The Consumer Decision Journey

A Complex Game of ‘Timing’ and ‘Continuity’ 

Tarun Mitra
Dec 18, 2013 · 6 min read

Ever wondered why melodramatic television shows are called “soap operas”? The etymology of the term is quite interesting. When the first airing began, these shows were primarily sponsored by soap and detergent manufacturing companies like P&G, whose target market was women who purchased these products and were often engaged in household activities at the time of viewing.

That’s the most fundamental goal of marketing; to reach consumers at those crucial moments when their decisions are most likely to be influenced. We see this phenomenon everywhere these days. Whether it’s the high definition videos playing on television sets in electronics stores or the targeted product recommendations to consumers logged in on online shopping websites like Amazon, eBay and even the Google Play Store. These crucial moments are called ‘touch points’, when consumers readily engage with the brand and are open to influence.

A Paradigm Shift: Purchase Funnel to Consumer Decision Journey

Traditionally marketing and sales professional identified opportunities based on the ‘funnel model’. In this conventional model, consumers started the purchase process with the awareness of a few potential brands and then methodically ‘short-list’ the brands under consideration through various criteria of selection until they finally settle on one brand (or product).

The new process of consumer decision making is much more complex than a linear funnel, with multiple inlets of information pouring into one. Moreover, the consumer also has multiple outlets to interact with the brand and give their views, opinions and feedback. This change in the marketing model has been brought out of necessity, as the traditional model fails to encompass all the touch points of modern era and key decision factors that have materialised as a result of the boom in product choices as well as communication channels. This change has been further catalysed by perpetual connectivity of the consumer.

Is it possible to take all of these factors into consideration through a successive linear funnel of events? Absolutely not!

The Consumer Decision Journey is applicable to every brand and every geographical market, which has access to the various media channels, internet and competition, especially in the urban markets of emerging economies like India and China. For instance, watch this small bite from Clayton Christopher Founder of Sweet Leaf Tea, Co-Founder/Partner for Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka & Co-Founder of Rhythm Superfoods.

Everyday ‘touch-points’ like communication with retailers, sales-personnel, advertisements, news reports, conversations with family and friends, and product experiences form product impressions on the minds of consumers. All these impressions need not be created only when the consumer is actively shopping. The stimulus to purchase can happen at any given point and it is not only works to a brand’s advantage but is actually paramount for its survival in today’s world that a consumer has had a positive impression of the brand even before he has thought about buying the product. The accumulation of impressions over a period of time become crucial to find the brand a place in the consumer’s consideration set when something triggers the impulse to buy.

The four primary phases represent potential opportunities where marketers can win or lose: initial consideration; active evaluation, or the process of researching potential purchases; closure, when consumers buy brands; and post purchase, when consumers experience them. Listen to this enlightening narrative by David Core, a Director at Mekinsey with over 25 years of experience in marketing.

The consumer decision journey doesn’t end with purchase either. The post-sale phase becomes a trial period for the brand to determine the consumer loyalty and the potential consumers who are likely to buy their products again.

Instead of marketers trying to push their product communication towards the consumer at each stage of the traditional funnel, the decision making journey has a more circular approach.

Consumers in the Digital Age

The internet has rewritten the laws on interaction between consumers and brands. The basics of marketing economics themselves have been rendered obsolete, making the traditional marketing models unsustainable. A simple example is that of a man buying a car. He’ll first make a list of the models/manufacturers which he finds to his liking and within his price range. He’ll then probably visit dealers, ask for reviews from friends, compare the features and make up his mind about which one to buy. In such a scenario, the buyer’s relationship with the dealer as well as the manufacturer was very short lived.

However, this scene has now changed and the customer has taken control of his purchasing decisions by exploiting competition and the wide variety of choices available to him. A buyer can connect with a plethora of brands with the tens of media channels now at his disposal. The channels are often owned by a third party, which only provides a platform for communication without any bias toward the brand or the consumer.

The channels are not under the control of the brands and many of them provide two way communications as opposed to the conventional one way brand communication. As a result, a consumer can remain aggressively engaged even before deciding that he wants to purchase something and even after the purchase transaction has already taken place. These modern day consumers are in a position to publicly promote or hurt a brand’s image, thereby collaborating in the product development in a very real way.

Thus, to be successful in such a dynamic and volatile business biosphere, marketers need to shift focus from one-way communication strategies to a more “True Value Exchange”. They have to interact with the consumers and give them something more than just witty tag-lines, slogans and jingles. They have to give them an “Experience” that transcends the importance of the product itself.

The new ‘touch points’ are different from the old ones, both in number and in nature. That is what marketers need to figure out; the perfect timing to touch the user’s mind at those points to inspire and influance.

It doesn’t matter if a consumer is visiting your website or social media channel. Once the smart bots of advertising giants like Google and Facebook pick up the scent of a user’s data trail, the browsing behaviour and history is available for all to exploit. A competitor to your brand can use this knowledge to retarget those consumers, offer them a better deal and divert the traffic from you to them. In simple words, it’s easy to grab attention, what brands now need to work on is to hold that attention consistently. This will require a change in strategy, skill, mind-set that will need to go as high up as the organizational integration.

Don Tapscott, CEO of the Tapscott Group, summaries the digital consumer and rise of a new paradigm for marketing. He speaks about a new generation of digital consumers, who work, play and collaborate in a totally new way. The traditional 4 P’s of Marketing (Product, Place, Price and Promotion) are replaced by a new paradigm for marketing fuelled by customers being armed with information like never before and actually being inside the companies’ business networks.

To win this perpetually connected and empowered consumer marketers needs to stay engaged by listening what no one else can. Join every converstaion about the brand and the category. And keeping the consumer inspired in every phase of their journey. What is your CDJ fraimwork for 2014?

Tarun Mitra

Written by

Passionate about transforming brands digitally @Rickshaw, interested in Strategy, Marketing, EdTech, Fashion, Beer Founder @practicenex @LurnQ, Ex-VP @aptech

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