Vision From the Harbor: How to Make Every Customer Journey Legendary
You’ve undoubtedly seen the iconic Sydney Opera House before — if not in person, then certainly in photos and videos. I’m sure it’s one of the most recognizable structures in the world with its bold design and unique look and feel. It’s truly a modern wonder.
And that modern wonder didn’t happen by accident. It took 16 years of research, speculation, testing, refining, and ultimately, construction to complete — and it was well worth the time and effort invested. The results have brought in an average of 200 million engaged audience members from around the world, year after year, for decades.
Your business isn’t much different from the opera house, really. The Sydney Opera House is known for not only its architectural prowess, but also the experience it delivers. Whether you step inside, stroll past, or even just see it in photos, you know you’re witnessing something truly remarkable — something truly innovative and one of a kind.
And your business? It’s one of a kind, too — with rich, customer-led experiences around every corner. The ongoing conversations you have with your customers are what drives these experiences — those conversations are what they’ll remember about your company minutes, hours, and even years later.
And, like the opera house, those experiences don’t just happen. In this experience-driven landscape, you need to use the same data-driven and entirely iterative process they used in Sydney — test, analyze, and optimize to create something iconic.
A Familiar Three-Stage Blueprint
Done right, it’s an experience consumers will never forget, an experience that follows a very similar blueprint. The Sydney Opera House was built in three stages — three stages that can also help your business create an iconic customer journey.
STAGE 1: Design & Deliver
In this first stage, as the name suggests, the opera-house team worked from a carefully designed plan, and together, they laid the foundation for success.
Think about the journey you’re inviting your customers to dive into with you. It’s not haphazard, and it’s not ambiguous — it’s a powerful, rich, experience-driven journey. And, I’m sure it has a comprehensive blueprint anchoring those first few steps as well as all future efforts — a blueprint with the flexibility to grow, evolve, and deliver increasing relevance as customers continue down the path alongside your brand.
For marketers, this stage is actually twofold. First, you need a blueprint — solid principles you can build upon every time a consumer enters your brand experience. Think about a company like Amazon in which the customer journey is anything but linear. Some consumers visit the site to comparison shop, others look for reviews, and some, of course, actually make purchases. Next, think about a car manufacturer — General Motors, for example. The customer journey is just as complicated — and often roundabout — but it’s a much slower, more deliberate process. You don’t just click to buy a car. But, the goals — reading reviews, comparing prices, and ultimately, making a purchase — are the same in both instances.
Unsurprisingly, the customer journeys for these two organizations are very different, and likewise, the way your company approaches customer journeys will be different. To get it right, you’ll need to understand how consumers interact with your brand, so you can deliver the kinds of spot-on relevance they crave. If you miss the mark, they won’t be customers for long — if ever.
STAGE 2: Test & Triumph
Then, like the Sydney Opera House, it’s on to stage two. Here, the team used testing to overcome some inherent design and architectural challenges — for starters, the “shells” that were originally intended to line the sails.
In the original opera-house design, these shells stretched above the structure. It was beautiful; it was jaw-dropping; and it was — geometrically speaking — fairly undefined at first. When construction began, it was immediately apparent that these shells weren’t there to stay. Pretty on paper but impractical — perhaps even impossible — realistically.
Their solution was to test new designs while remaining true to the imaginative shell design. They were, after all, key pieces of the customer experience, as these shells would make the Opera House stand out and the experience (seeing and engaging with the structure) truly legendary.
When the testing began, they had two goals in mind: find a solution not only that worked, but also preserved the experience by maintaining the desired seashell effect — “concrete sails riding gentle waves,” specifically. Ultimately, the team concluded that the shells could happen if they were built as uniform pieces of a sphere rather than individually from scratch. Problem solved; design perfected.
Testing experiences follows a similar cadence. In the experience business, we need to focus on making sure our shell-building works, too. By utilizing both customer data and the detailed understanding of the customer journey it reveals, you can improve every single relationship — and drive long-term value as well. Data is what helps put consumers and their actions into meaningful contexts. Attribution data, for example, paints a picture of what’s contributing to conversions — when there’s so much noise and so many touchpoints, it’s sometimes difficult to see what’s working and what’s not. This data helps clarify those unique paths to purchase and frames the journeys, allowing you to better wrap your arms around everything, optimizing and personalizing every journey as a result.
Data is also critical for creating meaningful customer personas. By aggressively leveraging customer data, personas can extend beyond the traditional broad strokes, which weren’t actually much more than educated guesses. Tap into the data in a big way, and you’ll be smarter, more strategic, and just plain better at delivering relevance at scale. You’ll have your finger on the pulse, the real interactions customers are having — what they want and what they don’t want as well as the marketing efforts that speak to each persona and their unique hopes, dreams, wants, and needs.
It’s the modern customer journey — a journey marked by modern, data-driven experiences. Based on what the data tells you — where consumers are coming from, where they’re going, and what they’re doing along the way — you can deliver better experiences by creating a clearer path and removing any possible friction. From there, you can test and optimize all over again — the digital-marketing equivalent of rinse and repeat. It took three years to perfect the Sydney Opera House shells. But, they kept at it, optimizing and testing day after day, and the rest is history. Literally.
STAGE 3: Overcoming the Organization
The final step is to overcome the organization — something you have most likely experienced at some point in your relevance-delivery journey. It was something the Opera House experienced head-on when political pressures, paired with funding and organizational issues, derailed construction for years.
And, they’re not alone. Sometimes, all that testing and data collection produces negative side effects. You test, you find the winners, and you set yourself up for success; then, you bring those mandates back to the decision-makers and BAM! Opposition stops you in your tracks. You need this technology and this budget and these resources — it all makes sense to you and your process. But, on paper, it sounds like a lot. On paper, it’s difficult to pull all those levers and shore up the kind of organizational support you need to do the job.
But, the testing outcomes weren’t the only bumps in the road for the Sydney Opera House. The project was rushed from the beginning, which set them up for many missteps in the months and years that followed. The designs weren’t even complete when construction started, which led to tons of challenges and unforeseen delays. By the end of stage two, they were already two years behind. So, going into stage three with all these added needs didn’t bode well when the project was already in the red and appeared not to have well-defined goals or, on the surface, a clear path out of the whole mess.
It’s something that many organizations face. Some have clearly defined goals and clear-cut paths from A to B. Some don’t. The companies with defined goals already tend to be more mature in their data usage, so they also have that going for them. The other companies might know what they need in a high-level way, but they don’t know how to get there or how to leverage the data to lead the way. Often, that starts with both understanding and aligning on which key performance indicators (KPIs) matter — or even, what counts as a conversion.
Organizational and political opposition can also be major hurdles for marketers and brands. If you see the value in what you’re doing but are still hitting a wall, think about your organization and its culture. If yours isn’t a testing culture, you could have some major speedbumps ahead. But, that’s no reason to give up. Instead, focus on these 4 steps:
- Have well-defined goals from the beginning. What do you want to achieve, what constitutes ‘success’, and what do you need to accomplish with each test?
- Break down the walls to build success. To be successful, it’s important to break down the silos that keep your organization from achieving true operational unity. All too often, many departments have their hands in customer-journey optimization; but, those departments don’t talk to one another, much less engage and exchange ideas.
- Consider the human part of the equation. Remember, all the data in the world won’t do you much good if you don’t have the right analysts and data scientists interpreting it and using it to maximize experience delivery.
- Show off what’s happening. Success breeds success. So, when you achieve success, shout it from the rooftops. Make sure you’re touting your wins — even the small ones. The more value that decision-makers and executives can see in your testing and optimization efforts, the more support you’ll receive now and in the future.
Put these stages together, and you have an inspired, innovative, and even simplified approach to enhancing the customer journey — and an iconic opera house, but who’s counting? Your business will grow; your customer relationships will deepen; and you’ll drive better engagement, conversions, and other KPIs. You’ll win because your customers will win — and that’s the surest path to lasting success. By understanding the customer, optimizing every experience, and continuing to test and analyze, you won’t just build memorable experiences — you’ll build iconic customer journeys.
There’s much more on this topic in Vision From the Harbor, an in-depth whitepaper that focuses on making your customer journeys legendary. This is most definitely a lofty goal, but also — hands down — a necessary one in today’s hyperconnected, customer-first universe.