How is the customer journey evolving as we race towards 2024?

As part of my involvement in a recent annual marketing forum with a client, we took a look at the extent to which the customer journey has evolved in recent years. While the focus for this session was sector-specific, and related to a vertical with a significantly longer consideration phase, there were some interesting takeaways from a more holistic standpoint – ruminations on the path to purchase, media consumption trends, strategies for brand growth and key considerations for 2024 relating to the evolution of privacy, media strategy and channel selection.

For whom the bell tolls…tech marches on

Technological advancements, especially over the past decade, provide much greater choice for today’s consumers – having reshaped the media landscape through the introduction of a sometimes dizzying array of new (chiefly digital) touchpoints on the path to purchase. The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 brought significant flux within the marketing arena but, while consumers can now research, discover and interact with brands and products in a seemingly endless variety of ways, it’s difficult to evidence any seismic shift in terms of the overall consumption of different media formats.

The new/ old normal

Much has been written in adland in terms of the pandemic’s effect on commercial media consumption – notably around OOH and broadcast channels. The latest findings from IPA’s Touchpoints database show that UK media habits post-Covid are almost back to where they were pre-Covid, with Touchpoints demonstrating the consumption pattern evident throughout a typical day for all video, audio, text and OOH formats, across digital and non-digital platforms.

This pattern was largely unchanged for some 15 years prior to the pandemic-imposed lockdown. During lockdown the two most obvious changes were that exposure to OOH fell away, and the traditional peaks for radio shifted as people were generally listening later at home and not while travelling. Looking at the latest pattern, it’s almost back to where it was pre-Covid.

Once more unto the reach                   

A comparison of the weekly reach of buyable commercial media (against UK adults, again using Touchpoints) for 2020 pre-lockdown versus 2023 paints a slightly different picture, and one of mixed fortunes. The ‘winners’ (those showing the highest percentage uplift period on period) being commercial radio on demand (RoD) and podcasts, social media, broadcaster video on demand (BVoD) and other online video. Conversely, the ‘losers’ period on period include printed newspapers/ magazines and commercial ‘live’ TV and radio.

It’s difficult to ascribe these results solely to the impact of the pandemic, as the continued decline in popularity of print media – for example – has been apparent for much of the past 15 years, but it’s evident that consumers welcome the increased customisation, choice and flexibility inherent in contemporary media offerings, specifically those linked to streaming services and the consumption of longer-form content.

Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone

Of course, when exploring media consumption, it’s increasingly important to understand the specific media consumption habits of your target audience. Space & Time’s Advanced Customer Profiling product can help you understand your audience and the most efficient channels for reaching them using a combination of audience research tools such as TGI alongside Experian’s established Mosaic classification system – we blogged about this last year, and our Research Director explored the benefits of a nuanced understanding of geodemographics in greater depth just last month.

Consistency and availability is key

Safe in the knowledge that consumers are generally creatures of habit, and assuming you now understand which channels your audience are typically engaged with, what next?

2024 promises to be another year fraught with change and upheaval – we surely can’t expect anything less, can we? – and the customer journey will continue to evolve and morph in line with this. That said, there are some clear indicators that we should be aware of and a fleet of foot, attentive approach to customer-centric marketing practices will help in staying ahead of the curve.

When considering continued brand growth, many of the fundamental lessons of old still apply to integrated, omnichannel planning; it’s still vital that we reach as many people as possible (media budget permitting), and that we ensure consistency in brand messaging and tone of voice – across paid and organic, owned and earned, and above and below the line activity.

Byron Sharp’s reliable tome ‘How brands grow’ from 2010 summed it up nicely – reach the masses, be ‘always on’ and utilise distinctive, memorable creative assets.

In addition, putting your customers front and centre will certainly aid continued growth – heroing customer reviews should form the basis of any successful marketing strategy and can offer tangible benefits for everything from website and ad engagement, to sales and brand trust.

The rise of the machines

As marketers we must all learn how to harness AI. As new opportunities arise to help power reporting, analyse ever-increasing volumes of data and automate time-consuming, repetitive tasks, AI can also play a significant part in supporting a customer-centric approach through increasingly sophisticated, personalised customer experiences and intelligent ad targeting and optimisation.

Video content has been proven to be an increasingly powerful storytelling medium, playing an important part in the average consumer’s media day – as highlighted earlier. Video should therefore remain a central part of any omnichannel strategy; allowing for the telling of compelling, authentic brand stories, the elevation of exciting new products and the nurturing of robust, meaningful customer connections.

Alongside this increased willingness to engage with brands and brand messages comes the payoff – consumers now seek much, much greater levels of privacy along with this additional choice, and generally favour brands that they can truly relate to, and empathise with – often those that champion socio-environmental causes.

As marketers we’ll have to monitor, listen, evolve and adapt – and be increasingly transparent about data collection, consent and compliance – but there’s a huge amount of potential for those willing to truly put the customer at the vanguard of an omnichannel approach.