The new customer decision journey. If marketing has one goal, it’s to reach consumers at the moments that most influence their decisions. That’s why consumer electronics companies make sure not only that customers see their televisions in stores but also that those televisions display vivid high-definition pictures.
Marketing has always sought those moments, or touch points, when consumers are open to influence. For years, touch points have been understood through the metaphor of a “funnel”—consumers start with a number of potential brands in mind (the wide end of the funnel), marketing is then directed at them as they methodically reduce that number and move through the funnel, and at the end they emerge with the one brand they chose to purchase.
But today a more sophisticated approach is required to help marketers navigate this environment, which is less linear and more complicated than the funnel suggests. This approach is called the consumer decision journey.
How consumers make decisions
Every day, people form impressions of brands from touch points such as advertisements, news reports, conversations with family and friends, and product experiences. Unless consumers are actively shopping, much of that exposure appears wasted. But what happens when something triggers the impulse to buy? Those accumulated impressions then become crucial because they shape the initial-consideration set: the small number of brands consumers regard at the outset as potential purchasing options.
The decision-making process is now a circular journey with four phases: initial consideration; active evaluation, or the process of researching potential purchases; closure, when consumers buy brands; and postpurchase, when consumers experience them.
Imagine that a consumer has decided to buy a car. As with most kinds of products, the consumer will immediately be able to name an initial-consideration set of brands to purchase. In our qualitative research, consumers told us that the fragmenting of media and the proliferation of products have actually made them reduce the number of brands they consider at the outset.
Faced with a plethora of choices and communications, consumers tend to fall back on the limited set of brands that have made it through the wilderness of messages. Brand awareness matters: brands in the initial-consideration set can be up to three times more likely to be purchased eventually than brands that aren’t in it.
The number of brands added for consideration in different stages differs by industry:
In today’s decision journey, consumer-driven marketing is increasingly important as customers seize control of the process and actively “pull” information helpful to them. Research found that two-thirds of the touch points during the active-evaluation phase involve consumer-driven marketing activities, such as Internet reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family, as well as in-store interactions and recollections of past experiences.
A third of the touch points involve company-driven marketing. Traditional marketing remains important, but the change in the way consumers make decisions means that marketers must move aggressively beyond purely push-style communication and learn to influence consumer-driven touch points, such as word-of-mouth and Internet information sites.
Prioritize objectives and spending
In the skin care industry, for example, we found that some brands are much stronger in the initial-consideration phase than in active evaluation or closure. For them, our research suggests a need to shift focus from overall brand positioning—already powerful enough to ensure that they get considered—to efforts that make consumers act or to investments in packaging and in-store activities targeted at the moment of purchase.
In skin care, again, some brands that are fairly unlikely to be in a consumer’s initial-consideration set nonetheless win at the point of purchase with attractive packages and on-shelf messaging. Such elements have now become essential selling tools because consumers of these products are still in play when they enter a store.
Invest in consumer-driven marketing
Finally, content-management systems and online targeting engines let marketers create hundreds of variations on an advertisement, taking into account the context where it appears, the past behavior of viewers, and a real-time inventory of what an organisation needs to promote.
For instance, many airlines manage and relentlessly optimize thousands of combinations of offers, prices, creative content, and formats to ensure that potential travelers see the most relevant opportunities. Digital marketing has long promised this kind of targeting. Now we finally have the tools to make it more accurate and to manage it cost effectively.