Notwithstanding my exhortations against digital marketing creepiness, B2C digital marketers love to circumlocute around the notion of the purchase. “It’s all about the customer journey!” they exhort. Focusing on the purchase transaction, it seems, is too mercenary for today’s enlightened digital professional.

And yet, you can’t have a customer journey without a customer. And what turns an ordinary human being into a customer? A purchase.

The point to the customer journey is that the purchase isn’t the end of the relationship between customers and the companies serving them. After-purchase support is important to be sure. But the real value behind the customer journey? Follow-on purchases. Even with lifelong customer relationships, the purchase is where the rubber hits the road.

Marketing, especially in the B2C space, has always been about driving toward the purchase transaction. That’s what marketing funnels are all about, of course. Now with all this talk about customer journeys, perhaps marketers have lost their way. The complexities of today’s omnichannel, digital-infused world seems to have muddied the waters.

Today, marketers don’t want to be too forward with their focus on sealing the deal. Selling stuff is too crass, so let’s focus on building relationships. Yet what do we really mean by building relationships with customers? Selling more stuff, of course!

The Disingenuousness Trap

In fact, the broad ecosystem of customer experience technology is in reality all about driving customers toward the purchase, as the figure below illustrates. Even the customer journey plays its part in driving customers toward future purchases.

Purchase diagram

All too often, however, the result of this complex marketing shell game is a perception of disingenuousness. Consumers, after all, are a rather savvy lot. They know when they’re being sold to, even when the seller in question layers on all the modern digital relationship-building, customer experience hullabaloo.

The problem: successful relationships are by their nature two-way, but selling stuff online has always been one-way.

In particular, if you look at traditional ecommerce, you have several basic elements: Search. Catalog. Product information, perhaps with recommendations and reviews. And then you have the shopping cart, the financial transaction, and behind the scenes comes logistics and fulfillment.

In other words, today’s ecommerce brings customers to the purchase transaction. What’s missing from this scenario is bringing the purchase to the customer.

Multichannel vs. Omnichannel

This “bring the customer to the purchase” mentality is central to multichannel marketing. Perhaps you bring the customer to the web site, or maybe to the store, or maybe to the telephone – all separate channels.

This approach is now so firmly entrenched in the way we conduct commerce, we don’t think twice about it. But from the consumer’s perspective, any effort on the part of the merchant to build a relationship comes across as phony.

Bringing purchases to the customer involves a rethink, even within separate channels. For example, the Apple Store doesn’t have cash registers. Instead, sales associates roam the floor with mobile devices, and are able to complete a purchase wherever in the store the customer is standing. In order words, Apple is physically moving the purchase to the customer.

Another single-channel example: The Garmin Vivo wearables site at http://sites.garmin.com/en-US/vivo/ . This web site has a fully-featured ecommerce back end, where the customer can drill down into as much detail as they like. But notice the “buy now” buttons on the linked page. They bring the purchase to the customer so they don’t have to explore the complexities of a labyrinthine ecommerce site if they don’t want to.

Note that neither Apple nor Garmin is making any excuses about the fact that they’re selling stuff. In fact, they’re both making it easier for customers to buy their products. But neither merchant comes across as disingenuous, because the purchase call to action is an explicit aspect of the customer relationship.

Omnichannel without Disingenuousness

While bringing the purchase to the customer is an added but optional bonus for single channels, taking this approach is absolutely necessary for omnichannel marketing. Take for example showrooming, the prototypical omnichannel interaction: a customer walks into the retail store, holding their phone, comparison shopping on the phone as they peruse the physical merchandise.

Now it’s up to the sales associate to interact with the customer on their terms, bringing any information or technology to bear to bring the purchase to the customer. If the associate drops the ball, they lose the purchase.

The best retail sales associates have always known when and how to bring purchases to customers in the in-person, retail setting. Now with digital-enabled omnichannel marketing, everyone in the organization from the CMO to the retail associate has to relearn this basic lesson.

In fact, if we extend these single-channel examples to unified omnichannel experiences, we’ll cross over mostly into the realm of fiction.

How about “buy now” buttons on, say, the clothing that television characters are wearing? Press a button on your TV remote and your garment arrives the next day.

Or perhaps a vending machine that cross-sells other merchandise. You pay for your Coke and a cookie in a single transaction at the vending machine, and a sales associate hands you your cookie.

These are both fictitious examples – today. But first, there are no technology limitations preventing such omnichannel purchases, and second, coming up with your own cool examples isn’t that tough. Why can’t you purchase from a digital sign in a mall or an airport? Why can’t you use your phone to purchase an item in a supermarket?

Omnichannel today usually means multichannel with a bit of glue added between channels. Tomorrow, in contrast, I predict entirely new, deeply disruptive omnichannel business models – even more disruptive than Apple Stores.

True, there is still some friction due to the newness of the technology. But the real market friction is a lack of imagination.

The Intellyx Take

Today’s marketing is all about building relationships. But the point to all this relationship-building isn’t to hide the fact you’re trying to make the sale. If you take that approach you’ll simply come off as phony.

Instead, embrace the fact that your customer actually wants to buy something. Make it easy for them. Build your relationship with them around their purchase transactions, because that’s what the relationship is really about. Customers will appreciate your honesty.

The confusing, dynamic, and unquestionably powerful range of digital technologies available to today’s marketer make it easy to come across as creepy or disingenuous. Don’t fall for those traps. The same technologies also facilitate well-executed omnichannel strategies your customers will love.

And when you strip away all the digital marketing mumbo-jumbo, what do you get? People buying your stuff. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Intellyx advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. At the time of writing, none of the organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers.

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