Even the smallest purchase requires decision making. Take gum, for instance. It’s not as cut and dried as you might think. Do you choose a breath freshener or fun, fruity flavor? Sugar added or sugar-free? Bubble gum or regular?
Stick, ball, tube, tab, ribbon, string… you see where this is going. Decisions are a part of every consumer purchase.
Smart marketing plans require an understanding of the consumer’s decision-making process. So let’s take a look at the 4 steps involved in purchase decisions. Keep in mind, the more costly the purchase (i.e. home, car, investment), the more time and energy consumers will likely devote to at least one of the steps.
Step #1 – Problem Recognition and Need Awareness:
This is the point at which the consumer realizes they have a problem or need that must be addressed.
Step #2 – Information Search:
Once the need has been identified, the search is on! Information sources readily available to consumers fall into 4 categories:
- Personal – family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.
- Commercial – salespeople, advertising, packaging, displays
- Public – newspapers, radio, TV, online reviews, magazines, consumer groups
- Practical – handling, viewing, examining and testing/sampling the product
Personal sources are by far the most highly regarded for accuracy and reliability. Nielsen’s 2012 Global Trust in Advertising Report found 92% of respondents trust recommendations from family and friends above all other forms of advertising, up 18% since 2007. Online customer reviews came in second with 70% reporting they trusted those messages, a 15% increase in four years.
During this step, baseline features (or must haves) required to make a purchase, are defined.
Step #3 – Evaluating Alternatives & Assessing Value
The consumer is now ready to compare products based on features, quality and price. It is here they determine the personal and financial value of each product, honing in on the one that best fits their needs.
Step #4 – The Purchase Decision
The product has been chosen, so the next decision is making the purchase. Before taking the plunge, consumers have three final considerations.
- Choosing a Vendor – If multiple businesses offer the product at the same price, previous experience with those businesses will have an effect. Special offers and return/cancellation policies will be factors as well.
- Selecting a Time – Buyers motivated by the greatest need will purchase quickly once a vendor is chosen. If the need is not immediate, buyers may wait for reduced pricing, free shipping or other incentives before purchasing.
- Completing the Transaction – If the consumer chooses a brick and mortar location and encounters long lines, poor customer service or product unavailability, they may rethink their vendor decision, delaying or derailing the purchase. Online buyers confronting website issues, long and confusing order forms or extravagant shipping costs may sideline their purchase for another day or opt for another merchant.
Purchase decisions are more complex than they appear on the surface, and it’s these very steps that offer marketers opportunities to be influential throughout the process.
Where to start?
Create a Need
Appeal to consumer emotions (sense of worth, sense of belonging, love of family, etc.) to create the perception of need. Let’s say a business sells refrigerators. While they can’t make someone’s existing model stop working, they can market their model’s new food safety features, upscale design and popularity. Their refrigerator is portrayed as safer for the consumer’s family, a mark of success, and something everyone else is buying – impressions that foster a responsive feeling of need.
The best advertisers for any business are satisfied customers. Do not waste this precious resource. Ask for and use testimonials. Actively promote follows, likes, comments and shares on your business’ social media site(s) using free downloads, discounts and contests as incentives. Encourage interaction on the company blog and related forums by providing links to current conversations. Happy customers given inspiration and outlets for expression, often become raving fans. The benefits to your business are increased visibility, improved image, top-of-mind awareness, an upsurge in web and/or foot traffic, and most important of all, sales.
Solve a Problem
Technically, all products are solutions to problems. Smart marketers create ads using problems easily identified by potential customers, then persuasively demonstrate how and why their product is the best solution.
Don’t be afraid of comparisons. Unless a product is greatly overpriced or significantly sub-par in quality (both issues to be taken up in a separate post), marketers should have plenty to rave about when stacking up their product against competitors. Point out distinctive differences such as: exclusive features, quality of workmanship, years of experience, reputation and price to underscore any claims made.
Be the Choice
Be THE business to purchase from by focusing on the consumer experience.
Tout website and/or store navigation that makes products easy to find.
Spotlight competitive pricing and announce upcoming sales, promotions and discounts. Publish return or cancellation policies. Emphasize customer loyalty rewards. Ask for feedback on product and company performance. Promote convenient operating and support hours.
Smart marketers understand how consumers approach purchase decisions, and use that knowledge to present their products as the clear choice. Take a look at your current marketing plan to see where you can incorporate the influential strategies I’ve laid out here.