How Basketball and the Customer Journey Have More in Common Than You Think
I was once the go-to shooting guard on my high school basketball team. And while I’d love to wax on about my history of game-winning shots — and believe me, I would — instead I’ll share how one fundamental of good basketball footwork can guide the customer journey and your marketing bottom line.
Many of our plays started with our point guard bringing the ball up the floor and dishing it to me on the wing. I generally had three options after receiving a pass: shoot immediately over my defender, dribble to set up a more open shot, or pass it into a posting center or a cutting forward.
For those of you less familiar with the game of roundball, what you can’t do is to simply start running around with the ball. One foot must stay anchored on the ground at the location where you received the pass. You can lift the other foot off the ground and rotate your body to get a better angle for your shot or pass or to start your drive, but one foot must stay firmly planted on the floor. This is called the pivot foot, and the act of rotating your body to best set up your next move is called
And this is precisely what we need to start doing in marketing: Pivot how we build our optichannel campaigns and meet our customers where they want to be met within their customer journeys.
Anchoring on Creative
Many marketing organizations are designed to anchor around their creative talent, content, and capabilities. Creative comes first. It’s a natural starting point for many organizations, because in a hyper-competitive economy those companies who can make the most captivating and/or entertaining first impressions are probably most likely to be more successful at raising brand awareness — at filling the top of the purchase funnel — hopefully leading to the acquisition of new customers.
But what happens after that? Does the same strict focus on creative still hold as we collect more and more customer data, as our industry is becoming more customer-centric, and consumers are becoming more demanding of individualized attention?
And what about the customer experience after the first purchase, once someone has already become engaged to some degree with our brand?
Think of how marketing organizations and agencies often design advertising campaigns. They focus on creative, on design, on messaging, on copy — on convincing their prospects and customers how incredible and memorable the brand is or how special and unique the products are.
If they do engage in customer analytics at all, then customer data comes into play. They may run a fancy statistical model or machine learning algorithm that gives scores to every customer according to who is most likely to respond to a particular type of campaign or some other output metric of interest. Then they sort the customer file in descending order based on this score and only send the campaign to, say, the first couple millions of customers on the list. Budgets are limited, after all!
If they’re particularly sophisticated, they might have also instituted a “test and learn” program to measure how well their campaign performed. Asking themselves:
- Who responded to it according to whatever output metric we were considering?
- Who did we predict would respond, but didn’t?
- What do those results tell us about the particular creative design, copy, or messaging that we started with, and how might we improve it on the next campaign?
- And even better, how might we evolve the model or algorithm we used so that it does better at prediction the next time?
All of these are recommended best practices and represent one way of leveraging customer data to help inform the campaign execution process. But I’d like to suggest we could do even better by flipping this whole process on its axis: Pivot.
Making the Pivot
In the traditional approach, marketers anchor on creative. Start with the what, then move to the who. But isn’t this backwards? Why don’t we start with the who?
Decide who you want to talk to in the first place. Ask yourself these questions:
- Where are these individuals in the customer lifecycle?
- Are you trying to retain your best customers in order to keep them engaged with your brand?
- Are you trying to develop less engaged customers in order to increase their interest and, subsequently, purchase volume?
- Are you trying to reactivate lapsing customers so that you don’t lose them to the competition?
Then, take advantage of all of this rich data you’ve (hopefully) been collecting for years to really dig in to who these customers are — what they buy, what channels they prefer to shop in, whether they are motivated by economic incentives like discounts or coupons, how active they are with the media type you plan to use to deliver the campaign. Learn about their attitudes and preferences toward your brand — why they choose to engage with you in the first place.
And finally, armed with this deep and nuanced knowledge about your customers, then — and only then — design your campaign to speak to your target group of customers in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them. Start with the who, move to the what. Identify the customers you want to reach, determine what’s important to them, then get your creative all-stars on the court.
When you build your optichannel campaign with this mindset, you are prepared to pivot successfully to meet customers where they are in the customer journey and you can show them how much you value them.
Jim Sawyer is Chief Scientist at Elicit. The company's resident savant, Jim is responsible for the artistic application of Elicit’s customer science. From evaluating the state of customer data and analytics systems to developing customized segmentation, Jim leads a team of data scientists to bring customers to life through data. He has over 20 years of experience in analytics, a Stanford B.A.S. in Mathematical and Computational Sciences and a Georgia Tech M.S. in Industrial and Systems Engineering. Elicit's Fortune 500 clients include Southwest Airlines, Fossil, GameStop, Sephora, BevMo!, HomeAway, Best Buy and Pier 1 Imports.