It is no secret that with the coming of the digital age, one of the things that has changed drastically is marketing strategy. More and more consumers are now moving out of the purchasing funnel. Essentially, this means that the internet is changing the way consumers understand and research products to buy. Any marketing strategy would first look for a touch point or a specific moment in which a consumer can be influenced before a buying decision is made. For years, these touch points have been understood through the funnel analogy.
The marketing strategy that is called the ‘funnel analogy’ works like this. It is understood that a consumer begins with a few potential businesses or brands in mind (this is the wide end of the funnel). Strategies are then manoeuvred to reduce the number of brands in a consumer’s mind; and to move them through the funnel. At the end of this metaphorical funnel, the customer emerges with one single brand that they finally decide to purchase.
But in the present scenario, as more and more consumers migrate from the physical to the virtual marketplace, the funnel analogy fails to find the critical touch points and also fails to find those key buying factors that are so essential to the growth of any business. This is because there are a very large number of product choices and digital channels; and the consumer is now very well-informed. This proves an insurmountable challenge for traditional marketing strategies and approaches. The demands of the new age consumer require a unique and sophisticated marketing strategy to help navigate this virtual internet space. The internet is far less linear and far more complicated than traditional marketing strategy such as the funnel analogy can handle. This new marketing strategy is what we call the ‘Consumer Decision Journey’.
The Consumer Decision Journey approach to marketing is easily applicable to every business and brand; every geographical market that has access to various media channels and the internet; and to all kinds of competition, especially in urban markets.
The funnel analogy suggests that a consumer narrows down her initial consideration systematically by comparing options, make decisions and then buying products. The post sale phase determines the consumer’s loyalty to the brand and her preference to buy the product again. Marketing strategists are ‘pushed’ to market their products, businesses, and brands at each stage of the funnel analogy to influence consumer behaviour.
However, it has been found by qualitative and quantitative research that the consumer decision journey is much more circular in nature. The phases and touch points have been identified as:
a) Initial Consideration, when the consumer decides to buy a product
b) Active Evaluation or the process where the consumer actively searches for products
c) Closure, when a customer finally decides upon and purchases a brand; and
d) Post Sale, the phase of experiencing the product after purchase
Today, consumers have enormous options at their fingertips, both online and offline, to research and purchase products and services. In such a competitive scenario, digital channels no longer represent a cheaper way to interact with customers; but in fact are critical for stimulating sales and market share. How a company or business engages consumers through digital channels and creates marketing touch points matters profoundly, not just because of the opportunity to see immediate conversions; but also because two-thirds of the decision those consumers make is informed by the quality of their experience during this decision journey.
Marketing strategists are still looking for that perfect cross-channel experience for their consumers. An experience that will take advantage of digitization; and provide consumers with targeted, just-in-time products or services information in an effective and seamless way. The new ‘touch points’ are certainly very different from the old ones, both in number and in nature. That is what marketing strategists need to figure out: the perfect timing to touch the user’s mind to inspire and influence.
This marketing strategy is not just about collecting consumer data. It is very easy to grab a consumer’s digital user data, browsing behaviour, and history; and it is something that a brand in competition with your business can often easily re-target. They could even offer them better deals and divert traffic. But while it is easy to grab the attention of the consumer, the challenge lies in being able to hold the consumer’s attention consistently. To win favour and brand loyalty from this perpetually connected and highly empowered consumer, a marketing strategist needs to have her ear to the ground, and stay constantly and consistently engaged by listening to the consumer when no one else can or does.