Marketing Strategies for the Contemporary Purchase Process
May 30, 2012
Remember the traditional sales funnel diagram from Marketing 101 class? A lifetime of brand messages that prepare the consumer for the moment they might intersect with a want or need. Systematically they narrow brands as they weigh options, make a decision, and buy a product.
Understanding the stages of the old purchase process allowed for careful planning of marketing strategies and tactics. All marketing intentions focused on keeping your brand in the decision funnel until the purchase. It was a perfect strategy to reach an audience whose sphere of influence extended only to their local bakery or co-op coffee pot.
Enter social media, and what once was a very straightforward purchasing funnel with well-defined marketing tactics has now become a series of intersecting behavioral patterns that resemble the flux marketing is in right now. As one-way marketing messages are replaced by two-way conversations, consumers feel empowered to reach decisions outside of brand messaging. This consumer control revolves around information and communication, meaning that a consumer may never visit your brand’s website, choosing instead to turn to third-party verification of information.
As marketers, our challenge is to find the right marketing strategy to reach rural lifestylers in this new era.
Let’s take a look at how this process has changed. How do rural lifestylers make purchase decisions today? Often the purchase process includes powerful new influencers. These influencers can be divided into two groups.
Macro Influencers: These influential people either have a close relationship with the buyer, or they are regarded as an expert in their field.
Micro Influencers: These people are often strangers, but their opinion en masse can exert powerful influences over brands.
The traditional sales funnel fails to capture the effect of these influencers and all the touch points that enter the decision making process. Instead of a funnel, what exists now is a collapsed set of behaviors that carries a preconceived awareness of brands through an overlapping consideration and evaluation process to a purchase decision. How is that different from the traditional sales funnel?
Enter social media and the power of opinion.
Let’s explore each of these phases and the role of influencers.
Pre-ID is a period of time before identifying a need or want. A lifetime of experiences and exposure to marketing messages gives a base from which to work. Most consumers give little consideration to their intersections with brands during the time leading up to the moment that they realize a need or want, but there is a definite marketing mix to reach consumers during the Pre-ID phase. From our earlier studies we have identified that a marketing mix that covers traditional and non-traditional mediums is effective in improving awareness among rural lifestylers.
Even at this nebulous phase in the purchase process we see a pattern of influence developing. The experiences of these influencers shape opinion over time. Once ID occurs, those influencers will be tapped to help provide focus to any number of brands during later purchase phases.
A strong, consistent marketing mix during the Pre-ID stage will move the brand to a top-of-mind position once a need or want is identified. At this stage, the role of influencers is likely based on personal experience.
ID isn’t as much a phase as a moment when an occurrence triggers a want or need. Pre-ID awareness may have sparked a desire or circumstances may have helped identify a need. Because of the variety of ID triggers, the purchase process can vary wildly, but what is constant between the two is the shift from passive to active in interest and information consumption.
Needs may crop up and be fulfilled quickly. A consistent baseline of marketing ensures some level of awareness will put a brand into play during the upcoming Consideration Phase.
Wants fall into two categories, both of which are affected by price and governed by emotion:
The goal is for a brand to make the cut of products that move from passive brand awareness to active consideration.
Once ID occurs, the Consideration Phase replaces the state of Pre-ID, which is the activity of gathering together all possible options. Past experiences are brought into focus and augmented with new possibilities.
Once a need or want is identified, brand awareness becomes a conscious and often methodical activity and certain brands bubble up. Brands present during this time can be three times more likely to be purchased eventually than brands that aren’t.
The research aspect of this phase cannot be underestimated. Before we can move to the Evaluation Phase, we must gather all candidates–a very active behavior. Search plays into this perfectly, bringing up not only product results, but product reviews, too. Even at this early phase, Micro Influencers have an impact on the purchase process.
If the purchase is large or brands are unfamiliar, the process may rely even more on the persuasion of others. As our consumer moves through Consideration, our marketing requires a shift to accommodate this new mindset. During this gathering phase, people turn to others with whom they have varying degrees of trust.
Customers are more likely to seize control of the process and actively pull information helpful to them. Consumer-driven marketing activities such as Internet reviews, word-of-mouth, in-store interactions and recollections of past experiences make up two-thirds of the touch-points during the Consideration phase.
Consideration and Evaluation phases were once distinct, but today the information and activities that surround them often happen simultaneously. Even though information can be accessed very quickly online, the sheer number of options available often can make these phases quite prolonged.
Online influencers are so profound in this phase that the brand universe can be broadened very quickly. Before a commitment is made, rural lifestylers consult Macro and Micro Influencers to confirm or derail their purchase decision – often making this phase a lengthy one.
By the end of this phase, a brand has been determined and the experience of purchase arrives with the distinct responsibility of beginning a relationship that should lead to advocacy.
Point of purchase decision activity is changing. No longer limited to in-store signage or shelf-talkers, it can mean an online experience, too. Many rural lifestylers hold off their final purchase decisions until they are in the store or on an e-commerce site. Up to 40 percent change their minds because of something they see, learn, or do at this point.1
Apps like RL Classic or Fooducate provide instant access to information like price comparisons, product reviews, product substitution, corporate practices and political actions about that brand’s parent company. Even at a bricks-and-mortar point of sale, influencers can hold sway over the final decision.
Expectations are even greater for an online shopping experience–as are the opportunities for marketers. Integrating social media into the site provides a level of transparency that builds trust. Open reviews of products can drive not only sales, but also better search engine placement as social media carries search clout.
Offering suggested or complementary products, especially in conjunction with free shipping, will round out the user’s experience and prevent dumped carts. Logical and secure user interface design drives sales and provides a positive experience that takes your brand one step closer to that all important product review.
This phase has not always been considered part of the marketing department’s responsibility. Considered a passive phase until recently, quality carried the day, and if it didn’t the support department did. Today, influencers play an active role that emanates from this phase and provides marketers yet another opportunity.
The Experience phase becomes a trial period determining consumer’s loyalty to brands and the likelihood of referrals, reviews and ultimately purchasing the product again. There are critical times during this phase for building a relationship through post-purchase follow-up. This is the opportunity to turn a customer into an influencer by capitalizing on the fact that they will often talk about their purchase in social networks, post reviews online and turn to reviews when troubleshooting.
This new sales process demands information that is outside of the control of marketing. To be influential during this phase, brands must develop long-term relationships with customers and engage advocates that are already online.
After a purchase these consumers may remain aggressively engaged, publicly promoting or assailing the products they have bought, collaborating in the brands’ development, and challenging and shaping their meaning.2
If you are unclear about marketing’s role during this phase, think about the camaraderie of the Harley Davidson post-purchase experience. It births influencers on a daily basis. There are over 1,400 official H.O.G. chapters around the world, providing organization and experiential marketing to millions of influencers. Harley-Davidson understood early on that a community would evolve around their brand. They invested in a platform that allowed them to be part of that conversation. They have 3.6 million likes on Facebook. Enough said.
Remember how tough it was to assign a dollar figure to the lifetime value of a customer? Well that just got a little bit harder. Today we must also assign a value to the customer turned advocate for your brand.
Cultivating brand advocates is a critical marketing activity with big rewards. Another phase of the purchase process has evolved from passive to active as your customers play a role in talking about your product. Do not miss the opportunity to intercept post-purchase behavior and encourage online sharing to reinforce and enhance relationships. Mine customer data to deliver more personalized messaging during this phase.
Continue the relationship with follow-up email surveys about their buying experience, product experience and provide them prompts with easy tools to refer a friend. Provide them with exclusive information about their interests as it ties into your brand.
Online initiatives such as contests, posting photos, videos and stories and special event invitations can build a community of shared experiences that surround your brand. Make Share+ accessible too for easy dissemination of feedback to many social and industry communities that are outside of your brand’s website.
Even old-school tactics like loyalty and retention programs will build advocacy if all of the brand touch points are consistent.
Opportunities exist even in negative reviews. If your Brand Reputation Management team is monitoring properly, a negative experience can come to light quickly. Your first reaction may be that this was exactly why you didn’t want to participate in social media in the first place, but that’s shortsighted. A negative review gives you the perfect opportunity for a customer service win. Often those who are vocal online in a negative way can become an equally vocal champion for your brand if you can solve their issues. The trick is to engage early and honestly to solve a problem.
As the purchase process continues to evolve, it behooves rural lifestyle marketers to pay attention to trends in the broader consumer marketplace. Those trends quickly become table stakes in marketing to this important audience. Brands that miss the opportunity to monitor and engage during the purchase cycle are less relevant in the digital world.
1 Court, David, Dave Elzinga, Susan Mulder, and Ole Jorgen Vetvik. “The Consumer Decision Journey.” McKinsey Quarterly. Marketing and Sales Practices (June 2009).
2 Edelman, David. “Branding in the Digital Age. You’re Spending Your Money in All the Wrong Places.” Harvard Business Review, December 2010: 62-69.