For every customer, there is a journey that leads a purchasing decision. A customer recognizes wants and needs, becomes aware of brands, seeks out recommendations, and compares features and so forth. You’ve seen this model before; if not, visualize a funnel with a sequence of stages that describe how a buyer advances through the process of evaluating competing offerings until a single surviving brand is rewarded by a satisfying purchase, “cha-ching.”
If you’re visualizing a way of looking at the buying process for the first time, the funnel is a good place to start. It provides a framework that helps link marketing strategies to customer objectives and helps advance the user from one stage to the next. If you’re syncing marketing objectives to customer experiences, you’re already avoiding the first obsolete convention, distributing dollars to different kinds of media.
Pushing potential customers into your marketing funnel doesn’t ensure that they will naturally fall all the way through and result in a sale. Highly valued customers need to be engaged with highly-relevant content and then nurtured with specific strategies at each stage of their journey, from awareness to consideration to the moment of a purchasing decision, and then ongoing loyalty and advocacy.
What to Mix with Your Media
In a 2012 advertising campaign, General Motors claimed the response from its Facebook advertising didn’t meet their expectations. As a result, they publicly withdrew their plans to further their advertising investment. There’s nothing unusual about a large corporation switching changing direction, but big spending doesn’t always lead to big results. Just ask GM. Ford, on the other hand, saw their competitor’s departure from Facebook as a big opportunity and they’ve got the customer engagement to prove it. Instead of treating social media as a straight-forward media buy, Ford saw opportunities to attract visitors by combining the ads with relevant content and unique storytelling.
GM might have been right. Their efforts weren’t working, but it might have had something to do with, not understanding the customer’s journey or the unique kind of interactions and experiences on Facebook. Not taking for granted the complexity or competitiveness of the automotive industry, there’s a lesson here for businesses of all sizes. If you know your buyer, and you can visualize their journey(s) as they interact with brands and other users via varied online channels, you can incorporate their own voice in your messaging with content that inspires advocacy and action. An integrated advertising approach can greatly expand the reach of your efforts.
It’s Their Journey, Not Yours
The customer’s role has changed and so has their journey. Customers are better informed and they actively seek out information and opinions from a wider range of influential sources. By the time that a customer comes into contact with your brand, the majority of the selling process is complete. For example, in many categories, a typical customers arrives pre-loaded with familiar brands. As they seek out potential alternatives, the number of competing brands increases. Even simple buying decisions are considered hours or even days in advance and the number of influences has nearly doubled from 5.2 to 10.4 sources. Source: Google Shopper Sciences, The Zero Moment of Truth.
This idea of a “customer’s journey” was conceived by consultants from McKinsey and Company, who led a study to examine the buying processes of 20,000 consumers in several different categories. They found that there are multiple battlegrounds that marketers could win or lose along the way. Even though consumers started the journey with brands that they were familiar with, as they sought out feedback from other authorities, the numbers often increased and new entrants sometimes displaced established ones.
Furthermore, purchasing wasn’t the end of the journey. As customers evaluate their purchasing experiences they have become allies and advocates or even detractors. They joined communities of similar buyers to share stories about their experiences, thus influencing a new generation of potential buyers.
Start Your Journey with a Buyer Persona
A buyer persona, a fictional example of a real and highly-valued buyer, provides marketers with insights that can help them understand, not only your customers’ pain points, problems and objectives – personas can illuminate the key steps and potential motivations to advance along the journey. Personas can provide inspiration for key content strategies, media channels, and communities, and their decision-making criteria.
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