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How Publishers Can Track the Customer Journey

By Scuba Insights

Despite a tumultuous four years of being villainized by the oval office, the media and publishing industry is rising from the ashes like a phoenix. 

Immediately after Trump won the presidency, there was a resurgence in audience readership and paid subscriptions. In the last year alone, research shows subscriptions for digital news and media have grown by three times


The resilience of the media industry is critical as their core revenue source, advertising, diminishes at the hands of Google and Facebook, who make up over 60% of all digital advertising. 


Still, publishers continue being proactive and finding new ways to generate revenue through paid products, while still fighting for advertising revenues despite the intense competition.


The changes in the social climate (and technology) means publishers need to go beyond reporting the demographics and number of site visitors that help them sell advertising to understanding how to convert those visitors into customers and keep them happy.

Successful acquisition and retention begin with anticipating customer behaviors through analytics that deliver insights into their actions and preferences.


One giant hurdle: customer journeys are complex.


Tracking customers across several different channels and analyzing multiple data sources to answer questions requires a higher level of behavioral analytics then the traditional web and customer analytics that publishers currently rely on to sell ads.

Tracking and analyzing the customer journey

Every digital company understands the importance of delivering a personal and cohesive customer experience across every touchpoint, but few have been able to achieve a unified view of their customer journey. Why? Because it is mind-bogglingly difficult.


Customer journeys are like snowflakes: each one is unique. People interact with dozens of different channels like live chat, SMS, and social media while using multiple devices. 


Understanding how and from where customers find you will help you focus your resources on leveraging those channels to attract similar users.

circle chart of customer journey touchpoints

Your web analytics might tell you that most of your customers came from a Google search, tempting you to throw more advertising dollars into Google. But, this course of action could be a mistake. A customer journey is never a one-channel trip.


Knowing what happened before and after the Google search is the key to understanding your customers. Here are three scenarios to paint a clearer picture:


  • Scenario 1: A potential customer sees your banner ad for a promotion. Hours later, she joins a discussion thread on Reddit about politics. She does a Google search to learn more about the topic and finds your article. Once on your site, she reads the article and happens to see the same promotion from the ad she saw earlier in the day.

  • Scenario 2: A potential customer taking the train to work clicks a link on a Tweet to your content on his mobile device. Once at work, he references the article in a meeting, Googling it on his computer. After he shares the article with his colleagues, he decides to buy a subscription for work purposes.

  • Scenario 3: A current customer shares a link to one of your articles on Facebook, where 20 friends click the link and read the article. One of the friends sees the promotion on your site and chats with a customer service rep. Before subscribing, she goes home to discuss it with their spouse and does a Google search to find the promotion.

table with customer journey channels

A Google search is involved in all three scenarios, yet it is never the only channel involved in the customer journey. All channels build off each other. When you have visibility beyond the referral traffic, you can identify the types of customers and journeys that deliver the most revenue.

Publishers need questions answered on the fly

All the data in the world is useless if it can't quickly answer your questions about the customer journey.


Publishers need to ask questions about their data as new situations arise. Since every customer journey is different, most SaaS-based prescribed analytics tools are incapable of delivering insights beyond their pre-packaged analyses.


If you're the New York Times and your main acquisition strategy is to give users a few free articles before putting up a paywall, you'll have several questions unique to your business:

  • What if more people subscribe if they read 15 vs. 10 free articles? 
  • What if people who read articles shared by a friend are more likely to convert? 

NYT popup for sign up

There are dozens of questions like these that the New York Times is asking. The answers could help them save resources and pinpoint areas that would dramatically improve acquisition and retention. 


But right now, the answers are elusive.


The current analytics tools that publishers use like Omniture and Adobe Analytics were designed for web and advertising channels.

But, understanding the entire customer journey to answer more in-depth questions requires much more data from social channels, customer service, CRM, POS systems, Hadoop clusters, and a myriad of other on-premise systems.


There are too many important customer touchpoints that publishers are missing right now, making it really hard for them to answer critical questions like:


  • Where are prospects coming from and where do they go after?
  • What steps did the customer take that ended in a conversion?
  • Which types of customers follow similar journeys?
  • What is the best channel and time to connect with a customer?
  • Where are marketing dollars best spent and where are they wasted?

Larger publishers with deep IT departments are trying to answer these questions by integrating all of their vendor tools with in-house analytics tools. This process, however, has proven to be expensive and ineffective


Identifying and collecting the data needed to answer just one question can take weeks, and when one question is answered, it leads to more. Publishers need to evaluate the different touchpoints of the subscriber's journey and take action in seconds not weeks.

How publishers gain visibility into the customer journey

Let's say a New York Times print subscriber complained to customer service about missing a few weeks of delivery, while the same customer was also in a promotional trial for the digital subscription.


To keep this customer and sell the digital product, the NYT must identify and reconcile the offline issue quickly. Customer journey analytics tools like Scuba run wherever the data sources live, including on-premise servers, which enables publishers to track and analyze their customer's behaviors across channels. 


Publishers like the New York Times can gain visibility into revenue opportunities and anticipate potential problems like the unhappy customer.


Here's how customer journey analytics could help the New York Times retain and upsell their customer:


  • Integrating Multiple Data Sources: Every touchpoint across the customer journey generates data that can be collected and analyzed. A customer analytics tool should be able to integrate the customer service data that logged the customer's complaint ticket with the subscriber data that tells the NYT that a current print customer, who is also a potential digital customer has an issue.  This type of data integration is a challenging process that can be accomplished with a shard key + columnar database. As long as there is one common identifier, the analytics tool with these capabilities can add it as columns to the same table.

  • Tracking User ID Across Channels: Customer journey analytics are useless without a unified ID that tracks the same user across channels and devices. The NYT should have an ID of their print subscriber that matches the ID of the same digital user. If they don't, they'll never understand why that customer canceled both offline and online. Beyond tracking your current customer across products, a common ID enables publishers to see where their traffic comes from, whether it’s through an ad, customer service, social media or organic search.

  • Analyzing Data Quickly: If the customer complaint came during the digital promo period, the NYT has less than a day or two to make it right before they lose the customer forever. The data must be accessible in real time. When you are ingesting lots of data from different sources, high latency is often an issue. A customer analytics tool should analyze data and answer questions within seconds to give the team time to react and take action.

  • Empowering Collaboration: A complaint from a customer can involve several departments including customer service, marketing, and sales. If a customer has an offline problem while the company is trying to convert them to an online product, it takes a collaborative effort across departments to make the sale. Customer journey analytics should be accessible to all departments via a shared interface. Every stakeholder can quickly get the insights and answers they need when they need them.

With the right customer insights, The New York Times could quickly connect the dots between the offline and online interactions and reach out to the customer to solve the issue, turning a potential loss into an upsell opportunity.

Customer journey insights are worth the effort

With strong analytics (like those we are building here at Scuba) publishers like the New York Times can become masters of the user experience seamlessly weaving their content into their customers' lives exactly when they need it.


Trying to get from point A to point B blindfolded is not only a struggle but also incredibly inefficient. There is an amazing freedom that comes when the blinders come off, and you can actually see what's going on.


You'll understand why people are coming to your site and what they want. You'll refocus your resources on making better content that captures more people's attention. You'll anticipate your customers' needs to offer more value and drive loyalty.


Customer journey analytics can provide the visibility and understanding, but it's up to you to turn those insights into actions that will drive your business forward.


Are you ready to take the wheel? Learn how Scuba can help you better understand your customer journey.

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