpret them.

What is more important is that this report was actually showing a typical behaviour of the consumers. They were not going to the website and converting straight away. Instead, they were following different, unexpected paths, visiting the website multiple times, following different links in other websites, before finally converting. And this information is very important when we plan marketing campaigns.

A lot has happened since this first encounter. Back then, very few people were actually thinking beyond each individual tool. However, in 2019 the situation is completely different. Consumer journeys (or customer journeys) are the next step in the digital marketing maturity race. And it is not only me saying that.

One final comment. Some competing web analytics solutions would do exactly what my customer was expecting. By removing “noise”, they will show only one marketing channel per visit. I hope it is clear how making the numbers more comforting, they are removing crucial data. Once you understand what actually happens, you want to keep all the data.

Closer to real life

In case you are still not convinced about consumer journeys, think about yourself as a consumer. When you want to buy something online, do you go directly to the product page of your chosen brand, add it to the basket and immediately purchase it? Or do you follow a more convoluted journey, something like:

  1. Search for the description of the product in your search engine of choice, as you do not know the name of it
  2. Click on a few of the results, to see if it is what you are looking for
  3. Check in your social networks what others are saying about this product
  4. Check some comparison websites
  5. Choose one provider and go to the website
  6. Find similar or complementary products that you had not considered
  7. Register to the website newsletter to receive updates, as you are interested but not ready to buy
  8. Completely forget about the product for weeks
  9. Receive an email with suggestions
  10. Come back to the website after clicking on the email
  11. Check other suggested products
  12. Purchase something completely different to what you originally intended

I think all of us can agree that this looks more like a real life example of what really happens. At least, this looks closer to what happens when I go shopping with my wife 🙂

In summary, consumer journeys are a way of preparing our marketing activities with a global view of what the consumer journey. This will have consequences in the way marketing teams need to work.

If you think this post is incomplete, you are right. I do not like very long posts, so I will continue on the topic of consumer journey in a future post.

Photo by Jannes Glas on Unsplash

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