The Customer Journey Channels Challenge

If there’s one thing that makes a marketer shiver, it’s the number of channels their consumers use. Like a pesky garden weed, channel counts are growing fast — SmartInsights found that there are currently over 120 physical and digital channels consumers can frequent. If delivering a cohesive and compelling customer experience with relevant and timely content was not complicated enough, that customer journey now must encompass both this abundance of channels and the ever-growing number of channel combinations consumers use on the journey that is the path to purchase. A Google study shows that 65% of revenue now comes from purchases made using more than one channel.

We wanted to help marketers understand the omni-channel customer journey and capitalize on its ROI potential. Our latest research analyzed over 2.5 billion journey interactions delivered through our Customer Journey Hub over the last three years. As marketers adapt to their consumer’s omni-channel behavior, the number of channels marketers use for customer journeys grows annually. As you can see on the chart below, in 2014, web, social and email were the focus channels. Now, in 2016, these three major channels are joined by five others. This includes new channels of the Internet of Things (IoT) and AdTech.

In this year’s report, every channel evaluated, except social media, experienced significant growth. Advertising Technology (AdTech) is the fastest growing channel with interactions growing 14x between 2015 and 2016. The Internet of Things (IoT) also entered the scene as a new channel to watch. This channel accounted for about 30% of all journey interactions on the Kitewheel platform. Finally, our old favorite channel, email (which is still not dead, as we said in last year’s report) still proves the #1 channel for customer communication in journeys. Personalized and trigger-based emails jumped ahead of web and social, growing over 12x in 2016.

While these channels point to the increasing effectiveness of customer journey marketing techniques, conversely, social media is in decline. We’ll explore this new trend first before digging deeper into the newer channels of the IoT and AdTech.

The Social Media Nosedive

When customer journeys were in their early days, a common channel for experimentation was social media with social listening journeys usually targeted at new customer acquisition. Yet, in 2016, social drastically decreased in volume, dropping 57% in volume YoY. MarketingLand explains a possible causes of this channel’s decline — Facebook’s organic reach is down 52% in 2016. It can also be difficult to prove business value with social media, as evidenced by a 2016 eMarketer poll in which 61% of 350 social marketers polled in North America reported that measuring ROI was their top challenge.

Marketers appear to be moving away from social listening and broad lead generation strategies and towards more easily attributable channels that can offer personalized direct responses, such as email. Campaign Monitor found that email marketing produced an average ROI of $44 for every $1 spent in 2016. Further, McKinsey proved that the average order value of an email is at least three times higher than social media. Marketers are choosing to invest in channels in the customer journey where the returns are clearest. This past year, social media certainly did not top the list.

New Channels See Massive Journey Volume

As evidenced with social media’s decline, marketers are becoming more discerning with their channel selection and investments. Our research showed newer channels, like Mobile, the IoT and AdTech, had large volumes for journey interactions in 2016.


Historically, mobile has been a channel where marketers struggle to produce optimal customer journeys. Consumers are left struggling to both search and to complete purchases easily on their devices — Forbes states that mobile is the place where many customer experiences collapse. This can prove catastrophic for a brand’s image — Google says that 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing. Worse still, 40% will head to a competitor’s site instead.

According to, marketers must better understand how to design more useful, mobile-centered touchpoints in the customer journey. In 2016, our research shows that they stepped up to this challenge. Mobile app interactions on our Hub are up by 425% this year. This channel now makes up 7% of the channel mix. To continue this momentum with this emerging channel in the coming year, MarTech Advisor suggests that marketers continue to invest in new mobile technologies to support and develop their mobile customer journey, including Machine Learning, Mobile Payments and Artificial Intelligence.

Internet of Things

The IoT, a new channel for 2016, encompasses a vast network of connected physical objects. This channel shows high potential right out of the gate. Forrester predicts that there will be up to 30 billion connected devices by 2020. According to Forbes, the IoT’s real power is how marketers use data to transform the customer journey and engage customers 24/7. Most marketers are fascinated by the scale of interactions possible with the IoT and the potential for new customer insight.

Measured for the first time in this report, this channel arrived with a bang. The IoT made up almost 30% of overall customer journey transaction volume. Despite early investments, this channel is still plagued by uncertainty. Frost & Sullivan found that 85% of companies have come across the IoT, but only one in five have a clear understanding of the concept. Marketers will continue to understand and harness this power as this channel develops further. The IoT is certainly the customer journey channel to watch next year.


channelsThe final newer player rapidly gaining a place in the customer journey is AdTech. AdTech refers to the delivery of digital ads, messages and offers. This content is distributed in a targeted, data-driven way, synchronized to other channel marketing.  This is not simply counting display ads. MarTech Advisor writes that the modern marketer must optimize these solutions by integrating data-driven advertising insights into the customer journey alongside their traditional MarTech tools.  

Our research shows that marketers again rose to the challenge. Between 2015 and 2016, AdTech interactions rose more than 14x. Companies like Ford are connecting their online ads with offline channels to drive customer interest and ongoing loyalty. This explains the 300% increase in the in-store interaction channel we see across our clients last year. 

As a whole, marketers in all industries are taking full advantage of both new and traditional channels to deliver targeted customer engagement. This has truly reshaped the customer journey landscape.