Customer journey excellence in action
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Customer journey excellence in action

How the Stengel 50 gobbled up market share by better understanding their consumers.

There’s a shirt in a shop that’s just opened near you. It’s your size and your favourite colour. Maybe it’s even discounted.

You don’t know about the shop. None of your friends do either. Nobody who works at the shop plans to come and tell you about the shirt. But somewhere, the shop owner is wondering why you haven’t bought the shirt yet.

As it turns out, the majority of online businesses are in the position of the shop owner. A survey by The Economist found that three-quarters of companies believe their budget for consumer insights is too low, and 45% admitted they have essentially no idea about their customers’ online habits. A risky strategy when you consider the Ofcom study that found Brits spending more time online than they spend asleep

Depending which oracle you turn to, the virtuous circle of the online customer buying journey is sliced up into different chunks, but in essence it starts with finding out about a brand and ends with telling other people about it.

It’s the ‘telling other people about it’ part that sorts the digital winners from the also-rans. Whereas retention used to be the end goal, the connected world has called extra time. Beyond buying again (or not buying again), your customer will take their pick from a huge number of social media megaphones to tell people how much they love (or hate) your product.

Simply producing a good product or lavishing a seven-figure sum on a prime-time TV spot won’t cut it any more. The defining feature of the Internet era is a radical shift in power from companies to individuals. Don’t like being bombarded by ads? No problem! Install ad-blocker software. Or pay for an app upgrade. Or skip the pre-roll. Or (for the vengeful) ‘report spam’ on Facebook.

The old rules no longer apply. The good news, though, is that some companies are exploiting this development to their advantage. Enter the Stengel 50.

The Stengel 50 is a set of companies that were born among (or welcomed wholeheartedly) this new set of rules, seizing chunks of market share in the process. While the Stengel model is far from flawless, it’s difficult to deny the correlation between internet adoption and the success of these brands, even through the 2008 financial crash. In some cases they grew more than three times faster than their competitors.

So what did these 50 companies do to sidestep the digital guillotine?

Stengel’s theory is that these light-footed brands embrace a “higher purpose” beyond the quest to get more people to part with their money. This higher purpose invokes human values instead of traditional commercial values – such as eliciting joy, inspiring exploration, and having an impact on society. These drive both our purchases and how we communicate with each other online as consumers, two behaviours that can no longer be viewed in silos. The upshot? By understanding our consumers’ online habits, we understand their deepest motivations.

How might this kind of brand purpose map onto a customer buying journey?

Innocent Drinks was one of the first purveyors of offline products to grasp the subtle role social media plays in the lives of consumers, and has exploited this to rocket its advocacy scores. The Innocent Drinks Twitter account is a social commentary on pop culture and beacon of wit, voicing opinions on everything from The Apprentice to the Royal Family. The strategy has earned Innocent cult status. Why? Because Twitter is a place for friends and trends first, and commerce second. Two Stengel brand ideals nailed: connection, and impacting society by challenging the status quo.

And what about the less fluffy stuff? To take another Stengel company that “gets it” at a different stage of the process, Amazon is the granddaddy of the recommendation engine. Embracing customer insights and using data to figure out what drives people to convert, its timely emails have a habit of knowing what you’ve been thinking about buying next. In short, Amazon inspires new experiences. It goes without saying that the first phase of masterminding an effective customer buying journey is to invest enough money in customer insight.

The difference between an effective customer buying journey and a brilliant customer buying journey is invoking a brand purpose that plays by the rules of the digital age – and working that purpose into every step of the process.

Top Stengel 50 tips for consumer connection

  • Find your ideal. Don’t dream this up out of nowhere, but instead seek to understand what it is your brand brings to the world, and how it improves peoples’ lives in a meaningful way. According to Millward Brown’s neuroscience team, the Stengel 50 companies each have an ideal that relates to one of the following: eliciting joy; enabling connection between people; inspiring exploration; evoking pride; and impacting society.
  • Cement the ideal internally. Let it influence how the brand acts in every single department, from HR to Finance to Sales.
  • Share that ideal through marketing campaigns and at every touchpoint along the customer buying journey.
Corissa Nunn CPL Freelance Journalist
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