Why is Google’s research of the online customer journey so significant?

Google has developed yet another mind-blowing research tool. Despite the rather unimaginative name, “The Customer Journey to Online Purchase”, it nevertheless provides extremely valuable data to boost the imagination of online marketers, providing even further evidence to treat social media as an integral part of any serious marketing strategy.

So what does it show? In Google’s own words:

Before making an online purchase decision, a customer may engage with your brand through many different media channels over several days. This tool helps you explore and understand the customer journey to improve your marketing programs.

The tool distinguishes between assisted and last interactions, showing which channels contributed towards the sale at the beginning of the customer journey, and which concluded the sale. Its impressive sample size (358.9m conversions across 35.9k profiles) ensures that the findings are highly reliable. The data is sorted by location and industry, highlighting the importance of local context in which the marketing activity takes place, as well as the peculiarities of various industries.

To see the significance of the tool, let’s compare the customer journey in the health sector in two different countries – Brazil and the US respectively:

The difference is considerable. In Brazil, healthcare customers tend to start their journey to purchase via display advertisements, they continue their journey via e-mail and only then are they exposed to social channels. In contrast, the customer journey in the US starts with social media.

Implications of attribution modelling on marketing strategy

The significance of Google’s research should not be underestimated. In particular, it greatly helps the following aspects of the marketing strategy:

1. Expectation management. Any online marketing attempts should be governed by realistic expectations. So far, however, it has been challenging to set the highly accurate KPIs in advance because there has been no clear data on the exact customer path to purchase. Backed by rigid sampling, attribution modelling revolutionises expectation management and thus enables more accurate planning.

2. Bespoke approach. Online marketing for a B2B financial services firm in Brazil will be radically different from the approach taken by a B2C retail company in France. Case studies of success may not necessarily be transferable across industries and countries. Each online marketing strategy should involve bespoke reasoning, based on the requirements and audience of the organisation in question.

3. The need to integrate. E-mail, PPC, social media and SEO efforts can no longer be treated as separate, independent entities. What matters most, is not the channel but the efficiency of integrating and optimising all these channels into one, overall customer path to purchase.  

Further steps

Despite the significance of this tool, there is still some room for improvement:

  • Industry-specificity. It would be great to drill down the industry list even further. Would the Edu/Gov sector include the charitable organisations? Is it entirely accurate to generalise Finance as one industry?
  • Platform-specificity. Social media is more than just one channel. It comprises a highly diverse selection of individual platforms that differ significantly in terms of audience demographics and significance in the customer journey. It would be great to see how Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn and other social channels differ amongst themselves.

You can find the tool here. Let us know how valuable you find the data?

Images courtesy of Google


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