Analyzing customer data is paramount for businesses today. A total of 38% give that responsibility to their CEOs. The competitive advantage provided by basing business decisions on customer behavior has led businesses to adjust budgets accordingly for data and analytics solutions. But even with increased budgets, a disconnect between marketers' perceptions of customer relationships and how those customers feel seems to exist.

A total of 81% of companies believed they had complete views of their customers across touchpoints and devices, according to a recent study by IBM and eConsultancy.

Unfortunately, 63% of consumers disagreed, insisting their favorite retailers don't understand them. An increased analytics budget doesn't equate to knowing more about your customers. For that, you need to connect the dots between customer touchpoints and analyze the full customer journey.

The marketer's challenge to understand customers

Why are marketers, despite the wealth of information at their fingertips, struggling to understand their audiences?

The problem partially stems from the numerous promotional platforms and reporting tools marketers rely on. Promoting the brand through various channels can make it difficult to understand what's working for whom, not to mention to fully understand customers across channels, platforms, and devices.

Another factor is other departments within the organization, such as sales and e-commerce, that also affect the buyer journey.

If you don't know how other departments affect your customers' decisions to make purchases, then you can't claim to have a holistic view.

But mostly, marketers struggle because a customer's journey usually doesn't involve one sole brand touchpoint. Most people go through about six to eight touchpoints before deciding to purchase. Between hearing about a product and deciding to buy it, customers could compare prices or read reviews on multiple sites. You can't put blinders on them and steer them toward checkout.

Audience analytics can solve the disconnect

Marketers need to shift from a channel-centric focus to a true customer-centric view. How? Through audience analytics.

Though traditional customer journey mapping connects the dots within companies' properties—websites, mobile, or in-store—audience analytics can show where customers came from, what they did on a given site, and where they went and what they did afterward.

Mapping only what a customer does on your brand's website isn't enough.

To truly understand your customers, you need to know what they do when they're not on your site. By studying clickstream information, you gain insight into consumers' full browsing activity, including off-site brand interactions.

Jumpshot's analysis of Fitbit sales proves the importance of understanding the customer's entire journey. We wanted to know what the customer journey was like for people purchasing Fitbits on Amazon. By digging into clickstream activity, we found that some went straight from Fitbit's own site to Amazon. Others took a longer path, starting from an article on, researching on Google, and comparing prices on multiple sites before making a purchase on Amazon.

Clearly, these are two distinct behavioral cohorts and should be marketed and communicated to differently to increase sales.

More than likely, you've already increased your focus on collecting customer data. You might even have a mountain of data that you aren't sure how to use.

Here are four ways to develop insights on your customer journey that can benefit everything from programmatic campaigns to retargeting efforts.

1. Consolidate your data

The first step is straightforward... Analyzing large data sets makes things incredibly complicated. It requires marketers to zigzag between advertising reporting platforms, social analytics tools, Web analytics, and more to manually consolidate, verify, and analyze costs and performance.

If you put all your data in one place, it'll be much easier to study.

2. Focus on consumer actions, not Web metrics

Too many marketers still focus on vanity metrics, such as pageviews and visits, when they should focus on consumer actions. Did consumers view multiple pages before leaving your site? Did they browse through your site by searching terms, or did they use your navigation menus? Did they browse on your site then immediately purchase from a competitor?

Just as people's actions speak louder than words, their online actions provide a better understanding of their motivations, intents, and experiences than mere traffic counts do.

3. Share data across departments

Think of the customer journey as consumers moving through a conversion funnel. Marketers are meant to provide a constant top-of-the-funnel flow, e-commerce pushes the customers to conversions, and customer success handles retention and loyalty.

If you limit the information available to any of these departments, your company cannot connect the dots to view a full consumer journey and encounters much more difficulty in tailoring offers to customers.

4. Partner to get additional data

You can get only very limited information about customer behavior when they aren't on properties under your control. Web analytics platforms like Google Analytics might provide you with some information about the visitor's source, but they report only one step before a customer reaches your site.

For example, if someone is searching for cheap flights before a vacation, he or she might compare travel rates on multiple sites before clicking through to yours. Traditional analytics will report that this visitor originated from search but won't tell you what this person did before or after reaching your website or how many of your competitors he visited beforehand.

By partnering, you can see more of the customer's journey than what is immediately available to you.

* * *

The massive disconnect between businesses' perceptions of customer activity and actual consumer behavior cannot be overlooked.

Marketers must grasp their customers' journeys to truly understand their audiences. To connect the dots in your customers' journeys, go beyond the limited view of what happens on your site—and use your collected data to its full potential.

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Four Ways to Gain a Holistic View of the Customer Journey

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image of Deren Baker

Deren Baker is CEO of Jumpshot, a San Francisco-based startup that offers marketing analytics solutions tailored for the travel, retail, media, financial, and e-commerce industries.

LinkedIn: Deren Baker