Why Brands Need to Understand the Consumer Buying Process

“If marketing has one goal, it’s to reach consumers at the moments that most influence their decisions.”

So said McKinsey & Co. in their 2009 report, The Consumer Decision Journey. The report went on to question the concept of the traditional purchase funnel, instead proposing a new model that incorporated customer experience and advocacy. McKinsey called it the ‘consumer decision journey’.

It’s critical that brands understand just how this journey – or consumer buying process – has evolved to effectively influence consumers at the different stages of the purchase cycle.

How digital has exploded the funnel

Digital advancements have transformed the old school funnel into the more complex cycle recognized by McKinsey.

This is driven by the fact that consumers are far more fragmented across channels, devices and platforms than ever before. And with digital offering access to a wealth of information at the touch of a button, consumers will consider a greater number of brands and products at the start of their journey than in the pre-digital era.

This gives brands far more opportunities to consider alongside competitors, and there are a greater number of touchpoints to engage their target audience.

Our latest statistics show that buying online is now a mobile-first activity – with over half of PC shoppers using mobiles to buy items online, and a similar rate of mobile shoppers doing so on PCs/laptops.

The decision to purchase a car, for example, generally involves months of research spreading across countless touchpoints – each playing a vital role in the final decision.

A recent study by Luth Research tracked the car-buying journey of a 32-year-old mother of two. The study revealed her research included over 900 digital interactions across manufacturer websites, dealer websites, review websites, Google, and YouTube.

This shows just how much the buying process has splintered, and why it’s so essential for today’s brands to have ready access to granular insight.

How data has made a difference

But while digital has disrupted the traditional funnel, it has also enabled brands to gather unprecedented levels of insight into the many ways consumers interact  online and what prompts their decisions, giving them a deeper understanding of this buying behavior process.

Brands can apply this intelligence to their marketing activity to reach people with the right information, at the right time.

Using consumer data to understand when to deliver a timely video tutorial to those researching a product, for example, can help guide consumers from research to consideration. Equally, those in the consideration phase may benefit from a retargeting campaign on their preferred social platform, prompting them to make a purchase.

Knowing the purchase drivers that matter

Knowing the purchase drivers that matter to your audience is key when it comes to appealing to their interests and guiding them from one phase to another. On a global scale, according to our panel of 18m consumers, the following are among those that top the list.

1. Search Engines

When actively looking for more information about brands, products or services, internet users are most likely to turn to search engines.

2. Free Delivery

When asked about which factors would increase their likelihood of purchasing a product online, 63% of internet users are most likely to choose free delivery.

3. Online Reviews

More than 4 in 10 internet users are posting a review of a product or brand online each month. However, there are also more people posting reviews than there are using them to inform their purchasing decisions.

There are variations when it comes to age – with younger age groups being driven more by those related to social media, and older age groups tending to attach more importance to convenience, financial rewards and free delivery. Knowing which drivers apply directly to your target groups will ensure you’re using the right marketing tactics.

Understanding the role of social media

Social media also plays a key role in every part of the buying journey, from awareness right through to purchase. Knowing where to communicate your message depends on your audience, their needs, and their position on the path to purchase.

As our latest social report reveals, almost 4 in 10 internet users follow their favorite brands on social media –  a quarter of whom follow brands from which they’re thinking of making a purchase.

This presents untold opportunities to engage consumers on a more personal level.

Catering to the right phase

Understanding how consumers behave on different social platforms is key to delivering what they need at each stage of the buying journey.

Research from Pixability shows consumers are using YouTube search primarily for product reviews, product comparisons and other informative or entertaining content – they’re not looking for transaction-related information such as discounts or deals.

GoPro took this onboard with its VR products. VR is still a nascent market, so its video content is designed to show off the possibilities of VR rather than try a hard sell.

GoPro’s For the Love of Lions video, for example, posted in August 2017, gives an intimate insight into the world of a ‘lion whisperer’ and two rescued lionesses, filmed in 360-degree spherical. The footage has already garnered over 685,000 views. It doesn’t overtly promote the brand or the product – it’s firmly positioned in the consideration phase.

Don’t be complacent in the purchase stage

Data can also drive timely messages to be delivered during the purchase stage. For example, consumers might fail to complete the sale because they’re deterred by a clunky user interface, sky-high postage costs or an unwelcoming returns policy.

A survey by Baymard Institute in July 2017 revealed that 61% of shoppers abandon their carts because the extra costs for shipping, taxes, or other fees were too high.

Understanding this gives brands an opportunity to rectify the problem and increase conversions at the optimal time. For example, Asics reiterates the benefits of its free shipping policy in its cart abandonment email, to ensure the consumer is aware of this benefit, and re-engage them to convert.

Data is king when it comes to understanding and influencing modern consumer buying behavior, and each stage of the cycle presents several opportunities to apply key insights.

This kind of intelligence is helping brands maximize conversions and foster loyalty along an increasingly complex path.

Don’t get left behind.