The secret to running a successful business is gaining new customers while retaining the ones you have. This leads to established loyalty, increased brand recognition and increasing market share. To achieve this every business does the same thing: It tries to understand customer intent. The reasoning is that if customer intent is understood the business can then exactly fulfill its customers’ needs and generate customer satisfaction which will lead to increased retention and customer loyalty.

To understand customer intent every business also does the same thing. It looks at observable behavior and applies several interpretations that would help explain it. The problem with this approach (and it is a problem) is that observable behavior, an external world event, doesn’t always tally with intent, an internal world sensation.

The contradictions that occur between the internal world we all experience and the external one we all live in generate every misinterpretation and misunderstanding that occurs. This leads to an obvious loss of trust.

Without trust every action is subject to scrutiny which only increases the opportunity for misinterpretation. To be fair businesses have not been blind to this. Misinterpretation is most likely to occur when context is either absent or insufficiently well-defined. To address this they have employed the traditional “marketing funnel” which casts a wide net by way of content creation and advertising to attract prospects who are filtered as they are guided deeper and deeper down the funnel.

The marketing funnel however which is guided by the Awareness > Opinion > Consideration > Preference > Purchase dynamic dates all the way back to the 19th century and our understanding of the customer journey and its multitude of touchpoints has moved on since then. Google research shows that the purchase path is no longer linear and the number of touchpoints that guide the customer experience increase exponentially with every online search and offline contact.

What You See Is Not What You Think It Is

This makes observable behavior a poor guide to understanding intent even when the context has been narrowed by the marketing funnel. Because the customer journey no longer follows a linear path to purchase and because consumers are now mostly “channel agnostic” the chances of their being guided to what marketers consider the ‘right’ purchase decision are slim.

Customers who find themselves in the information space provided by a brand can easily slip through it and away when the emotional touchpoints are lacking. This is what every teen entering the dating pool learns the hard way: Emotion creates a response. Responses provide engagement. Engagement establishes a relationship.

It is the identical pathway that leads a customer to identify with a brand and then stay with it. This means that every purchase decision is emotional. Touchpoints are affirmations that reduce uncertainty, dial-down anxiety and establish trust.

Everything sounds straightforward and simple except for that internal/external world divide that persists. To explain this better consider that as marketing channels and marketing tools multiply so do the number of touchpoints customers have in their purchase journey. Complexity only increases.

Obviously we need context to reduce ambiguity and provide clarity. Context narrows down the interpretations available to explain observable customer behavior. Context now, however, has to be created by the more natural, fluid aspects of shared values and common purpose instead of the more rigid and artificial walls of the traditional marketing funnel.

Values and purpose resonate at an emotional level with consumers creating internal touchpoints to match the external ones they experience. It is these internal touchpoints that generate trust which leads to specific purchasing decisions.

You want you business to succeed? You need to do what you’re most afraid of doing: be human, personal, personable, transparent and accountable. You need to trust those you do business with and trust those who you work with. You need to give all those people, in return, reason to trust you.

Do that and we are in the territory described by the opening paragraph of this piece. Fail to do it and, well, you will find yourself in the hamster wheel of ‘marketing paradigms’ and new marketing tools and fresh ways to market, until you don’t.