Three steps to messaging for the customer journey

Three steps to messaging for the customer journey

Messaging. For the entire customer journey.

The marketer’s goal is to connect with prospects and customers at moments when they are most open to influence. That goal is unlikely to ever change. But the funnel metaphor we’ve used to represent the customer journey is due for an update, given that few journeys today are ever that linear.

The funnel metaphor is simple enough: the customer considers many brands at the wide end of the funnel, and over time narrows that consideration set down to make a final decision at the narrow end of the funnel. There are variations, but they basically include these stages.

Customer Journey

With today’s proliferation of brand choices, digital channels and savvier consumers who are experts at pre-decision research, the decision-making process is rarely linear. I’d say it’s more three-dimensional and temporally non-deterministic, but fortunately for all, my partners won’t let me complicate things that much. So, let’s go with this visualization to represent the stages of today’s customer journey.

customer journey stages

Make the message shareable

At any stage in this journey – and this cannot be overstated – today’s consumers can reach for a computer, tablet or phone, get information and opinions in seconds and/or broadcast their own thoughts and feelings to tens/hundreds/thousands of engaged consumers. Therefore, the goal of your brand today shouldn’t be to just influence the customer across their journey. Instead it should be to empower those customers to influence others on your brand’s behalf, at any and all stages of their journey.

Make the message more relevant 

To be relevant to customers across all of these stages, it follows that messaging should be stage-relevant. It should acknowledge what customers are thinking and feeling at every prioritized touch point of the journey. Equally important is that your brand’s messaging and voice make it easy for people to talk about you – to champion your brand by passing on your message to the rest of your potential customer universe.

Choose the most efficient messaging approach 

Depending on the complexity or simplicity of the customer journey and brand offering, sometimes stage-agnostic messaging will suffice for guiding communications. That means the messages are relevant across the entire customer journey. But, more and more, we’re seeing a need for messaging that is more finely tuned to to the customer journey.

A stage-specific messaging platform provides richer guidance to brand authors by parsing out messages based on the various stages of the customer journey. For instance, messages at the Consider stage are likely quite different from those reaching consumers in the Experience stage. The most effective messaging platform is layered with stage-specific messages.

Does that mean your brand messaging platform needs a separate layer for all six stages of the customer journey? Not necessarily. Rather, stages of the customer journey that represent the greatest potential or need for influencing audiences should be prioritized, while others may not require a separate layer of messaging.

Three steps towards messaging for the journey

  1. Do the research to establish your customer’s journey. Determine which touch points they are interacting with at specific moments. Find out what they need to know at those critical moments to advance them along the journey toward making the purchase decision.
  2. Establish the need for stage-specific messaging to determine which stages require a separate messaging layer. For instance, how can you influence customers who have who’ve abandoned your brand? What’s the most compelling message for those people? How can you get them to speak well of your brand, even after abandoning it? Conversely, if your brand performs exceedingly well during the Experience stage, it may not need a corresponding specific messaging layer.
  3. Create brand advocates. Whether your messaging is stage-agnostic or stage-specific, ensure that anyone reading or hearing your messages at any stage can champion your brand by passing those messages on to potential customers. This should be the acid test for all of your messaging.

Stage-specific messaging takes more work, but the formula for dividends is actually quite simple: let your messages demonstrate your brand’s understanding of what customers are thinking and feeling at various stages of their journey. Use their language in your copy so they can easily share it, and they will thank you by championing your brand and spreading the word.

Reimagine a new normal

Reimagine a new normal

There’s no return to yesterday. It’s about moving forward. Don’t reopen. Reimagine.

—Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York

In his daily coronavirus check-ins, Governor Cuomo reminds us that returning to normal is not a realistic goal. He balances that sobering message with a truly inspiring notion. This pause in our lives is an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve learned, and reimagine what we want the next normal to be.

For businesses and individuals, we have a genuine opportunity to change things for the better.

But how do we reimagine a brand authentically?

For perspective, it’s helpful to start by getting a sense of how people are feeling right now. Maslow would tell us that the existential threat of coronavirus would trigger a refocusing on the safety needs. You remember Maslow’s iconic hierarchy of needs:

People naturally prioritize safety in crises

We see many brands reacting to this shift in the focus of their campaign messaging. Carvana, the leading e-commerce platform for buying and selling used cars, now claims to offer “the safer way to buy a car.” Service now follows CDC-recommended sanitizing and social distancing guidelines, while providing Touchless Delivery to customers. Clifford Sosin, an investor in the company, states Carvana “has always been the most trustworthy company in the used car industry”. The company’s messaging focus on safety acts as a proof-point of a trustworthy brand.

Changes: some temporary, some permanent

If and when circumstances change and the concern for safety eases, Carvana can resume focusing its messaging on other proof-points of trustworthiness. Brands like Domino’s Pizza, which is now touting zero contact delivery and carryout, will almost certainly continue to operate in this new way. But it won’t need to prioritize safety in its messaging as much.

For these brands, prioritizing safety in messaging is an easy decision to make, as the reasons for doing so are credible to their audiences. But countless brands won’t have a legitimate reason to focus their messaging on safety.

This is where the reimagining comes in.

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, reimagine a new normal
Consider this as you think about what you want your organization to be in the next normal. Maslow never intended for his model to be presented as a pyramid. He also didn’t intend to suggest each level is a set of needs that must be met sequentially on a one-way journey to self-actualization.

According to Todd Bridgman, Stephen Cummings and John Ballard, who attempted to trace the origins of the pyramid in management textbooks,

Maslow believed that people have partially satisfied needs and partially unsatisfied needs at the same time. That a lower level need may be only partially met before a higher-level need emerges, and that the order in which needs emerge is not fixed.

Reimagine how your brand can meet human needs.

The implication for organizations is that they can reimagine who they want to be in the context of an entire range of human needs. As an exercise, virtually meet with your colleagues and ask yourselves, what human needs are we helping people meet now? Once you’ve answered that question, move on to explore.

What human needs could we be helping people meet?

It won’t be easy to answer this question at first. But keep pushing as you’ll likely land on at least one new human need your brand can help people meet. This is a springboard to reimagine a new and better version of your brand.

I will suggest you conduct this exercise after reading Transcend: The New Science of Self Actualization. In it, author Scott Barry Kaufman addresses the misleading pyramid presentation of needs. He replaces it with a sailboat metaphor that, in short, organizes deficiency needs as the hull, and growth needs as the sail. This new perspective on Maslow’s work makes it a valuable tool to help you reimagine how your organization could meet people’s needs.

If you would like to further explore how brands are reimagining their impact, you may enjoy this blog about leading through kindness, or this blog about 3 powerful reframes for leaders during crisis.

Three powerful reframes for leaders during a crisis

Three powerful reframes for leaders during a crisis

How leaders during a crisis can reframe negative thoughts to create positive impact

We are all powerful influencers and leaders during a crisis are certainly no exception. When our thoughts are fearful and our expression of them is emotionally charged, we influence how we feel inside. We also affect how those around us feel. In the midst of a crisis like a global pandemic, it’s not difficult to catastrophize. To imagine the worst. To ruminate on these thoughts until they establish as repeating loops of negative self talk.

When we share this internal negative self talk with those we lead, we spread the negativity. It’s not intentional, but language is a virus. And our brains are hardwired to survival mode. Our brains and our words conspire to ensure we pay extra attention to existential threats and we often share the bad news liberally.

But we can take control of these thoughts and reframe them to be less damaging to ourselves and others, and even inspiring. Leaders during this, or any other crisis can use language to help flatten the curve of rising negativity and despondency.

The science of cognitive behaviour

If you’re familiar with cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), you know that the basic idea is to challenge unhelpful cognitive distortions and improve emotional regulation.

There are countless articles and apps available that, along with a little discipline, help us develop better coping strategies and by extension, provide more positive leadership during these stressful times.

Reframe #1: From helpless to inspired LEADER’S INTERNAL CRISIS DIALOGUE:

“I actually feel helpless right now. This is a complete disaster and there’s absolutely nothing of substance I can do about it beyond supporting the social distancing message like everyone else.”

Notice the adjectives and expressions at work here – complete disaster and absolutely nothing. It’s not just a disaster, it’s a complete disaster. Is there anything less than nothing? Yes, there is absolutely nothing. This is powerful negative self talk that can easily evolve into stubborn loops of internal dialogue and despondency.CBT instructs us to try challenging these thoughts. Is it really true that there’s absolutely nothing the leader can do in this crisis?

LEADER’S REFRAME ACTION:

To start with, they should reconsider this kind of thinking instead of accepting it and potentially sharing them. In this case, they can push for a virtual brainstorm with employees. Someone attending suddenly realizes that they can switch production and start making alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead of gin. Everyone feels inspired instead of defeated. The takeaway is clear: don’t settle for negative thoughts without first interrogating them for veracity. It’s usually the case that there is plenty of actions to take towards the positive.Here’s is an example of another cognitive distortion many leaders are likely wrestling with today.

Reframe #2: It’s an opportunity to learn and become stronger LEADER’S SELF TALK DURING CRISIS:

“I feel totally responsible for this. I’ve got to be honest to my employees. Let them know that it’s all on me, accept responsibility, acknowledge my mistakes, hope for forgiveness and assure them we’ll be better prepared next time.”

Here, the leader is interpreting their own experience of the crisis based on how they feel versus the actual facts. The opportunity is to challenge that thinking before it settles in as a looping sound bite of negative internal dialogue. Before the leader spreads their negativity like a virus through the language they choose, even if the intent was to help employees feel better.

LEADER’S REFRAME ACTION:

Balance optimism with credibility. Is the leader totally responsible for COVID-19? Of course not. Could the company have been better prepared? Possibly. Likely. How might that initial distortion sound after challenging it with hard facts?

“We are in the midst of the greatest challenge our company has ever faced. Facing that challenge is not easy and it won’t be behind us for some time. But we are learning every day. We’re using that knowledge to prevent something like this from happening to us again. We are more ready for the future than we were before.”

Reframe #3: Let’s build something even better together

LEADER’S SELF TALK DURING CRISIS:

“This has thrown us into complete turmoil. We’re going to have to rebuild entirely from the ground up to find a new way to operate. I don’t even know where to start, but I know we have to tear everything down.”

Sadly this may be true for some organizations, but that doesn’t automatically make it true for yours. So you examine the thought: are you truly in complete turmoil? The entire world is now in varying degrees of turmoil, yes, but is your turmoil complete? Likely not. Do you have to rebuild entirely? Tear everything down? This suggests there is nothing inherent in your organization today that can be retooled for a new reality. Is this really the case?

LEADER’S REFRAME ACTION:

“Like the rest of the world, we have been thrown into turmoil. But we’re are strong team. And without resorting to platitudes, there’s no reason we can’t take this on as a way to reshape who we are for a new reality. So much of what we do today can be evolved for tomorrow. I have no doubt about this because I’ve seen your ingenuity in action time and time again. Let’s build something new. Something we can be even more proud of.”

For leaders, for anyone, this crisis gives us the opportunity to audit how we think during times of crisis. To identify our negative self talk (we all do it). To respect our power to influence others by our feelings and language. Then when we do share our thoughts, we will influence people by spreading inspiring, credible ideas. We will use the language of leaders.

We shared what Spirit of York Distillery did to respond to crisis in this blog we wrote about letting kindness lead.

Connect through kindness

Connect through kindness

Okay, connect through kindness, but you have to mean it.

Brands connect through kindness more and more these days. Imagine, you step up to the counter at Tim Horton’s and order. You try to pay, only to find out that the person in front of you picked up the tab for your coffee. Or, you find out that someone anonymously paid $900 for 500 large coffees, and you are now the lucky recipient of one. This actually happened in Edmonton in 2013.

Momentary movement or enduring human truth?

How do you feel about random acts of kindness and paying it forward? For some, these are inspiring, motivating, and help restore our faith in the human race. For the more skeptical among us, they are new-agey trends that self-help authors write about to sell books. In his review of the movie Pay It Forward, Roger Ebert scoffed at the idea saying,

It’s a seductive idea but in the real world, altruism is less powerful than selfishness, greed, nepotism, xenophobia, tribalism and paranoia. If you doubt me, take another look at the front pages. —Roger Ebert

It’s true that these en masse acts of kindness come and go. But the idea of paying it forward dates back to 317 BC, when Menander featured it in his play Dyskolos. If kindness is futile, as Ebert would have us believe, why does it feel good when we’re kind to others? What can brands learn from this feeling?

Happiness chemicals

Next time you hold the door for someone pay attention to how you feel. There’s a good chance you’ll notice a small, tingly high course through your body. That’s a mix of neurochemicals rewarding you for what your brain perceives as survival behaviour. Chief among these neurochemicals is oxytocin, which is released when you build a social alliance. How does that promote your survival? We can think of it this way: the new bond with the person you held the door for represents a new friendship. You’ve got one more person watching your back. One more member of the village willing to share food with you and your offspring during a drought. One more supporter ready to help you raise a child. While none of that is never going to happen, to your brain it all means you’ve increased your odds for survival.

The Spirit of York

Now, imagine how the decision-makers at Spirit of York Distillery might’ve felt when they realized they could solve a huge problem for their community. Rather than shutting down completely, they chose to pivot production to hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 crisis. They probably enjoyed a nice hit of dopamine, which motivates us to reach an important goal, even if it’s difficult. When the news broke and York was lauded for the effort, they undoubtedly got a major dose of serotonin, which comes with respect.

When we all heard about the initiative, we felt some dopamine as well, because finally someone was doing something positive and helpful. We felt oxytocin as well, because of the sudden surge of trust and goodwill we felt for Spirit of York. The act, which felt truly altruistic, built an authentic bond between York and its current and potential customers.

Kindness is timeless

In the new reality of the COVID era, many brand owners are wondering how they can re-establish connections with their audiences. Brands are

  • Revisiting their brand positioning, re-examining their values, and considering playing a more intentional role as a force for good in the world.
  • Discovering how they can help their organization be better prepared for dramatic change, be it opportunity or challenge.
  • Developing strategies to achieve a new level of readiness for the future.

Done right, altruistic behaviour isn’t just helpful, it’s necessary for organizations in this new reality. What acts of kindness can you consider? You’ll be surprised at how many initiatives your organization could implement. These acts of kindness would be perceived as altruistic and result in a stronger, more enduring emotional bond between you and your audiences.

Brainstorm with your people. Push boundaries and initiatives that on the surface won’t earn monetary credit for your organization quickly or overtly. Remember that the neurochemicals our brains produce, or don’t produce, are beyond our conscious control. If your act of kindness is perceived as too self-interested, it will not produce the desired results. This is good. It keeps the bar high as we all think about how to be better corporate citizens of this new world.