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Global Growth Series: How Insights Impact Customer Journey Activation

by Giuseppe Tonolini – Director, Strive Insight

and Joanne Suh Senior VP Client Services and Senior Insight Strategist

In our continuing effort to grow our global reach, we recently merged with Strive Insight, a London-based firm known for strategic thinking and consulting skills. Our Global Growth blog series features conversations with leaders from Radius and Strive offering their perspective on our Brand Growth Navigator approach. In this post, Joanne Suh, a Senior Vice President at Radius, and Giuseppe Tonolini, a Director at Strive, discuss how changes in shopper behavior are driving new ways to approach Customer Journey research and activation to ensure clients are optimizing their opportunities with customers in diverse global markets.

Photos of authors Joanne Suh and Giuseppe Tonolini

How are you helping brands adapt to shifts in purchasing behavior to impact customer journey activation?

GIUSEPPI TONOLINI: One of the top challenges with customer journey research has been that the journey has changed so much over time. When I started my research career 30 years ago, the customer journey was very linear. We could identify phase one, phase two, phase three, and so on. Now it’s like a pinball game of people going online, perhaps visiting a store, then going back online again. The model is much more complex than it used to be. So our focus now is to address the project with different tools at various points along the journey to ensure we’re capturing a true picture of shopper behavior.

JOANNE SUH: I agree, Giuseppe, there has been a fundamental shift in purchasing behavior. Consider CPG as an example. Something as simple as buying a shampoo product used to be very predictable. A customer would go to the store, look at the shelf and choose a product. Now so much is being sold through social media, and a customer making the same shampoo choice can see a post in their Instagram feed, click on it, and automatically get to a site to buy it. That’s just one tiny example so we have to use new tools and think differently about how we approach each engagement.


With an expanded path to purchase, how do you structure research to ensure you are getting a full view?

JOANNE: Customer journey work for a CPG brand is very different from a financial institution, and exploring various regions can be equally as challenging. There are so many pieces and parts and influencers in the mix. We typically take a phased approach to any project, starting with ethnography and really understanding and observing how people go through their decision process. Next, we quantify and validate across a much larger sample. We have a proprietary model that we use to quantify different customer paths to help clients determine the most common customer journeys and the biggest influencers throughout those journeys. Once we have the big picture, we can look at regional differences to determine how and where to invest marketing budget and activation efforts to meet the growth objectives of each market.

GIUSEPPI: As the market becomes less predictable and more complex, we are asking consumers to use tools on their smartphones and self-documenting techniques to help us understand their experience and identify new concepts. Video is one tool that has become more and more important for in-the-moment research. Customers can record videos of their experiences, and in some ways, the video feedback they provide can be even better than traditional interview techniques because it’s very spontaneous.

What specific steps do you take to improve what might be a wide footprint?

JOANNE: If we’re working on a qual project, we’ll appoint a global coordinator who is intimately in touch with each of the local moderators. The moderators know the culture. They can guide us toward the best research approach and advise us on cultural norms. For a recent project in Vietnam, we were planning online interviews, but when we talked to our partners in Vietnam, they explained that it’s very difficult to get people to participate in online interviews, particularly for adults over 50, which is the age group we wanted to hear from. This gave us an opportunity to plan for in-person research to ensure we could get the best information for the study.

Moderators and partners on the ground in each market ensure we’re taking all the details into consideration so that when we’re doing our global analysis we understand which nuances we need to tie in.

GIUSEPPI: I agree, it is very important to understand the regional nuances. Traveling to each region to do the research is useful. Think of the medical space, where the purchase journey is different country-by-country, and also very complex. Having an opportunity to observe how people make decisions in retail stores, for example, and talking to the store manager and then debriefing with a local researcher who can provide context gives us the rich experience we need to bring the customers to life for the client.


How do you help the client with customer journey mapping to ensure they are considering the specific needs of each market?

GIUSEPPI: Healthcare provides a great example of a complex customer journey with many critical touchpoints. There are huge differences for healthcare brands to consider. The U.S. is very much driven by insurance, and many products and services require a recent prescription from a doctor. This is not quite the same in Europe where regulations and payment systems are much different. Each market requires unique customer journey mapping that, in many cases, takes a global view of the client’s brand while helping the core teams understand the elements of each market and how to then localize their strategies based on the insights.

JOANNE: We’ve adapted how we collect information. We include claimed data as well as collected data to round out the learning because if you think about how complex that is and the ways people seek information from their social feeds as well as talking to friends, and visiting websites, they can’t possibly recall their specific path. To understand what the important touchpoints are, we try to incorporate more behavioral and observational methods in our research because watching people shop in person or during online interviews, you can see their behavior. You can see how they scroll and the way they look to purchase a product and how they compare websites. So a lot of observation is built into our research now too, to understand the behavior that would be hard for a consumer to articulate.

Stakeholders across regions will use the insights differently, how do you help them activate successfully?

GIUSEPPI: It begins with conducting proper primary research, so for the field work, we do quite a lot of netnography online. Recently we ran a project where the client wanted to look at a handful of cities in specific regions in order to establish different activation strategies for each market. Our team did a lot of pre-research netnography online, which prepared us and the client before we went to the markets to conduct interviews with a clear plan for how to frame the research in each city.

JOANNE: The art of report writing plays a big role. With customer journey research, you’re often including a journey map as part of the deliverable, and there is a different level of detail to provide depending on the audience who will be reading it. So, our role as consultants is to understand very early in the engagement who our end audience is and how they will use the research. This helps us consider the story that we will tell, how detailed it needs to be, and if we need to develop multiple decks. The reports and Executive Summary need to be succinct, very clear, and highlight our recommendations and insights. We want to help the teams synthesize the research.

GIUSEPPI: Yes, the audience is key, and we need to adapt and bespoke the deliverable to a market region, as well and also understand how the client organization is structured. In many cases. For example, you want to tailor the report to the elements that the regional team can act on, and recognize that some regional offices may have a sales manager operating without a formal marketing function, so you can’t overwhelm them with a lot of information about targeting or segmentation that they won’t be able to use. I had a client who said to me, “I can’t do any of this, I just need to know how to sell this product.” When you know who you’re talking to and what they can actually get out of the research insights, you can help them take meaningful action.


What does success look like for your clients?

GIUSEPPI: We said at the beginning how much the customer journey has changed, particularly in the last few years, and it has required brands to shift their approach to traditional sales models. Change can be difficult for brand teams, so one way I know the research will be impactful is when I see the perception in the clients’ eyes. When stakeholders start to get more engaged, they are already envisioning and embracing how the insights can help them meet their goals. It’s rewarding when teams say, “Oh, this has really changed how we will move forward.” They will start to think about potential actions to take based on the insights and begin developing a new path to grow their business.


Is it time for  your team to re-examine how your customers make purchase decisions?

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