Customer Lifecycle vs. Customer Journey, Explained

Personalization|7 Minute Read

Customer Lifecycle vs. Customer Journey, Explained

Customer lifecycle marketing and customer journey marketing are often used interchangeably by marketers. In short, they shouldn’t be — and the reason is simple:

  • Marketers and their teams own the ongoing customer lifecycle management.
  • Customers — and only customers — own their individual decision journeys.

Allow us to explain these two concepts in more detail and clear up this common misunderstanding.

Customer lifecycle marketing: Informed by customer journeys

Every interaction your prospects and customers take with you is part of their customer journey. For the sake of brevity and presumed knowledge (you’re an expert marketer, after all), here’s a basic example:

  • Customer touch point #1: Someone visits your website for the first time. If you have a customer data platform like BlueConic, an anonymous, unified customer profile is automatically created for this individual immediately following this visit, including how she initially engaged with you: page(s) viewed, form(s) completed, and so on.
  • Customer touch point #2: She later returns to your website to read blog posts and sign up for your email newsletter, in turn becoming a known prospect. She views articles on various topics related to your brand’s offerings. Her profile is updated once again based on product interests, previous behaviors, and new lifecycle stage.
  • Customer touch point #3: The prospect comes back to your site a week later, this time to research a specific product of interest. She adds the item to her shopping cart, putting her in a pre-conversion customer lifecycle stage. However, she abandons the cart and leaves your site before purchasing.
  • Customer touch point #4: Because a CDP enables you to recognize cart abandoners across marketing channels in real time, she is immediately sent an offer email with a 10% discount to incentivize her to complete the purchase. Once she buys, she’s put in a new lifecycle stage as a recently converted customer.

For individuals to take this customer journey and ones like it with your company, your digital presence — from your website to email marketing — needs to be a well-oiled machine. But remember:

  • The customer owns her journey — no one else.

Even if your online presence is multi-channel, it doesn’t guarantee the journey will end with a purchase. For example, you don’t know what other competing brands are also on a given customer’s journey.

All you can and should focus on is orchestrating the right marketing at the right journey stage.

Optimizing channels for the customer experience

To enhance your odds of converting this prospect (and getting many more purchases from her down the line), you need a well-coordinated customer lifecycle marketing strategy that is built around the individual and encompasses all of your channels and touch points, not just one at a time.

“Customer lifecycle marketing, or orchestration, is recognizing and meeting the individual where she is in her customer journey,” says BlueConic Director of Demand Generation Lauren Pettiglio. “You need to be proactive with your strategy, but prepare to react when individuals tell you where they are in their respective journeys.”

Pettiglio notes it’s vital for marketers to define what the ideal customer looks like at every stage.

“The best customer lifecycle marketing strategies are responsive in real time,” she adds. “This means you leverage your first-party customer data to recognize individual and her lifecycle stage at each step on her journey so you can consistently deliver the right message (and suppress the wrong ones).”

Translation: To “leverage” your first-party data and implement an individualized customer lifecycle marketing approach that leads to lots of conversions, you need to define your customer lifecycle stages and make sure you have the right systems in place to take action.

A customer journey map can help you define stages, but you can’t force an individual to follow a prescribed journey. You must be able to respond to — and perhaps also predict — her chosen journey.

customer lifecycle marketing

Customer lifecycle stages vs. customer journey stages

“But aren’t customer lifecycle stages and customer journey stages the same thing?”

It’s a fair question to ask — and a common one among digital marketing professionals.

The short answer? Sort of. (Not very helpful, we know. Allow us to elaborate.)

The closest comparison to customer journey stages are the commonly known marketing funnel stages:

  • Awareness: “I want to learn more about X product or service.”
  • Consideration: “I’m looking at brands to help me with X.”
  • Decision/Conversion: “I’m ready to buy X from a top brand I researched.”

You can market to prospects at each stage as they move through your funnel. But first, you have to be able to recognize their stage, along with their other individual behaviors, preferences, and interests.

Once their journey is over — they remain leads (good), turn into customers (great), or exit your funnel altogether without converting (c’est la vie) — you can persistently store their data in a CDP profile and plan how to reengage or upsell them down the line.

Unified view of all customer data essential

Your customer lifecycle stages may differ slightly from other brands and business models. There is no one definitive set of customer lifecycle stages, per se. Rather, the “stages” are really on your business and marketing team to define.

To succeed with customer lifecycle orchestration, you need a 360-degree view of the customer and ongoing changes to her attributes, like up-to-the-minute updates based on her most recent behaviors.

In other words, you can’t have data silos in your martech stack. All first-party data needs to be in a single source of truth for your customer lifecycle efforts to resonate with prospects, convert those prospects into customers, and enhance your customer retention strategy.

For example, your email service provider (ESP) may know a lead’s name, email address, and what they clicked in an email. However, it may not know other crucial attributes about them — that is, their lead engagement behavior — your other solutions have (or should have, at least), including:

  • If they’re a new prospect or past customer
  • If they’re a one-time buyer or repeat customer
  • If they’ve purchased in store, online, or both
  • If they’ve visited your website in the last X days
  • If they’ve filled out one or more forms on your site

There are obviously countless other data points you can track for each individual in your database.

The point is you need a single customer view with all of this activity — not just some activity from part of the journey — to implement an efficient, high-converting customer lifecycle marketing strategy.

Building customer relationships: Your ultimate marketing goal

While you absolutely need martech that consolidates all customer data, it’s really on you to make the most of such a solution to improve your marketing output and, in turn, customer loyalty.

Turning potential customers into paying customers is one thing. Turning them into loyal customers who continually return to your website, brick-and-mortar location, or both is another — and your real goal.

How can you realize this effective, scalable customer lifecycle marketing? With a concerted focus on providing an amazing customer experience from the start of the customer journey to the end:

  • Conduct A/B tests for your channels — your website (forms, CTAs), emails (timing, frequency), app (user flow, UX), and any other channel you use to move prospects through your marketing funnel.
  • Learn from mistakes and miscues you’ve made with personalization in the past, like not sending the right messaging instantly following leads’ and customers’ interactions with your brand.
  • Don’t overwhelm satisfied customers with too many messages, such as a stream of promotional emails for products of interest. Too much and too often can lead to too few conversions.

Here’s another way to put it: Ensure your marketing machine is “working” as it should by regularly inspecting your customer data (preferably in a CDP) and steadily fine-tuning your approach.

Customer lifecycle management: An endless process for marketers

Our advice is simple: Stop trying to own the customer decision journey — because you can’t.

Instead, own and orchestrate individualized marketing efforts for every stage in the customer lifecycle.

“When there are as many journeys as you have prospects and customers, you need to rely on your first-party data and systems to recognize the individual and her lifecycle stage in real time,” says Pettiglio. “No single marketing approach will help nurture or convert all of them.

“Constantly think about your customer lifecycle marketing and orchestrate individualized experiences that tell the best possible version of your brand story at every touch point in the customer’s journey.”

In other words? Your success (see: consistent conversion, long-term retention, high customer lifetime value) depends on understanding the difference between these two seemingly synonymous concepts.

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