If marketing has one goal, it’s to reach consumers at the moments that most influence their decisions. That’s why consumer electronics companies make sure not only that customers see their televisions in stores but also that those televisions display vivid high-definition pictures. It’s why Amazon.com, a decade ago, began offering targeted product recommendations to consumers already logged in and ready to buy. And it explains P&G’s decision, long ago, to produce radio and then TV programs to reach the audiences most likely to buy its products—hence, the term “soap opera.”
Marketing has always sought those moments, or touch points, when consumers are open to influence. For years, touch points have been understood through the metaphor of a “funnel”—consumers start with a number of potential brands in mind (the wide end of the funnel), marketing is then directed at them as they methodically reduce that number and move through the funnel, and at the end they emerge with the one brand they chose to purchase (Exhibit 1). But today, the funnel concept fails to capture all the touch points and key buying factors resulting from the explosion of product choices and digital channels, coupled with the emergence of an increasingly discerning, well-informed consumer. A more sophisticated approach is required to help marketers navigate this environment, which is less linear and more complicated than the funnel suggests. We call this approach the consumer decision journey. Our thinking is applicable to any geographic market that has different kinds of media, Internet access, and wide product choice, including big cities in emerging markets such as China and India.
We developed this approach by examining the purchase decisions of almost 20,000 consumers across five industries and three continents. Our research showed that the proliferation of media and products requires marketers to find new ways to get their brands included in the initial-consideration set that consumers develop as they begin their decision journey. We also found that because of the shift away from one-way communication—from marketers to consumers—toward a two-way conversation, marketers need a more systematic way to satisfy customer demands and manage word-of-mouth. In addition, the research identified two different types of customer loyalty, challenging companies to reinvigorate their loyalty programs and the way they manage the customer experience.
Finally, the research reinforced our belief in the importance not only of aligning all elements of marketing—strategy, spending, channel management, and message—with the journey that consumers undertake when they make purchasing decisions but also of integrating those elements across the organization. When marketers understand this journey and direct their spending and messaging to the moments of maximum influence, they stand a much greater chance of reaching consumers in the right place at the right time with the right message.
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