Purchase funnels still exist. Well, sort of. If you look at it in terms of starting with a need where there are many options and then filtering down to actually buying a single one, then there’s a funnel. The main argument is, of course, its assumed inherent linearity. And that assumption is what the internet – in particular social and, even more specifically, social on mobile – has disrupted, broken and completely obliterated respectively.
Whichever way we choose to look at the decision-making process, the result is that we have a "spider-web" decision pathway now; one that can leap stages, leap back, go left, miss entire stages and end up with a single purchase decision. Some brands still seem in denial, but it is a fact that people now buy things in a different way. They check reviews. They analyse product features. They look for what experts think, what their peers think. They’re most of the way to a purchase before they’ve even got to a retail environment.
What, then, must brands do to take advantage of this upstream decision-making? Put simply, they must translate their stories and produce content (in its broadest sense) so they can at least be part of the conversation and, ideally, shape it. If a brand can help define how people view the category, and guide people on how to make their purchase decision, then it will be well-placed to grab more than its fair share of the spoils. Naturally, this is not just about shoving TV ads on YouTube and keeping fingers crossed.
Brands must be easy to find, they must feature in product reviews by customers and experts alike. They must explain their brand and product stories in the places where people are looking – content on YouTube, customer service on Twitter. People must be able to form an opinion about a brand and where it sits in the market without ever visiting "owned" spaces, such as its website.
A number of phrases are floating around that capture some of the spirit of this marketing direction. "Inbound marketing" is popular, suggesting a complete reversal of weight of spend to this from outbound.
Perhaps most valuable, though, is Google’s "Zero Moment of Truth". Its name refers to the marketing tradition of the first "moment of truth" in the retail environment when a customer is first presented with a selection to choose from.
Winning here relies on an understanding of the decision-making journey a potential customer follows. Or, rather, understanding what are the potential places they could visit along the journey. Note: this isn’t
anything fundamentally new – it’s still about understanding human behaviour and about putting strategies and tactics in place that can influence this behaviour. The new bit is making sure you have got this decision-making moment in your sights and are not operating too far down the process to have meaningful influence.
MBA has recently helped launch the Sage by Heston Blumenthal brand in the UK using the principles defined here. These are high-end kitchen appliances that have excelled in their native Australia and, more recently, in the US (under the Breville brand name).
Sage by Heston Blumenthal does have an advantage, though. It can be absolutely confident in its product. It knows it will work exactly as it says it will and, consequently, it will receive glowing reviews from experts and customers alike. Playing in this social moment demands a product experience that matches your brand story. So, if you’re a budget product, the story must reflect that, or the market will call you out and you will fail.
All of this is at the intersection of many of the digitally/socially driven trends that we have seen over recent years. The jigsaw puzzle is coming together. The magnification of word-of-mouth by social media is one of the most important as conversations we had anyway are now visible to many more people. The demand for real-time information goes hand in hand with the growth of smartphones and data usage; we are no longer satisfied not to know something when we can find out then and there. And, of course, there is The Cluetrain Manifesto’s "markets are conversations" agenda that foresaw the need for brands to become social, to nurture conversations rather than command them, to be transparent and build brand bonfires, and so on.
Brands must compete in this emerging decision-moment or risk falling by the wayside before the customer gets anywhere near a retail environment. They must take the conversation upstream to where people are making decisions – in the social spaces of this digital world where people connect with each other and the products and services they choose. They should help customers make decisions about what is important in the category and demonstrate how they perform against those criteria. It is about understanding that the old models of purchasing are dying and executing your brand’s purpose in a new way that reflects the social-buying behaviour of today’s customers.
James Devon is the planning director at MBA
|Point of view|
|The one social media site I couldn’t do without is… Facebook. Metcalfe’s law, and all that.|
|My favourite Tweeter is… On average, @madeupstats Tweets amusingly three times a week.|
|I measure social media success by… having an objective to measure it against.|
|My current status is… I’m mildly obsessed with improving my barista skills following a purchase from Sage by Heston Blumenthal, an MBA client.|
|In five years’ time… I’ll still be avoiding futurology.|