There is no such thing as an impulse buy. Every purchase is a decision journey, and customers interact with various brands every step of the way, from initial consideration to the moment of payment and beyond.
Marketers have long understood the concept of decision journeys, but the journey’s actual route has changed significantly in recent years. It’s less linear and more cyclical, and there are several new touch points—moments of contact between buyer and seller—that have usurped more traditional transactions. Many established brands now need to adjust their marketing strategies to take advantage of these touch points as different companies vie for their customers. The conversation isn’t one-sided anymore, either. Marketers can no longer push campaigns onto the public and hope the message sticks. Consumers now have the power to communicate with companies and with one another, independent of said companies. It’s important for those companies to respond and engage if they expect to both win new sales and turn them into loyal customers.
From Funnel to Circle
A funnel is how marketers would describe a typical decision journey of yore. It’s pretty basic: A customer starts with a number of companies, then narrows down the group as he or she researches, eventually deciding on one and making a purchase. There are well-defined touch points along this path in which marketers try and influence the consumer’s decision. Marketing efforts virtually stop after purchase, and efforts to maintain loyalty are limited. General brand awareness is key. Companies figure that if they can make it onto a customer’s initial list—those brands the customer first identifies as potential candidates—then they are shoe-ins for future decision journeys.
Circle Beats Funnel in Decision Journeys
The proliferation of media channels and the advent of the Internet have rendered the funnel model obsolete. Consumers can now access information in nearly endless ways, and not all of it comes from companies directly.
Say, for example, you’re looking to buy a car. You can name a number of car companies right off the bat: Ford, Chevy, Lincoln, etc. But, instead of that number being systematically reduced as you do your research, it will most likely expand. You might find a good review of a Hyundai sedan on an online car forum. Your friend might sing the praises of her new Mazda on Facebook. You might even remember that your brother bought a Honda a while back and loved it. You’re encountering so many new brands, via so many new touch points, that you may even forget about some of the brands you initially thought of.
A 2013 report from Forrester Research highlights some pretty convincing supporting evidence. Via CMSWire, the report found that:
- 94 percent of customers would buy a product after speaking with someone they know
- 79 percent’s brand discovery results were based on what they found through a search engine
- 70 percent said that the experience they had with a brand or product contributed to their decision to continue using it or not
- 64 percent said that this experience influenced their repurchasing decision
Those last two points also show how cyclical the decision journey has become. Experience clearly helps determine who becomes a repeat customer, as well as influence—albeit indirectly—who will buy the product for the first time. How many times have you read a vitriolic Yelp review or Twitter rant? How many times has that convinced you to steer clear of a certain company?
Get on the Right Path
All of this is bad news for companies who don’t understand the new lay of the land, and can lead to ineffective marketing campaigns and wasted resources. Many companies will need a top-to-bottom evaluation of their strategies to make sure decision journeys drive the marketing. Our whitepaper, “Decision Journeys (Udemy 102),” offers some in-depth insight, but here are some basics to start.
Know Your Audience
You absolutely need to know your customers to determine their decision journeys and figure out how and when to influence their buying habits. Forbes lists some steps to create a “holistic view of your customers”:
- Create a demographic overview of your core customer base. What does a typical customer look like for you in terms of gender, marital status, age, income, geographic location, employment, and similar points?
- Develop a more in-depth picture of their hobbies and habits.
- Focus in on buying behaviors.
Provide, Don’t Push
Consumers are going to do independent, thorough research; they aren’t going to be convinced to buy your product through campaigns that are all flash and no substance. Instead, offer them content they can actually use. Per Forbes, figure out what channels your customers are using the most—blogs, social media, TV, etc.—and develop content that’s tailored to those channels. Your content should match the tone and purpose of the content they normally consume. Is it entertainment-driven or purely informative? Is it serious, snarky, silly, or a mix of all three?