In the first article of this four-part series, I outlined the evolution of the purchase path from a linear “company-led” funnel journey to a “consumer-led” nonlinear journey. It comes as little surprise that this new path has brands scrambling. Some are shouting at the top of their lungs, others are caught in a state of “analysis paralysis,” and the worst offenders are doing absolutely nothing–yet wondering why their bottom lines are dwindling.
Take a deep breath. The first and most important step in tackling the modern purchasing ecosystem is understanding your target audience and putting them at the center of the purchase journey. To do this requires a much greater understanding that goes well beyond simple demographics and psychographics. Marketers need to understand how consumers use media and information at every step of the purchase journey–something I’ve coined “purchase-graphics.”
Purchase-graphics requires painstaking data analysis and testing, applied to a deep understanding of the key audience, to create a communication grid that is constantly evolving and centered on the consumer’s purchase journey.
The customer-centric purchase path focuses on attitudes, messaging, triggers, and media types that might be used to influence and inform at every step of the journey. From awareness to loyalty, every stage must be carefully monitored, tested, and mapped across the entire media and sales channel mix.
Let’s start with awareness. This used to be really easy to do–just find a medium or two that the target audience pays attention to, flood it with your unique message, and measure aided and unaided awareness. Then move on. But today’s rich choices of entertainment and media have resulted in significant fragmentation that requires a more complicated and, in some cases, more expensive budget. TV is no longer TV: It is video that requires a media buy for broadcast, CATV, original internet (Netflix, Amazon), and YouTube sponsorship.
If you think awareness is a bear, then you might want to stop reading now. The next step, consideration, which was elusive even before the purchase path became so complicated, has become a modern-day mystery.
But, wait, you’re thinking, we have Google, and we all know that when someone is in the consideration mind-set, he is going to type it into the magic box!
Well, that may be true in some instances. However, consumers who are in the consideration mind-set use Google in a multitude of ways:
- An initial search for the universe of solutions to become more informed and educated.
- Verification of information or recommendations they are getting from another source.
- To look for information based on advertising they may have seen several times in many types of media.
- To search for a very specific product or service because they are ready to purchase and are looking for price and availability.
Recognizing you don’t know which state of mind Google visitors are in when they come to your site, do you just treat them all the same? Successful brands don’t.
Deciphering consumers’ mind-sets can be difficult, but it’s not impossible–especially if you use tools such as site retargeting, whereby the visitor is tagged when he comes to your site the first time and can be identified anonymously thereafter. An understanding of the search terms they are using–for example, a product number versus a product category–also helps.
But even conquering all of Google’s hurdles isn’t enough if you are going to be a master of the consideration mind-set in the modern purchase path ecosystem. Becoming a part of the conversation and getting brand advocates actively talking about your products is just as important. Of course, the reach and scale that one individual can have is now a very important factor given that most consumers trust friends and absolute stranger recommendations over brands. Yet while most brands know this, many are still shouting their names at the top of their lungs or posting meaningless messages, only to be seen or heard by their employees and competitors.
Smart brands are engaging directly: joining conversations, adding value, and demonstrating a willingness to address consumers both subtly and transparently. They’re engaging in real-time social monitoring, for example, to quickly detect favorable and unfavorable brand reviews, feedback or general discussion.
Social media is not the only way to monitor, test, and learn about target consumers throughout the purchase path journey. A very small percentage of marketers are truly leveraging the volumes of data they collect from sources as varied as online advertising, website interactions, mobile applications, credit card transactions, call centers, sales reports, retailer register reports, and many more. They are making sense of this data and, more importantly, using it to create business advantages.
Indeed, becoming a modern purchase-path guru requires marketers to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty with data analysis. That is the only way they can truly understand which messages are resonating with target audiences and when during the journey; how the sequence and timing of messaging can affect the consumer’s journey; and how all of this can lead to more efficient and effective media buying, website content creation, application development, direct and indirect sales channel optimization, and the creation of customer advocates (thinking beyond brand loyalty).
To do this marketers must build “customer command centers.” These centers are not a single off-the-shelf software package or one department. Rather, they are a complex configuration of personnel, data warehouses, marketing platforms, and real-time engagement systems designed not just to prove something that may have already happened, but to predict new profitable interactions and create opportunities with other targets that might have similar behaviors and traits.
In the third part of this series, I’ll offer tips on how to plan and create a highly personalized customer journey that can help brands successfully communicate to this empowered, always-connected consumer.