Sphere Is The New Funnel: Re-Thinking The Customer Journey

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Today’s technology enables us to make purchasing decisions more quickly than ever before.  There’s an overwhelming amount of product options at our fingertips, ready for immediate purchase.  Looking up product information, reviews and price comparisons can be done in seconds.  The consumer’s journey from ideation to purchase – typically thought of in stages – has never been shorter.

Funnel Funeral

Many e-commerce marketers however, continue to view the customer journey as a linear path to a purchase – often referred to as a conversion funnel.  The funnel mirrors the increasingly smaller amount of traffic in each stage of the online buying process.  Traffic enters the wide top of the funnel and narrows as traffic drops off at each successive stage, from the upper funnel on down to the mid and lower funnel.  The narrow bottom of the funnel reflects how only about 2 out of every 100 people entering an e-commerce website make a purchase.

Using this funnel metaphor is helpful for optimizing the online purchase path, particularly for websites.  It can uncover problem areas where traffic may be bailing out due to poor user experience, design, lack of information or other reason.  But as digital traffic and activation continues to move beyond the desktop, the funnel framework becomes irrelevant.  It’s time to say goodbye to the funnel, and hello to the sphere.

The Sphere is Here

Why a sphere?  Because it best explains how consumer purchasing behavior is evolving.  Buying impulses come from anywhere – online, offline, directly or indirectly.  The vast surface of the sphere represents the expansive range of a potential customer’s physical location or state of mind.  The sparks that lead to an action along that surface mark the beginning of today’s customer journey.  I call these “Moments of Inspiration” or MOI.

The ability to make purchases from anywhere, such as on a mobile device means that consumers can hyperspace to a purchase as soon as they get a notion.  The path to purchase is equally short wherever a person is “located” along the surface of the sphere.

Not gonna lie – viewing the customer journey as a sphere burdens marketers with the impossible task of being top of mind and present everywhere.  It’s a lofty goal – but it leads to more realistic, effective marketing strategies than trying to funnel customers down a pre-defined path.  This is a major paradigm shift from the tactical optimization mindset that focuses on pushing traffic and removing barriers in a linear process of distinct stages.

Success with the sphere requires a broader effort to connect with customers in a non-sequential manner around their ever-evolving set of core beliefs, attitudes and preferences (something I refer to as the Kaleidoscope Effect, which we’ll tackle in a future post).  Such connection requires a focus on customer empathy – meeting people where they are, on their terms – another aspect represented by the surface of the sphere.

We (Marketers and Consumers) Are The World

Now that we’ve established our theory, let’s use a more recognizable sphere – Earth – as a way of understanding how this new paradigm of consumer purchasing behavior maps to the funnel stages to which we’ve grown accustomed.

For starters, take the Earth’s atmosphere.  It’s an ever-changing swirl of currents, winds and weather patterns.  As the outer layer of our marketing sphere, they are the perfect metaphor for fickle consumer tastes and trends.  Just as we check out the forecast before heading out the door each day, so to must we keep in mind the ever-changing trends that are shaping consumer tastes.  That helps establish a rapport with consumers, but it doesn’t move the needle on activation.   For that, we’ll need to have a more compelling, relevant message that reflects an individual’s particular mood which too, may change like the weather.

Journey to the Center of the Sphere

The initial idea or inspiration for a particular purchase must break through the Earth’s crust.  Think of it as an individual’s built-in armor against the thousands of irrelevant marketing message one receives daily.  Understanding the terrain of our sphere is critical to knowing whether an individual is more free-thinking like an ocean, or stubborn like a mountain range.  Cracking this code requires an increasingly sophisticated level of personalization that relies less on past behavior patterns, and more on how an individual is feeling in that moment (a.k.a. the current weather conditions).

If the inspirational impulse such as a relevant offer is strong enough, then a consumer will move into the upper funnel (the Earth’s mantle).  It’s width in the diagram above represents the myriad options one encounters after an initial idea – let’s say a desire to travel to Greece.  The interest is there but there are still many things to figure out.  Based on further information or research, the individual may move around a bit and settle on a completely different destination or perhaps just needs more time to figure out when to go, or with whom.

In the mid-funnel (or outer core of the Earth in our diagram), travelers may have finally settled on a destination but are now presented with a number of booking options.  Here again, we find increasing complexity and the freedom to veer from a direct path.  But with more focused research on price, quality and other factors it’s a shorter journey towards the center, or booking.

Perhaps most surprising of all, the Sphere recognizes that the booking doesn’t end with a single purchase.  There’s still room for more non-linear activity.  Today’s consumers demand flexibility – think free cancellation of hotel rooms or free return shipping for consumer goods.  In this more fluid view of the booking phase, there may be duplicate hotel bookings for the same trip, just to have options.  As more modes of affordable transportation arise, it may make sense to book a “throwaway” flight or bus or train segment as a placeholder to lock in a low fare even if it may not be used (if this sounds somewhat like a confession, it is 🙂

Spherical Strategies for Commercial Chaos

Now that we’ve gone deep into the core of our Sphere, we can see how difficult it can be to connect with volatile consumer behavior.  Our first reaction may be to try to take control of this commercial chaos.  Deploying one of today’s many AI-based predictive modeling tools can certainly provide more insight about consumers, and help guide them to offers.

The problem is that such solutions are often based on past behavior.  At best, they’re a rear view mirror rather than a guiding star.  They may be able to identify patterns in constructing a more personalized view of a customer, but they do not necessarily enable us to connect with an individual’s passions.  For travel marketers in particular, it’s problematic because travel is not an everyday activity, so the data points for a given person are relatively limited.

In lieu of the ability to truly personalize, marketers often create different personas to identify target segments.  These personas may even have their own purchasing journey mapped out.  But as we’ll see, such personas are static representations.  If we’re trying to connect with a person’s current state of mind and inspire them to travel, we need to provide fresh, relevant ideas about where they want to be.  We need to connect with their current aspirations, recognizing they may be in flux as they move across the surface of our sphere.

One way we capture a customer’s current mood at TripTuner is by enabling the real-time input of nuanced user preferences using our distinctive sliders.  Here’s an example of how we’ve leveraged that to activate inspiration for QATAR AIRWAYS.

Sphere Summary

Hopefully this post will spark some conversation and thoughts of your own.  At the very least, keep in mind these three key reasons why the sphere is the new funnel:

  1. Inspiration can happen anywhere.  The traditional marketing funnel assumes customers are already shopping.  The sphere captures those Moments Of Inspiration (MOI) when they decide to shop.
  2. The shopping process is not linear.  We can loosely define stages in a buying process, but it is neither sequential nor tidy.  The path from inspiration to purchase is messy, difficult and short (shout out to Hobbes).
  3. Engage consumers on their terms.  Building a funnel won’t make them come.  Meet consumers wherever they are on the surface of our sphere, physically or emotionally by connecting with their passions via relevant messages and offers.

If you’d like to learn more about applying the sphere paradigm to your online marketing, hit us up.

Till next time,  Stay Tuned!

– Tedd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Customer Empathy and Other Less-Obvious Travel Trends

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Recently, in the hallowed conference halls of Twickenham Stadium – the world’s largest rugby venue – I had the privilege of moderating a panel at the Digital Travel Summit discussing what trends will transform the travel industry over the next 5 years, and how companies may capitalize on them (spoiler alert: check the title).  I was joined by Finnbar Cornwall, Travel Industry Head at Google and Kamil Jagodzinski, the Chief Customer Officer of Kiwi.com.  The $125M richer Kiwi.com.  

DTS London 19Crystal Ball panel

Tedd, Finnbar and Kamil choppin’ it up at DTS London (IRL we’re less pixelated). Cheers Hollie Jeffries for the photo!

Nearly every conference in any industry has such sessions – so much so that they’ve become cliché.  But as some wise person told me years ago “clichés get that way for a reason,” and given what seems like the ever-quickening pace of transformational technological and societal change, it’s easy to see why “future-proofing” one’s business or indeed one’s self is so popular.

Human over Machine (for now)

Rather than move down a familiar checklist of the latest technical terms du jour (blockchain, AI, voice, AR/VR, etc) we took a different approach with this panel.  Technology is still a tool, a means to an end – and leading a discussion with technology tends to be a referendum on its merits. We wanted to focus on the broader trends that impact traveler behavior, whether they be the result of or a reaction to, new innovations.

Since one of the main themes of this conference was “Creating a Customer-Centric Journey,” we shared our thoughts on how each stage of the traditional travel booking process might change in the next 5 years.  It was done first from a traveler’s perspective, with plenty of insights for how we as travel marketers may adapt to this changing landscape.

Now, on to the main points.  Sorry, no numeric list here. It’s all about the context (and hopefully as a result for you, the Benjamins).

No Plan, No Problem

We began at the inspiration and planning phase of travel, and Kamil got us started by stating that “travel planning as we know it will disappear,” if it hasn’t already.  It’s already possible for someone to show up in a destination with little forethought and no hotel for the night – a niche that Hotel Tonight cleverly carved out for itself years ago.

Finnbar added that the increasing availability of Augmented Reality will eliminate the need to read up on an attraction, when apps like Google Lens let you point your camera and read about the story of an historic building for example.

If there’s no planning phase, “will this mean the disappearance of the booking window?” I asked, since it’s a key part of timing campaigns, offers and default search dates.

Yes and no.  As distribution, real-time pricing and merchandising capabilities continue to evolve, Kamil saw an opportunity to drive more last-minute group bookings – and perhaps the return of a last-minute distressed inventory model.

We’ve seen that model years ago with the likes of Priceline and Site59 (shameless shout out to my former squad).  But as Kamil pointed out, “Low Cost Carriers have trained travelers to book as early as possible to get the lowest airfare.”  So in that sense, booking windows will still be there if only driven by price.

So while planning the details of one’s trip may be easily put off till when you’re already there (perhaps that’s why so many trip planning startups have failed?) the actual booking – particularly for price-sensitive travelers – will likely require some forethought in order to obtain the lowest airfares.

Inspiration is Everywhere

What about the spark that starts the travel planning process?  Traditionally, the inspiration phase of the booking process has received little if only skeptical, attention (apart from a few startups who’ve tried) – mainly because it was not seen as a big enough problem (doesn’t everyone have places they want to visit?) and that it didn’t make sense to invest in since it was so many steps away from the actual booking.   This latter point makes a lot of sense given how much shopping around is done before making a purchase – Expedia states that some travelers visit up to 160 sites before booking!

But the sheer amount of choice confronting today’s travelers continues to grow (which is why I started TripTuner, to help travelers narrow down the options).  So as a brand or destination you can’t simply sit back and expect travelers to think of you, no matter how popular you are – just see how much Las Vegas advertises, for example.

Sphere is the New Funnel

It’s time to think outside the funnel, y’all!

As booking technology advances (e.g. reserve tables natively in Instagram, or book travel via chat on Facebook) the gap between inspiration and booking has shrunk tremendously.  Our panelists agreed that all you need is a few seconds on Instagram before you’re searching for flights.   What this means for brands is that you now have to think more holistically about where you are targeting travelers and remove whatever friction there is to booking along that path.  The traditional funnel has morphed into what I call the “Booking Sphere” – where it’s radius is the booking path and its surface are the various touchpoints – what I call “moments of inspiration” – leading to that booking.  Inspiration is everywhere, and savvy marketers would be wise to think of those use cases rather than over-investing in crafting clever personas.

R.I.P. Trip Planning 

Much of the inspiration happening on Instagram and other channels revolves around unique or authentic experiences.  The panel largely agreed that a sea change in travel planning behavior was facilitated by the ever-expanding amount of experiential content indexed by search engines, created by bloggers, influencers and other content marketers.  But trying to aggregate it or shoehorn the planning experience into an externally imposed, proprietary process can be considered a fool’s gold.   

The online travel landscape is littered with the carcasses of many trip planning startups over the past 10 years (the latest of which being Utrip), yet still some seek to solve the problem that everybody purports to have…with a solution they’ll never adopt.  I’ve personally felt that only Google would be able to construct a “one-stop shop” travel planning app, but even their Trips product will be sunset in August.

As more tours and activities product becomes bookable online, it will be interesting to see if a more commercially-driven “planning” product – less an itinerary builder, more of a customized, collection of bookable elements – will emerge.  As I stated in the panel, however, my vote is for the scientific principle of entropy – of things tending towards disorder.  

While there’s been some consolidation in online travel on a macro level, the larger trend will continue to be towards disorder and more specifically fragmentation – of the “types” of trips, booking sources, inventory providers and information sources.  In such a state, with technical barriers removed by the growth of the app/API economy, the only viable one-stop shop will be those brands that are: 

  1. used on a daily basis
  2. for which you already have a profile or login and most importantly, 
  3. whom you trust with your data.  

Which is why all of us on the panel felt that the main disruptive force in travel would be global players that meet those three critical criteria. 

Privacy Killed the Personalization Star

Personalization is a perennial conference topic because it’s an evolving, elusive goal.  For the online travel industry, it’s particularly difficult because the average person will only travel once or twice a year (for leisure at least).  So you can have all the machine learning and AI you want, but for true 1-1 personalization it will take a while to build up a truly complete picture of an individual’s behavior, let alone preferences.  In the absence of the frequent, nuanced conversations that a traditional travel advisor would have, it’s just damn difficult to really get a sense for traveler preferences.  

Personalization is also hard because there’s a myopia within the travel industry that results from some institutional navel-gazing.  We tend to divide each booking or trip into a given segment – corporate, leisure, family, romance – in a very rigid, binary fashion. We don’t look at travel more broadly as some of the disruptive players like Uber do: it’s whenever you leave your home.  I mean, when is the last time you saw an ad at your gas/petrol station from a destination that’s just a full tank away?

Asia’s “SuperApps” don’t seem to suffer from that problem.  They allow consumers to purchase travel along with many other goods.  With daily use, they’re able to get a much fuller picture of consumer behavior.  In addition, they are not bound by many privacy constraints such as those imposed by the GDPR.  All of us on the panel thought that this gave them a distinct advantage over western companies when it comes to personalization, brand awareness and ability to impact the entire customer booking journey.

It remains to be seen how much privacy consumers will be willing to give up in order to have companies “know us better.”  Starting with the Cambridge Analytica / Facebook debacle and other data breaches of privacy, there is a very real consumer backlash taking place.  Paradoxically however, there are also studies saying how willing consumers are to give up some privacy in order to obtain some benefit.

The way forward will require transparency though, and user control.  Companies can’t necessarily assume they have permission to use particular data on a customer.  It needs to be obvious and permission-based. 

empathy

Empathy is the path to future success. Thanks Annie Sprat for the beautiful photo.

Tell Me If You Still Care

Building empathy with consumers was a recurring theme throughout the conference, and echoed by our panelists.  Connecting with today’s consumers – and those of the future – is not just a technical solution, but rather more about one’s brand and company values.   Recent studies cited by Wunderman show that 89% of consumers are loyal to brands that share their values, and 56% are more loyal to brands that “get me” and show a deep understanding of their priorities and preferences.

Finnbar also mentioned how Google creates empathy by creating tools that assist today’s curious but impatient travelers.  As he put it, “we’re in an age of assistance.” For Kiwi.com, it’s by showing travelers a wider range of flight options so they can more easily find the best deal.  Regardless of what type of business you run, both cases provide a clear direction on how to establish empathy: through an intentional, externally focused examination of consumer behavior.  As Steve Jobs said “you’ve got to start with the customer experience, and work your way back to the technology.” I can’t think of a better way to future-proof any business.

Stay tuned.

A Camel, Me and “General B”

One of the #RTW98 series of posts looking back on the ‘round the world trip that inspired the creation of TripTuner 20 years ago.  It’s a story of personal growth and change, with impressions of fascinating places and people around the globe.  If you’ve ever considered extended travel, taking a sabbatical or gap year or just wondered what it may be like, this is for you.

“General Baksheesh” had all the ingredients to strike a commanding authoritarian presence: a distinctive uniform and beret, sidearm at his hip and a pair of AK-47 toting subordinates ready to execute his commands.

General Baksheesh sq

I wasn’t expecting to see armed guards when visiting Egypt’s famed Pyramids, 20 years ago on a solo gap year trip. But there was heightened security (for reasons all too familiar to us now) and a visible tourist police force presence at all main attractions.

It’s an alarming if not unnerving sight.   The soldiers’ mere presence makes you concerned for your safety. Then you realize paradoxically that they’re there for your safety.

Still, it’s a little uncomfortable to be 6,000 miles from home standing alone in front of armed men with whom you can’t really communicate.

Fortunately, after 6 months on the road I’d developed a cobbled together, sometimes successful technique for “breaking people down” – getting past the stoicism and awkwardness of confronting total strangers with whom you share nothing except a common humanity. The recipe: deference, non-excessive smiling, culturally appropriate hand gestures and a sense of humor.

General B was standing with his thumbs in his utility belt, pretending to scan the area (which was completely desolate). Behind him, a bored man squat beside a camel. Business was slow – not many takers for camel rides in the 140 degree afternoon sun. But I gotta do it, right?

Nodding sideways at the General with a forced smile, I shrugged my shoulders pleadingly and motioned to the camel. Like Caesar giving a thumbs up, he nodded to his comrades to left me through. Camel man leapt to his feet and helped me climb aboard the scratchy haired dromedary.

After a short ride, we returned to General B. As if on queue, he stomps out his cigarette, holds both hands in front of his face making the universal “want me to take your picture?” sign. I’ve seen this move before. All deference for the tourist soldier dissolves. But I’ve got to get that shot, and he knows it.

“NO BAKSHEESH,” I declare. “Baksheesh” is the term used by a service provider when requesting a tip or other monetary inducement to action that, in normal circumstances, would be considered ordinary and not worthy of remuneration (a.k.a. a shakedown).

“No, no baksheesh” the General shakes his head solemnly. I shoot him a look of disbelief and calmly but firmly insist: “NO BAKSHEESH.” General B repeats: “no baksheesh, no baksheesh.”

Reluctantly I hand him my camera for the cliché yet must have photo: me, on a camel, in front of a pyramid.  He snaps a few shots and walks towards me to return the camera with outstretched arms, as if presenting a special gift.

Putting my camera away, I look up to see him waiting for my parting glance. He leans his head to the side, shrugs his shoulders and turns his palms upwards. With the pleading face of a puppy dog wanting a treat, he lets out a long whiny cry:

“Baaaksheeeeeesh?”

Now you know how he got his name.

TE on a camel 28-7 pyramids sq

If you could travel for a year, where would you go?

One of the #RTW98 series of posts looking back on the ‘round the world trip that inspired the creation of TripTuner 20 years ago. It’s a story of personal growth and change, with impressions of fascinating places and people around the globe. If you’ve ever considered extended travel, taking a sabbatical or gap year or just wondered what it may be like, this is for you.

If you had an entire year to travel anywhere around the world, where would you go?

It’s a wonderfully tantalizing question.  Try it out on yourself or a friend.  Usually, people will reel off a few bucket list destinations or experiences dreamed up over time: see the Grand Canyon, climb Kilimanjaro, search for the Komodo dragon.  Me? I’d like to snorkel with whale sharks in the Seychelles.

Dig deeper and you’ll sense a person’s appetite for adventure, their passions and a glimpse of their worldview – very helpful in today’s polarized society.  I love exploring new places, so it was easy to create a wish list for my jaunt around the globe.  The more foreign, exotic and different they sounded, the better.  Kelimutu? Cool.  Ouagadougou? Sign me up. Continue reading

where to go: Puglia, Italy

OK, so normally #WheretoGoWednesday is a weekly-ish feature on the most popular destination on TripTuner for the past 7 days but I was won over by the good folks over at Southern Visions Travel, a Puglia, Italy based operator of amazing gourmet & cycling tours.

Polignano a Mare

Polignano a Mare photo by Tedd

They stopped by TripTuner HQ this week and wowed us with their culinary prowess in between various events and an appearance with J.C. Hayward on Washington, DC’s News 9 at Noon.  I had the pleasure of experiencing one of their tours this past summer and highly recommend it for a unique and memorable, active yet relaxing sojourn.  Whether it’s browsing the whitewashed town of distinctive trulli buildings in Alberobello, a caffe fredo after a bike ride to Locorotondo or a fantastic seaside lunch of cavetelli frutta di mare near Polignano a Mare, you will never forget this still relatively untouched (at least by Americans) region down in the heel of Italy’s boot.  And of course, if you need some guidance on getting it done, we’re here to help.  Stay tuned!

Just Back from London

Tower Bridge, London

Tower Bridge at night, viewed from a Thames River boat.

Just back from London and the World Travel Market with our Editor at Large (and New York Times Bestselling Author) Franz Wisner. Had an enjoyable and productive week introducing TripTuner to a select group of old colleagues and prospective partners alike. Year in and out, this event often delivers as much benefit from the chance encounters as with scheduled meetings. Only time will tell, but it seems we made a good impression, receiving many compliments on creating an exciting, engaging new way to help travelers find places in tune with their tastes. While there wasn’t much time for exploring, we did manage to take in a few sights en route to evening events and dinners: going through the Thames river locks; floating beneath a spectacularly lit Tower Bridge; strolling past an illuminated Big Ben and Parliament before viewing the city from the top of Millbank Tower. We checked out the freshly renovated Four Seasons Park Lane as well as the new Aloft hotel–thumbs up on both. After a pleasant dinner at Kentner’s in Soho (tasty French-brasserie fare and Champagne bar in a hip but accessible townhouse atmosphere) we had a chilled vodka martini nightcap at Duke’s Bar— the place where local lore says Ian Fleming conjured 007’s famous “shaken, not stirred” preference. All in all a successful quick trip, and we didn’t really notice the fact that we hadn’t seen the sun for 4 days. But hey, that’s London!

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When Your Startup Launch Feels Like Jumping Off a Cliff

Posted by Founder Tedd Evers on the day of TripTuner‘s launch.

Starting a company in the midst of the greatest recession since the Great Depression is a daunting task.  You’re diving into the relative unknown – like jumping off a cliff.  Not a very positive analogy, I know.  And a bit cliché.  But what the heck, I wanted to find some way to include this video in a post.

 

From a distance, the jump looks very doable – as does a startup business.  Then, with each step upward you strain a bit.  You begin to feel just a little bit of apprehension.  But you keep on.  You put the building blocks of a business plan together.  And then you reach the last step, the point of no return.  The jumping off point.  You’ve done the research – others have made this jump before – but there’s still doubt.  It could be low tide.  The business opportunity might not be so large after all.  The water may not be as deep as you think.  But you have this vision propelling you.  The seeking of a thrill, however short, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with confronting one’s fears and doubts directly, of persisting in spite of it all.

Then the moment of truth arrives and there is only one way to break through the lump forming in your throat.  You must act, quickly.  Otherwise if you linger too long, you will find a rapid stream of reasons why you should not do it.  Doubt will settle in, and you will forego a chance to pursue your dreams.  So even if you have the best laid business plans, in the end what’s needed is a bit of craziness with a heap of confidence and an unwavering belief in your vision.  It’s the only way you can take that last step, and plunge into the exhilarating realm of uncertainty – or in this case, the waters of the Fiordo di Furore, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

While the potential rewards of business success are great, in this case I was happy to earn the admiration of my daughter (who’s excited scream you’ll hear midway through my jump).  Thanks for listening and welcome on board what is sure to be a refreshing plunge into new experiences.  Triptuner.com is now live.  Here we go!