Navigating the Consumer Decision Journey
These days, you can’t turn around without someone touting the latest, greatest marketing technique, channel, or tool. But, stripped down to its essence, marketing really amounts to communicating the value of the products and services you sell and the shopping experience you offer. From that point of view, marketing encompasses much more than radio ads, tweets, and e-newsletters. Your marketing efforts need to address the whole consumer decision journey and all the customer “touchpoints”—every interaction, active or passive, you have with customers—that keep them shopping your store.
Shopping is a journey, not a destination
Marketing used to be based on the idea that shoppers travel a funnel-shaped path when making a purchase: They become aware of a product through a big, catchy ad campaign, decide they have to have it, consider a large number of brands and places to buy those brands, then methodically whittle down their list, and finally make their choice after much deliberation. Each new purchasing decision starts the cycle again from scratch, with no consideration for their previous experience with a product or the store they purchased it from.
The funnel marketing mindset focuses primarily on building brand awareness, with maybe a little effort toward last-minute purchase incentives, such as discount coupons. This model assumes people are motivated to buy something (or visit a store) they aren’t familiar with solely through exposure to a product manufacturer’s ad campaign.
Research on the buying habits of nearly 20,000 consumers conducted by McKinsey & Company in 2009 reveals a different picture altogether. Instead of people becoming aware of a product (a smartphone, for example), deciding on the spur of the moment to get one, and then systematically narrowing down the many product choices available, most of us decide to buy something because a “trigger event” creates a need we must fulfill (“My phone broke!”). We then consider if the products we’re already familiar with might fulfill our need and where they can be purchased (“Does my provider still offer the basic phone I’ve been using, or should I upgrade to an iPhone?”). We evaluate the pros and cons of the products we know, add and subtract products along the way (Droid or Galaxy or Windows phones?), and eventually buy the one that suits us best. Afterwards, we tell others how happy (or not) we are with our purchase.
Rather than linear, the McKinsey model suggests the “Consumer Decision Journey” is circular, or, as John Ross of Shopper Sciences calls it, a “flight path.” This multi-channel journey of discovery involves noticing awareness-raising ads once we identify a need, going to stores to view and try out products, asking friends in person and online for their recommendations, and poring over product reviews. In short, like a typical flight path, shoppers make many “connecting flights” before reaching their final destination, relying on multiple media channels—smartphone, tablet, laptop, TV, magazines, newspapers, radio—to get them there. Every interaction they have with your store during their journey is factored into their evaluation of what and where to buy.
Despite your awareness-raising ads for your store, shoppers may not know about you until they get to the product-evaluation phase. Until then, they didn’t know they needed your store. A likely place for them to discover you is on online reviews sites such as Yelp and FourSquare, where they can search for stores in their area. “Why would they start there instead of going to my website,” you ask? Because if they don’t know about your store, they can’t search for you directly. Plus, they want to know which gift stores other shoppers love, and the way to discover that is by searching review sites. Shoppers also are likely to discover your store by asking their friends on Facebook where to buy a particular product (which you happen to carry). They’ll also notice if their friends are fans of yours on Facebook.
Have you set up a profile on Yelp or FourSquare? Have you checked to see what reviews of your store are out there already? Do you have a store profile set up on Facebook? These are easy ways to instantly connect with potential customers.
We used to think the job of marketing was done at the point of purchase, but the McKinsey model reveals the opportunities to reach out to customers during the post-purchase phase, when they bond with a brand or store and become advocates. If they do become loyal to your store and the products you carry, they will go to you first the next time they have a similar need, skipping the consideration and evaluation phases. Not only that, they will want to tell others how much they love your store. Make it easy for them by having an online presence on review sites and social networks. It’s free advertising you don’t want to pass up!
Be a shopping hub: Know and maximize your value
What does it take to cultivate loyal fans of your store? Everything! Every contact you have with your customers is a marketing touchpoint that factors into their decision to make your store their go-to (or no-go) shopping destination. With that in mind, your goal should be to deliver customers a completely positive experience end-to-end. This is not about reducing your prices; you can’t win the price war with the big-box stores unless you’re willing to “win” yourself out of business. This is about accentuating your natural advantages as a small, independent retailer.
What are those natural advantages? You have the ability to provide a concierge level of customer service big-box stores aren’t able to deliver. You have unique and meaningful merchandise customers can’t find in just any store, whether brick-and-mortar or online. Sure, plenty of people buy generic gifts at Target or Walmart, but when someone wants to show their loved ones how much they care, it’s not by giving a gift the recipient could buy themselves at any big-box store. Fair Trade, made in the USA, organic, handcrafted, unique, meaningful, inspirational—these things matter to people, and your store can be your community’s destination source. You are experts in the merchandise you carry and you care about those products; you have hand-selected them and you’re invested in them—literally!
You also offer shoppers the convenience of instant gratification online stores can’t offer. If someone needs a gift for a baby shower RIGHT NOW, they can’t order it online. They have to buy it in person, and time is of the essence. Yes, they can order online from a big-box store and pick it up at the closest location, but they won’t get a beautifully wrapped gift, will they? Which brings us to the next advantage you have: the ability to offer personal touches, such as elegant gift wrapping or complimentary coffee or fun in-store events.
You convey these advantages through your marketing touchpoints. Traditional advertising via print, radio, and television ads and your web presence, including your website, online ads such as Google AdWords, links on other sites, your social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Yelp, FourSquare, Google+, LinkedIn, and so on) all count as potential customer touchpoints. However, those are just the virtual tip of the touchpoint iceberg.
Pre-flight checklist: Is your store dressed for success?
What about the sidewalk outside your store? What message does it convey? Is it dirty and unkempt or neat and clean? If you aren’t responsible for the upkeep outside your store, does your landlord ensure it looks pleasant and inviting? What about the sign above your store? Is it illuminated, clean, and easy to read? What about your window displays? Are they interesting and artful? Do you change them frequently? They essentially are a three-dimensional ad for your store.
What happens when someone walks through your door? What sights, sounds, and smells greet them? Is your store well lit? If you play music, is it pleasant? Is your store a cloud of competing scents, all of them overpowering? Do you have attractive in-store signage? Are your shelves organized, interesting, and full of fresh inventory? Do you provide free wi-fi for customers?
What about your employees? Are they dressed professionally? Are they pleasant and helpful? Do they greet customers when they walk in, or are they busy texting friends or chatting with each other? A customer shouldn’t have to feel they are interrupting your staff to get help.
All those aspects of your store are marketing touchpoints, and you likely can identify even more. If you can stand out in a positive way on these and your other touchpoints, you can put your store in consumers’ “flight path” and make your store their final destination.
Frequent shopper perks for first-class customers
You’ve accounted for all your marketing touchpoints and given poor performers a makeover. As a result, your store traffic and sales have increased, and you’ve developed a large and loyal customer base. Now what? Reward, repeat, and cultivate your loyalty loop! Reward customers who shop your store frequently. Each is an asset and a walking, talking marketing touchpoint for attracting new customers.
Create a simple loyalty program. You don’t have to invest in fancy key-ring cards; it can be as simple as index cards you keep in a recipe box or punch cards you hand out at the cash register. For example, each customer fills out their name and email on a card, and they get a new stamp for every $20 they spend. When they reach 10 stamps, they get a percentage off their next purchase or a store credit or whatever works best for your store.
You also can offer exclusive sale events and special discounts to customers who like your Facebook page or subscribe to your monthly e-newsletter. Remember, your loyal customers are your super-fans, so don’t be afraid to ask them to tell others how much they love you by writing a review on Yelp and other review sites.
Get ready for sales take-off!
When formulating your store’s marketing plan, instead of focusing on raising awareness or targeting a specific set of media channels, consider a customer’s full purchasing “flight itinerary” and capitalize on all your touchpoint assets they will encounter on their journey. Many happy landings!
First published in Vol. 28 No. 2 of Retailing Insight. © 2014 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.