The explosion of digital technologies over the past decade has created “empowered” consumers so expert in their use of tools and information that they can call the shots, hunting down what they want when they want it and getting it delivered to their doorsteps at a rock-bottom price. In response, retailers and service providers have scrambled to develop big data and analytics capabilities in order to understand their customers and wrest back control. For much of this time, companies have been reacting to customers, trying to anticipate their next moves and position themselves in shoppers’ paths as they navigate the decision journey from consideration to purchase.

Now, leveraging emerging technologies, processes, and organizational structures, companies are restoring the balance of power and creating new value for brands and buyers alike. Central to this shift is a fresh way of thinking: Rather than merely reacting to the journeys that consumers themselves devise, companies are shaping their paths, leading rather than following. Marketers are increasingly managing journeys as they would any product. Journeys are thus becoming central to the customer’s experience of a brand—and as important as the products themselves in providing competitive advantage.

Consider how one company, Oakland-based Sungevity, competes on its ability to shape the journey. At first glance, Sungevity looks like a typical residential solar panel provider. But closer inspection reveals that the company’s business is to manage the end-to-end process of sales and custom installation, coordinating the work of an ecosystem of companies that supply, finance, install, and service the panels. Sungevity’s “product” is a seamless, personalized digital customer journey, based on innovative management of data about the solar potential of each home or business. Sungevity makes the journey so compelling that once customers encounter it, many never even consider competitors.

One of us experienced the Sungevity journey firsthand. The process began when he received a mailing with the message “Open this to find out how much the Edelman family can save on energy costs with solar panels.” The letter within contained a unique URL that led to a Google Earth image of David’s house with solar panels superimposed on the roof. The next click led to a page with custom calculations of energy savings, developed from Sungevity’s estimates of the family’s energy use, the roof angle, the presence of nearby trees, and the energy-generation potential of the 23 panels the company expected the roof to hold. Read the entire story here