Like everything else in life, consumer journeys too have become haphazard, constantly evolving and highly unpredictable. The proliferation of new brands, the explosion of media channels and an increasingly well informed, discerning consumer has resulted in a continuous switching of brands at every stage of the buying cycle.
Brands today need to adopt a doggedly approach with respect to their brand communication, to ensure they remain relevant and emerge winners through this decision cycle.
Understanding the new consumer decision journey
McKinsey’s ‘consumer decision journey’ model proposes the following circular approach to the buying decision:
Unlike the earlier linear model where consumers started with a certain number of brands in their awareness set and systematically reduced the number of brands as they moved through the different stages of familiarity, consideration, purchase and loyalty, the McKinsey model propagates the initial consideration set is continuously evolving with new brands being added and deleted at the different stages of evaluation, purchase and post purchase. Another important distinction brought out in the model is the importance of the post purchase phase in influencing loyalty.
In a recent Nielsen report on the car buying decision journey, some startling facts support this model.
- 48 per cent of consumers say they search for information online before visiting or consulting any offline medium
- 87 per cent of the consumers reconsider one purchase decision factor (brand, model, fuel type, budget, colour etc.) at the time they buy
- Sales staff at showrooms can heavily influence (73 per cent) last minute changes in decisions and guide car buyers’ choices
The ‘research phase’ in the consumer decision journey
As long as consumers were following the traditional linear approach to the buying decision, brand communication was more focussed on the early stages of the buying decision, namely building awareness and entering the consideration set. It was fairly safe to assume once you’ve entered the consumer consideration set, the right combination of product features, pricing and distribution with strong sales incentives would ensure the sale.
Not so any longer. The new element in the equation is ‘the consumer research phase’, leading to many a slip between awareness and purchase. During this phase other than the obvious references to family and friends, consumers spend significant time online evaluating different brands by visiting brand websites, third party comparison sites, ecommerce portals, social media channels & consumer reviews. At the end of this phase, consumers have deleted brands in their initial consideration and added new brands. The final decision is impacted either by the sales team at the point of purchase or messaging at the moment of purchase in case of ecommerce purchases.
Some brands have got this right and follow up their brand awareness campaigns with aggressive follow-through content to ensure an actual sales impact. We looked at two brands that have run aggressive advertising campaigns in 2015 – Samsung and Apple and examine their follow – through content marketing programs.
We found that Samsung’s follow-through content strategy is far more robust both in terms of presence on multiple engagement channels such as Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, blogs etc. As also, in terms of its messaging which is well designed to address popular points of consumer comparison between the iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6 including a parody on the long lines of consumers waiting for the new iPhone!. While Apple continues to be a cult brand with a loyal fan following, it remains to be seen if its lack of presence on various consumer engagement channels will put it on the back foot in times to come.
While this ‘research phase’ is extremely important for B2B brands as well as for B2C brands in categories like automobiles, travel, healthcare and education, recent studies indicate it is an increasingly important phase in beauty and wellness, baby care, laptop & mobile devices, dining and entertainment.
Content marketing can reduce many a slip between awareness & purchase
An effective content strategy that maps consumers in the different stages of the customer journey, to provide the right information, at the right time, is one way of ensuring brand awareness campaigns result in high brand sales. While there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach keeping the following broad based themes in mind could help brands get the most sales from their spends.
In the early stages of the campaign, with reach and impact being the primary objectives, brands could develop more consumer-centric content, based on an understanding of the target consumers attitudes & interests.
In a recent project for a baby care brand, we found seven out of 10 expecting and new mothers mentioned babycenter.com, as their go-to site for help, advice and reviews. A fact kept well hidden, is that baby center is sponsored by Johnson & Johnson. With 30 million expecting and young mothers visiting the site every month, the company has built a great content property that keeps its target audience constantly aware and engaged.
|Objectives||Awareness, initial consideration, credibility||Active evaluation, Purchase, loyalty & advocacy|
|Messaging||Consumer led (Consumer segment interests, attitudes, aspirations)||Brand Led (Benefits, features, usage, experience)|
In the later stages of ‘active evaluation’ and ‘moment of purchase’ an effective content strategy would be more brand or product-centric, bringing out comparative benefits in an engaging and effective manner.
In a recent project for an IT Infra brand, we developed an industry neutral newsletter focussing on trends, news and happenings, supported by a series of thought leadership content to drive awareness and build the brand’s reputation. The follow-through content strategy included electronic mailers, blogs, case studies, white papers, webinars and web marketing to influence brand choice. The result was a 10 times growth in sales leads compared to their previous product led web and direct marketing campaigns.
Finally, we all know the cost of acquiring new consumers is 5-10 times the cost of retaining existing consumers. While the tried and tested models of customer loyalty programs times price incentives for repeat purchase continue to work for most brands, a good content marketing program could not only ensure retention, cross sell, up sell and advocacy but could do it more profitably.
The popularity of Amazon’s Prime Service offering free two-day delivery, video streaming and e-books, that has upwards of 20 million subscribers and is available at a charge of USD 99 per year. A study by Milward Brown Digital indicates Amazon’s conversion rate among prime members is 74 per cent, compared to the average conversion rate for the top 500 merchants in North America at 3.32 per cent. Even worse news for other online retailers, once a consumer becomes a prime member, she is a lot less likely to consider purchasing from any other e-retailer. Could this be a wake-up call for Indian e-tailers, as Amazon gains traction in the Indian market?
To summarise, as the consumer decision journey gets more iterative and circular, the role of the traditional advertising continues to remain important in building brand awareness and associations, while the role of content marketing continues to grow in all the stages of the new consumer journey from awareness to repeat purchase.