In the 1950’s, on the children’s live-action adventure Captain Midnight, the Secret Squadron was chartered to combat evil. Squadron members used special decoder rings to decipher messages that no one else could understand. The secret decoding power provided a competitive advantage that allowed the Secret Squadron to triumph over their opponents.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could slip on a special marketing decoder ring to decipher your prospects? Imagine the advantage of knowing the secret communication channel, time and message to most efficiently and effectively win the sale. Marketing stories would be written and songs sung as victory over your inefficient competition would be certain. The challenge is that consumer’s aren’t predictable, linear, rational or sequential beings. In other words, good luck decoding your shopper. That doesn’t suggest you shouldn’t pay attention to the consumer buying process though. Because when you do crack the code by engaging your customers through the right channel, at the right time, with relevant and timely information, you build consumer trust and improve the buying experience.
Alignment with the Consumer Buying Process
The customer experience is influenced by all touch points people encounter from moments before they are aware of a need until they have fulfilled that need. Marketer’s can both enhance the customer experience and strengthen their sales funnel if they carefully plan marketing activities that align with the consumer buying process. A marketing strategy that is aligned with the buying process and integrated across all the communication channels will create a competitive advantage. Most marketers are familiar with the four key stages of the consumer buying process. Within each stage marketers have the opportunity to improve the customer experience and influence the final purchase decision:
1. Awareness: This is the start of the consumer buying process that also includes the time frame before the actual “need or want” for a product or service is recognized. Often the objective of the Awareness stage is to build general and favorable awareness of a company, product or service in the marketplace.
2. Information Search: Consumers often conduct some form of information search to help them through their purchase decision. Sources of information could be family, friends and neighbors who already have the product. Alternatively they may search the internet (Google, Internet Yellow Pages, Social Media platforms, company web sites, etc), read print publications (specialist magazines, Yellow Pages, etc) or talk to sales people directly.
3. Evaluation: Consumers allocate attribute factors to products and services, almost like a point scoring system which they work out in their mind over which brand to purchase. This means that consumers form individual opinions on what features, functions, locations, and pricing will provide the most value. They also attach different degrees of importance to the information source. In recent years consumers have lost trust in brands and tuned out their mass advertising messages. This has created a surge in word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) as consumers have turned to each other through rating and ranking sites, blogs and other social media platforms.
4. Purchase and After-Sale Service: Through the evaluation process discussed above consumers will reach their final purchase decision and they reach the final process of going through the purchase action e.g. the process of going to the shop to buy the product or engage the service. Purchase of the product can either be through the store, the web, or over the phone. Post purchase behavior and research shows that after-sale engagement is critical. Manufacturers of products and service providers clearly want recent consumers to feel proud of their purchase; it is therefore just as important for organizations to advertise for the sake of their recent purchaser so consumers feel comfortable that they own a product from a strong and reputable company. And that the customer experience was delivered as promised.
Decoding the Future … Search – Social – Mobile
As consumers attitudes and expectations change towards the companies they do business with, linkage between the customer experience and the consumer buying process becomes more crucial. As a result, the allocation of media budgets from offline media to online media will accelerate. Advertisers will continue to fine-tune innovative ways to engage consumers with greater efficiency bringing tighter integration between search marketing, social media and mobile marketing. Why search, social and mobile? First, search marketing is efficient, measurable, and it captures a consumers’ expression of intent. In a like manner, social media is an open canvas of consumer expression in platforms where consumers are spending a great deal of time. Finally, on-the-go consumers increasingly rely on their mobile devices for both local search and access to social networking sites. Think of the integration of search, social and mobile as a primary combination key to your new marketing decoder ring.