The Customer Journey Is Just Like Dating


Christopher Skinner is a frequent speaker at Google conferences and other digital industry events. He founded MakeBuzz in 2001 and has worked with over 250 leading companies, including Vodafone, Target, United Airlines and Oreck. Look for Christopher’s  column the 1st Tuesday of every month. 

 You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger on the street and ask them on a trip to Paris would you? When dating, you’d probably start with coffee, followed by dinner and then the romantic getaway. The same type of phased approached is needed with your potential customers. Yet most digital marketers live in the land of offer-driven, direct-response media. Essentially they’re skipping right to Paris – and this hurts the effectiveness of that DR media and more importantly, the company profitability as a whole.

I liken the Customer Journey to dating because it brings the discussion of a brand’s relationship with the customer into a realm we can all understand. When someone buys your product or service, it’s generally the result of a series of events in the same way that a relationship between two people can progress from less-to-more committed.

Relationships can also be tenuous. If you fail to show up for a date, or you’re too aggressive, this can turn the other person off completely. Similarly, if a consumer goes looking for a product online and you fail to appear as an option, or you put out a message that’s too purchase-driven, this can lead them away from your brand.

The trouble with many digital strategies today is that brands propose Paris without suggesting that first date. But the customer most often needs to go through a series of stages before they purchase. And these stages correspond to actions that increasingly take place online.

Say for example, during early Awareness, before a customer is even thinking about a new mattress, they are online searching for baby names. An ad from Serta suggests that with a baby on the way, now is a good time to think about their sleep quality.

This is an example of Awareness phase media in Search. You wouldn’t expect many direct sales from that particular ad just like you wouldn’t expect a cup of coffee to result in marriage. But we would expect an increase in search volume for Serta; to go back to the metaphor, you hope the coffee date leads to lunch.

While this type of Branding-oriented media exists offline in countless forms (think of the classic Apple billboards introducing the iPod with dancing silhouettes), most online advertising is still direct-response – late-stage media driven. And this is a big problem for businesses, and it’s only going to get bigger as executives demand more from the digital channel.

It’s critical that marketers understand the Customer Journey and how it applies to online media, but a new framework is needed to support efforts in this direction. This framework must connect digital marketing to the larger business conversation around profitability and growth –and still take customers all the way from coffee to Paris.


  • Chris O’Hara

    Great call. Many marketers miss building top-funnel awareness with early-stage branding and don’t understand why their search conversion volume never grows.