In today’s highly digitized world, things are done a little bit differently than Dad is used to. We’ve all heard it before: “Kids today are only friends with their phones,” and “When I was your age we talked to each other face toface.” Or the classic, “When we needed new shoes we went down to the corner store, bought a pair from the local shoe salesman, and gave him a nice firm handshake. That’s how business is supposed to be done.”
There’s no denying the nostalgic appeal of the “simpler time.” There is also no denying that our current society could use a little more old-fashioned, person-to-person interaction, but the fact of the matter is that times have changed and so have the ways that consumers behave.
Modern consumers don’t go down to the corner store and buy the first pair of shoes they see; they don’t leave their house until they already know exactly what it is they want and where to get it for the lowest price–if they even leave their house at all. The internet has opened up the door to a whole new method of consumerism. Shopping has become a casual activity done on the phone while the TV begs for equal attention, and making a purchase is now sealed with a click instead of a handshake.
This hasn’t made physical stores obsolete; consumers still value the process of trying on the dress they’ve been looking at, test driving the car they’re interested in, and asking questions of the salesperson. But the sales process has changed dramatically, and understanding this change while also taking advantage of it is the key to a successful business in today’s society.
Phil Frost of PracticalEcommerce.com had this to say about the changes we’ve seen: “For more than a century, the conventional wisdom in marketing was that customer buying decisions followed a linear, top-down progression known as the funnel…Today, however, the marketing funnel is nearly obsolete. The new customer path to purchase is much more winding and sophisticated, and smart companies have begun to adapt to the new approach.”
So if the traditional marketing funnel (i.e. Awareness + Interest + Desire = Action) is dead, then how do companies reach consumers and compel them to buy their products? The answer isn’t so straightforward.
Brand Awareness is No Longer Enough
Awareness will always be the first step. Getting your name out there and running advertisements that make your brand appeal to consumers will get the ball rolling, but it isn’t always enough. In a world where attention spans are shorter than ever before and product options are abundantly accessible, remarketing your brand is one of the most essential actions a business can take to gain customers. Even then, once people are aware of your product and have the desire to buy your product, they may still move into an exploratory phase.
According to AdWeek.com, “Eighty-one percent of shoppers conduct online research before they make a purchase…. On average, a consumer will visit three stores before making their purchase.” Consumers look for similar products on various websites, searching out better prices and sales. They then explore those websites’ inventories, undoubtedly become interested in other products, and the cycle of research continues. Chances are, however, the first time a customer visits your website, they won’t make a purchase. Instead, they will browse around before heading back to the mindlessness that is Facebook or Twitter.
Recapturing their interest is huge here, so make sure you’re tracking website clicks to your website and maintaining remarketing lists to remind users of the product that initially grabbed their intention. Most likely, after browsing the web for a few hours or days, they will be more willing to buy. Tracking your best-performing ads, offering sales on featured products, and improving on original product offers will do wonders for your business.
Stephen Frost of Forbes.com suggests that rather than thinking of a consumer’s path to purchase as the traditional “marketing funnel,” we should consider a company’s engagement with individual customers as a “customer life cycle.” This is perfectly aligned with the digital marketing landscape and consumer behavior. Even after making a purchase, your customers must continue to feel engaged–offering new ads, products, and sales will do this, while also building customer loyalty and brand awareness.
Convenience will take you far in the digital market place, but building brand loyalty–similar to what companies like BMW, Starbucks, Nike, and Apple have done–takes consistent customer engagement throughout a consumer’s life cycle, from the initial ad-click to well beyond their first purchase.