The New "Zigzagging" Customer Journey: Think Local, Act Mobile

By Luke Edson, SVP of National Markets Group, YP

Today's consumers are zigzagging from device to device, platform to platform, online to offline when searching for products and services.  The fragmented customer journey makes it harder than ever for brands to be where local consumers are looking and to gauge success.  Consider this example - a friend of mine (let's call him Tom) is an avid traveler who lives in White Plains, New York.  He has visited nearly every continent and spends more than half of the year either vacationing or planning his journeys. Tom starts the discovery process in his travel app, shifting to Facebook to see which destinations his friends are discussing and then talks to neighbors who just came back from Juneau, Alaska.

A couple of days later or even during a break at work, he revisits his travel app, heads over to Travelocity for pricing options and then utilizes another app for booking cruises and airfare. His path to purchase spans screens, mood states and physical locations, creating a unique opportunity for Air Alaska to target Tom and even his friends in White Plains.

This non-linear customer journey - which we call zigzagging - is exacerbated by competing walled-garden ecosystems. Consequently, marketers need to re-think all points of that journey and re-imagine how, where and when they're engaging with today's tech-savvy consumer.  Key considerations include:
  • What apps and websites are your customers and potential customers using to research goods and services?
  • What tools are you using to engage with relevant audiences?
  • Are you targeting by geography, by device, by time of day and by location?
  • How are you measuring success for your campaigns? Are you tracking clicks, downloads, store visits or something else?
A survey of 750 consumers about their search habits, conducted by global market intelligence firm IDC on behalf of YP, showed that nearly two-thirds of consumers looking locally for national products and services within major business verticals started their search outside a general search engine, choosing topical sites and branded apps instead.  For dining and travel, they might go directly to Yelp, Open Table, Expedia or TripAdvisor. For sports and entertainment, they might go directly to ESPN or Fandango. Half didn't use a search engine at all.

Additionally, the smartphone is the go-to device, not just on the go, but everywhere.

The research shows 86 percent of respondents use their smartphones at home to conduct local searches, which means they were likely engaged in a secondary activity such as watching TV. It's important to remember that brand messages served to at-home customers should not be the same as those served when they are on-the-go. Receptivity depends very much on context and location.

Keep in mind, however, that "local" searchers use multiple devices while on the path to purchase, which could stretch over days or weeks.  They may start a search for vacation packages on their smartphone at work but may not book until several weeks later after comparison shopping on a laptop at home. Multiple devices could be involved in that interim.

Marketers can use this knowledge directionally to understand the nuances of different types of local search when planning marketing campaigns or programs across verticals.

Let's look at how local searches were conducted by industry, according to the research:
  • Insurance searches used the fewest number of sites or apps, lowest smartphone use and took the longest time to complete.
  • Financial services searches were least likely to start with a general search engine, yet had low use of topical sites.
  • Automotive dealers drew several search activities that were unlikely to begin on a search engine, and users tended to contact dealers directly.
  • Auto parts and services searches used few topical sites or apps and were quick.
  • Retail searches were more likely to involve topical sites or apps, often on a mobile platform.
  • Travel and lodging searches also involved a high use of topical sites and apps, but not on a mobile platform, and the process took time.
  • Casual dining chains searches were often conducted on smartphones and resulted in the quickest actions - either finding/visiting a location, making a reservation or downloading a coupon.
  • Searches for business services (shipping, printing, IT) involved the fewest search activities, lowest use of topical sites or apps, were fairly mobile and quicker to complete.
In each case, it's imperative for brands to support consumers' needs for content, price comparison, inventory availability and alternate sources of information. To that end, marketers should view zigzagging as an opportunity-- not a burden-- because it's much more measurable if you're smart about it. After all, it's about the individuals you're serving, not eyeballs.