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A New Look at the Buyer’s Journey

BY AARON GREGERSON

At this moment, the journey buyers take when choosing to make a purchase is changing course. Traditionally, this journey starts with a consumer perceiving a need or desire, then researching options to satisfy the need/desire, and deciding finally on a product to purchase that satisfies the need. It’s this linear, Point A to Point B paradigm that has pretty much run its course.

In today’s world of always-on media, the buyer’s journey has shifted focus. Instead of being consumer driven, as was previously the case, with consumers in control of when they identify a need, today’s buyer’s journey is intrinsically more brand driven. Brands are in more control of what consumers see and when they see it. Digital media, advanced placement tools and targeting techniques, and a better understanding of where consumers are in their decision-making process have been the catalyst for this shift.

Brands on the Run

The current estimate by behavior economists is that the average consumer sees between 5,000 and 6,000 pieces of media – or advertisements – per day, according to an article written in The Business Journals from September 2017. In the digital space alone, the best estimates are that Internet surfers are exposed to just north of 11,000 ads per month. This estimate was gained by measuring how many ads were caught in online ad blockers and kept from appearing.

These statistics are measuring the pieces of media and advertisements that our brain actually recognizes and processes. Our senses are being bombarded with about 11 million bits of information every second. However, the average person’s working memory can only handle 40 to 50 bits of information every second. That means that many of the items that we’re “seeing” aren’t really being seen.

Advances in advertising continually add more channels and mediums for messages to be placed in front of consumers. What’s now important to marketers is the ability to decipher what is going to make the greatest impact with consumers so that one piece of media settles into a person’s brain. But marketers are also presented with the challenge of finding a channel and medium that is easily repeatable and contains stepped-down, refined targeting techniques as time moves on.

Precision Targeting

Within the new buyer’s journey, the old practice of simply placing media and hoping that the target consumer finds your product has no place. Today’s buyers are beginning to expect that they will be found by your product solution based on their behaviors and what they are likely to be looking at next. Enter precision targeting, or audience planning.

Earlier this month, I was researching some running clothing. I regularly write for a local running-themed blog site and was preparing for another gear review article. By this point, my web browser knows full well that I am a passionate runner. Not only that, but my list of email subscriptions to running sites also runs very deep.

During my travels in researching this article, I visited the site of a brand that I like to buy gear from. I was looking at their running jackets, getting technical information on a product I already own to write the review.

Not 10 minutes later, I visited my personal email inbox. It was no surprise I saw an email from this brand in my inbox. What may be surprising, however, is that this email was not marketing the running jackets I was researching. Knowing that I had already purchased that product, they were suggesting other products that would work well in that vein. They were attempting to measure my interest and move me further down the cycle in their buyer’s journey.

This is a great example of how targeting and the buyer’s journey come together. Instead of taking the obvious approach that someone is looking at a product on your site and marketing that product to them, adding depth and understanding to the consumer enhances the targeting.

Precision targeting also means understanding an appropriate level of engagement with a consumer. Translated, it means there needs to be an acceptable level of media messages the consumer sees after interacting with a brand or product. Being bombarded by media in all places for a casual site surfer, for example, would not be appropriate. Through audience building mechanisms, it is even easier to market to the appropriate level with the appropriate audience.

The New Buyer’s Journey

Traditionally, the buyer’s journey was made up of anywhere from four to six stages, arranged in three phases, and visually formatted as a funnel to lead buyers through.

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As covered earlier in this article, consumers often entered the buyer’s journey in the Awareness or Interest stages, spurred on by a need or desire for a product to solve a problem of theirs. From there, the traditional buyer’s journey takes over, moving consumes on a linear path toward Purchase/Conversion.

The new buyer’s journey takes this template and adapts it to today’s media-constant world. Effectively reaching consumers today requires that your brand cuts through the clutter and becomes clear and apparent to your target consumers. The challenge with that is that today, there are many (many) competing brands looking to do the same thing.

This means that the buyer’s journey of yesterday, with a large portion of the time and energy spent in the “Prospect” phase, is rendered obsolete. Not that spending time on your prospects today should go overlooked. But if your brand isn’t generating enough awareness to solve a consumer’s problem, there won’t be enough buyers in your pipeline to worry about.

Instead of a linear approach to attracting consumers, here is what today’s buyer’s journey looks like.

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This model more accurately represents the digital consumer world we live in. A buyer’s journey today is much more than finding an entry point on a linear scale. Buyers are able to perform extensive brand and product research wherever they are from smartphones. This means that they may enter and exit a traditional journey multiple times.

A cyclical approach to the buyer’s journey enables brands to gain information on the consumer, understand their level of interest, and represent opportunities, all within a single sales cycle. Then, once a lead becomes a prospect and a prospect becomes a customer, the new buyer’s journey enhances cross-sell and up-sell efforts to deepen the brand’s relationship with that customer.

Bringing it Together

All of this information boils down to the single fact that to be heard, brands must be more present and relevant in today’s media landscape. Constantly bombarding the general population of consumers with a single marketing or advertisement message makes it hard to get noticed.

While today’s marketing plans have become inherently more complex than those from a time of linear journeys, today’s consumers have become more complex, too. Today’s consumers are expecting that automation and target marketing will bring brands and products to them in order to solve a need based on behaviors. This trait encourages relevancy in messaging and media but also requires brands to build in appropriate time-to-close for conversion and purchase.

When brands deploy precision targeting to highly target the consumers they are looking for and pair that with a cyclical buyer’s journey mentality, the job of getting noticed becomes much easier. Tying the two together means that your audience planning looks more like a funnel while the actual journey a buyer takes to your brand and product happens in a cyclical manner.

True to today’s need to make the most of every customer in order to support a return on investment of marketing dollars, deepening the relationship after the sale becomes imperative. The cyclical buyer’s journey of today—the new journey—makes that process easy and natural.

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Aaron Gregerson is the vice president of client management for MarketMatch, a full-service marketing consulting firm that provides energizing expertise, ideas and strategic marketing thinking for credit unions. Aaron brings over 12 years of financial marketing and business development experience to the industry. Aaron focuses on digital marketing, strategic planning and promotion, branding and market segmentation with his clients to help grow credit unions in meaningful ways.

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