Why Your Customer Journey Is Going Astray: The Generics Predicament

The Generics Predicament – Part 1 of a 6 Part Series


The importance of customer journey or buyer journey is not new news for companies. In fact, many brands have solicited the help of their marketing teams or hired consultants to create buyer personas and customer journeys to inform their marketing and sales efforts. These journeys might be constructed with industry research and data from internal marketing automation software. Some companies even assemble cross-functional teams, pooling data from all areas of their company to craft a comprehensive journey of their typical customer. The outcome is a detailed map of an average customer’s passage from awareness to purchase to loyalty, including key touch points, shortcuts to sale, and salient moments to activate loyalty.

Considering the scope and value of these opportunities, the importance of the customer journey should serve as the nucleus of a company’s marketing, sales, and operational strategies. Yet these mapping efforts don’t seem to live up to the hype, prompting the question: Why aren’t customer journeys driving results? We see five primary reasons. Up first: The generics customer journey.

Customer journeys, no matter how detailed, are generic to their category.

Customer journeys, no matter how detailed, are generic to their category. Once you’ve mapped out the customer’s complete path from awareness to purchase to loyalty – even taking the time to chart different personas, overlay demographic information, and identify major touch points – you’re left with the same journey that’s tacked up on the walls of your competitors’ offices. You jump on the same opportunity areas and run into the same brick walls.


Consider the major mobile carriers: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. If you’ve ever gotten them mixed up, you’re not alone. Selling an identical service – connectivity to mobile phone and tablet subscribers – these four brands have historically attempted to differentiate by broadcasting the marginal differences of their service plans, coverage, and (most recently) unlimited data usage plans. But by leveraging small competitive advantages, these brands are pushing brand marketing aside in favor of feature-based marketing.

This creates two issues. First, feature-based marketing drives commoditization, which in turn deteriorates pricing. Second, it fails to create unique experiences, leading to unimpressed, unloyal customers and ultimately to a decline in brand value. Despite these dangers, the major mobile carriers have continued along the path of price-cutting and heavy ad spending on an increasing trajectory in an attempt to stand out in a cluttered marketplace.

As this category suggests, the generics customer journey cannot be overcome by simply communicating to the consumer at key touch points or by funneling more money into ad dollars. In the fast-paced, customer-centric, social media-driven culture that we live in, customers’ expectations are changing rapidly. They want more than quality, value, and good service; they want companies who understand them as individuals. Yet an IBM and Econsultancy study found that only 22% of consumers say the average retailer understands them as an individual, and only 21% say the communications they receive from the average retailer are “usually relevant.” Another study conducted by CEI found that “although 87% of customers are willing to pay more for an improved experience, only 1% feel that retailers are meeting their expectations.”


Of the wireless carriers, only one has broken through the muddle by listening and reacting to customer needs. T-Mobile, led and embodied by its brazen CEO John Legere,2 became the “Un-carrier” in March 2013 by announcing that it would ditch annual service contracts, among other changes, to “completely rethink the customer experience” and “change wireless for good.”3 Before 2013, T-Mobile was hardly a contender in the category with a weak customer base and no differentiating products. Yet it became a major disrupter in the industry simply by asking the question: “What do customers really want?”

The answer it received – simplicity, transparency, and an expanded product offering – served as the cornerstone of the transformation that took place over the next few years. By January 2014, T-Mobile ended annual service contracts, began to offer iPhone support, and launched LTE, among other product expansions. It also revamped its brand by defining its brand voice as bold and simple, by keeping the customer central in its communications, and by leveraging its brand magenta for a powerful, popping new identity.

And it paid off. By creating a differentiated experience, rooted in a deep understanding of its customer, T-Mobile gained 22 million customers within two years, overtaking Sprint as the third-largest US carrier. And it’s continued to grow, adding more than 8 million customers every year since 2014 as it increasingly puts pressure on Verizon and AT&T.


Customers, and particularly millenials, crave to be acknowledged, understood, and spoken to as individuals. And through feedback tools and marketing automation software, we have the tools and data to understand exactly what customers want. Herein lies the benefits of brand experience.

Customers want more than quality, value, and good service; they want companies who understand them as individuals.

But by leveraging a category journey, your company shares the same consumer insights and communicates through the same touch points as your competitors, leaving the customer stranded in a crowd of undifferentiated brands competing to see who can generate the most noise. The answer lies in translating a unique brand positioning into a brand experience. How can your customer journey drive this process? To be continued.

UP NEXT: Problem 2/6 – The Erratic Brand


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