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Customer Journey Orchestration: Marketing Hype, or Marketing Mandate?

min read

Clare Kirlin - Channel Marketing Manager
Clare Kirlin

Journey Orchestration

Few professions are as buzzwordy as marketing, and it’s only intensified with the proliferation of digital technology. When a new concept starts trending, it’s difficult to know whether you should chalk it up to hype—or stop and pay attention. 

“Customer journey orchestration” is the latest phenomenon to creep into the lexicon of tech-savvy enterprise marketers, and with good reason. In this post, you’ll learn what customer journey orchestration is, why we should be paying attention, and how to incorporate it into your marketing practice.

It Started with a Map

Let’s rewind to 2012. That’s when the concept of “journey mapping” first hit the mainstream marketing scene. Since then, it has steadily climbed in popularity. 

Journey mapping began as a UX practice in which designers could visualize user interactions across multiple touch points. By understanding a customer’s mindset throughout the buying cycle, designers could create a better digital experience at every step. 

Typically, customer journey maps align to specific personas, or user archetypes. The largest organizations may create a dozen or more journey maps, with small and midsize companies typically creating just a few. And while best practice dictates that journey maps be developed and utilized cross-functionally to create a better customer experience (CX) from first touch to post-purchase, they’ve typically remained the domain of UX designers and their digital marketing counterparts. (Gartner found that almost one-third of organizations are challenged to incorporate journey maps into their CX efforts.)

More recently, new software tools have begun to emerge that help marketers visualize customer journeys and optimize CX. In 2017, Forrester issued its first Forrester Wave™ report on customer journey analytics visioning—along with a separate report on customer journey orchestration. Gartner followed suit in 2018, publishing its inaugural Magic Quadrant report evaluating digital experience platforms, which include journey mapping software.

According to Acquia, 63% of marketers are using some form of journey mapping today.

Marketing Automation Roots

Customer journey orchestration also has its roots in marketing automation. As email use exploded in the first decade of the 21st century, businesses began storing contact information for their users in customer relationship management (CRM) databases. Around 2006, several major enterprise-level marketing automation platforms launched, such as Salesforce and Marketo. 

Marketing automation platforms give marketers the ability to trigger actions based on the behaviors of the contacts stored in their CRM (rather than just demographic attributes). Marketing automation is based on simple logic: If a user does x, trigger y action. 

Marketing automation platforms can make business decisions on the fly according to the rules set by a marketing team. For example, if a user visits a specific product page three times without contacting sales, an email inviting them to a free consultation may be automatically sent.  

Historically speaking, marketing automation platforms have been email-based. Most have evolved to account for user actions outside of email platforms, such as visiting specific webpages or engaging on social media. Few are truly end-to-end; more often, pre-purchase contacts are stored in a marketing-owned CRM, and post-purchase contacts become the domain of sales. 

Customer Journey Orchestration Today

Journey mapping and marketing automation aren’t dead. But they each present critical limitations that the latest digital technology can help us overcome. 

Journey maps are asynchronous. They inform design and marketing decisions, and may be updated yearly or even quarterly to reflect changes in user behavior trends. But they aren’t adaptive to individual user actions. They represent an ideal customer journey, but marketers are often stymied by the inability to actually coordinate that journey across more than a handful of channels. While valuable, customer journey maps often remain theoretical representations of an ideal, but elusive, state.

And while marketing automation has become incredibly sophisticated, automation platforms are still fairly self-contained; they don’t integrate data from other platforms like customer support ticketing systems, e-commerce systems, billing, and online chat tools without point-to-point API integrations (which require significant developer resources).  

No single journey map or set of marketing automation rules can account for the infinite possibilities of a single customer’s journey; marketers are forced to segment users, create rules, and trigger actions based on aggregate data and lowest common denominators.  

Marketers aren’t limited by their lack of imagination or some outdated belief that one-to-many messaging is superior to personalization. But until now, the technology didn’t exist to tackle problems of siloed data and channel-specific technology.

Customer journey orchestration promises to deliver on the holy grail of personalization—customizing every user’s journey across every channel, based on a single, 360-degree customer view. This gold standard of personalization has come to be known as “segment of one” marketing.

Journey Mapping

But What Is Customer Journey Orchestration?

Simply put, customer journey orchestration is the automation of marketing interactions based on an individual user’s actions across every channel. It’s the equivalent of creating and implementing a custom journey map for every user, updated in real time according to their actions. Automation plays a starring role: combining data and machine learning, customer journey orchestration platforms can deliver best-next actions at every turn. It’s an ongoing, synchronous, bidirectional conversation between individual and brand. 

If that’s too much jargon for you, here’s a simpler way to think about journey orchestration: delivering a personalized experience to everyone, everywhere, regardless of how and where they’re interacting with your brand. 

It isn’t just email, or social, or web-based, or voice-assisted; it’s broad enough to take all of these channels into account, natively. Journey orchestration can be automated at scale, thanks to greater compute power, faster processing, and cheaper data storage. 

On the surface, customer journey orchestration platforms offer interfaces that allow marketers to visualize the entire customer experience. Under the hood, they provide the ability to define the logic that drives the marketing messages you’ll deliver at every point.  

Time to Adopt Journey Orchestration

Understandably, marketers may be hesitant to jump on the journey orchestration bandwagon. Plenty of trends have promised to deliver on the dream of an integrated, personalized, scalable CX. Few have delivered.

Moreover, it requires a significant investment in new technology, which must then be integrated into an already-crowded marketing stack. (We’ve all lost plenty of sleep over this supergraphic over the years.)

The good news is that customer journey orchestration can actually streamline the technology you’re already using, and provide greater return in the form of a more engaging customer experience. 

More good news: you’ve probably implemented some sort of journey mapping, and marketing automation. Journey orchestration is natural extension of your efforts to improve CX. Here are your next steps.

  • Align leadership: Your CMO is probably already invested in the idea of improving CX. Because journey orchestration spans the entire enterprise, get a pulse check on how the rest of your executive team prioritizes it. Their buy-in matters to your success.
  • Identify data gaps: True journey orchestration can only happen when your data is centralized, hygienic, and current. Audit the platforms where customer data lives today; they’ll need to be integrated.  
  • Set goals: Once you know what business outcomes you’re trying to achieve with journey orchestration, you can select the right technology vendors and partners to implement it. 
  • Be realistic: Too often, marketers sell leadership on an idealized version of the customer journey; they want “next-level” marketing, but don’t realize the amount of work required to get there. Be prepared to invest for the long haul. 

Every marketer must assess their organizational readiness for customer journey orchestration. If you still have work to do, now is the time to get started. 

“Customer journey orchestration is an imperative for today’s marketer. Customers expect you to deliver the right content, offer or information at the right time, on the specific touchpoint, aligned to their context at that moment in the customer lifecycle,” states David Aponovich, senior director, product marketing of Acquia, which launched its Acquia Journey product in 2017. “Organizations that understand and respond to this customer-first mentality, and who are first to adopt journey orchestration, will win the war for customer attention by providing a superior customer experience. The rest will be left behind.”