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Updating the Outdated Consumer Journey

kmooney Kelly Mooney , CEO Jul. 20, 2012

For more than 100 years, marketers have accepted and applied a consumer journey model often referred to as AIDA—awareness, interest, desire and action. Of course there are many iterations of this model, and more recently some notable improvements from McKinsey and Forrester.

Since my design training in the mid-‘80s, I’ve been preoccupied with understanding consumers, how they make decisions and how technology is fundamentally changing our behaviors as people, and therefore, must impact our models as marketers. In 2008, our agency introduced some fresh thinking on this topic in the book I co-authored with Dr. Nita Rollins, The Open Brand. Our insight at the time was that the model was shifting from “funnel to fish”—meaning that our choices as consumers were expanding, not narrowing, as our journey took hold.

We were moving across channels, empowered by the social web of conversation, ratings, reviews and links to options never before considered. Our short list grew and our purchase journey often lengthened. Purchase wasn’t really the end of the journey, merely a mid-point. Consumers were increasingly willing to upload pics of their purchases, post reviews, manage their account, sign up for loyalty programs and join fan clubs of varying sorts.

These insights remain valid today, but as we continue to advance our study of consumers across dozens of brands, surveying them on a wide range of topics, our agency has updated thinking on the consumer journey. It will be shared in much greater detail and in other media forms in the coming weeks, but here are five of the highlights:

1.    Awareness is an outcome, not a consumer behavior. It’s also increasingly consumer-controlled, not mass media–generated. We’ve found that people either search or discover as the first step in the journey. Discovery is the most complex for marketers to plan for because it’s about showing up in the right place at the right time, via paid media, owned content, earned conversations, location-based alerts, etc.

2.    As consumers assess options online and offline, they routinely immerse themselves in video, pics, product specs and comparisons, and/or reach out to confer with friends and family and seek opinions of users or experts. Companies that have relied on in-store communication, product packaging or simply their own site to solve for these needs are missing out on key opportunities to make a consumer’s short list. Speaking of short lists, the qualitative study of 20,000 consumers McKinsey did to develop their journey model revealed the paradox of choice at play; consumers admitted to starting with fewer products in their consideration set because they were simply overwhelmed with options, then expanding it later under the influence of friends and experts.

3.    Buy – As a step in the journey, it seems simple, doesn’t it? But with the increasing number of ways to pay—Paypal, Square, Apple EasyPay, just to name a few—marketers cannot give short shrift to this step. Acquiring the merchandise also has a whole host of options marketers can make available to consumers: same-day delivery (Amazon!), shipped to home, picked up in store, shipped from a store to home, shipped to a nearby delivery hub, and the list goes on.

4.    One of the most critical and overlooked opportunities is what happens next. Is your product/service being used and enjoyed? Are you set up to know this? Brands should be vigilant in inviting consumers to connect post-purchase beyond sharing feedback. They should enable easy re-purchase, provide access to special content or events, or add value in wholly new ways that bridge the physical and digital realms, as Nike has done with its Fuel Band and Nest with its ingenious “learning thermostat.”

5.    Clearly, loyalty is the optimal outcome for every brand. But again, as McKinsey’s research revealed, there are active and passive forms of loyalty, and the latter spells competitive vulnerability. From our open brand perspective, tapping into the consumer’s appetite for meaningful participation and influence is not only a stopgap against the competition because it encourages active loyalty; consumer co-creation of your brand’s experiences, messages and products facilitates innovation and dynamism, two make-or-break traits that brands must cultivate in today’s fast-moving marketplace, according to The Brand Bubble (stay tuned for a blog post from Dr. Rollins on this book). An invitation to advocate is merely one way to encourage participation. Creating ongoing platforms that enable consumers to be innovators is another, admittedly more complex, initiative, but worth it long-term. Consider what consumer innovators have done for Legos and PINK product development, for Burberry content creation, for Intuit’s service delivery, and for Tesco’s corporate social responsibility. These brands are category leaders because they’re open, culturally and organizationally, to consumers’ ideas.

Now that digital technology is enabling a radically altered consumer journey, marketers must toss aside the old models: old models for understanding the journey but also old models for planning media, allocating budgets, big idea generation and agency engagement. It’s a new era of consumer experience creation and the winners will be the marketers that master the new journey.

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