Marketers aim to reach consumers at those moments, or touchpoints, that have the greatest impact on their purchase decisions. In the past, the discipline conceived those touchpoints through the metaphor of a funnel.
At its wide end, consumers contemplating a purchase were thought to start with many brands in mind—an “initial consideration set” implanted largely by conventional advertising.
Marketing messages continued to reach consumers as they moved through the funnel, steadily reducing that number. Eventually, they emerged into the light, at the funnel’s thin end, having chosen the one brand they would buy.
But today we are living in a very different kind of marketing milieu: consumers are continually bombarded by product information from various sources, particularly other consumers, so they know vastly more than they did in the past.
Marketers, therefore, need a better way to navigate a commercial environment that is a lot less linear and more complex than the funnel metaphor would suggest.
These observations are part of a report by McKinsey. The report “The consumer decision journey,” explains a widely influential alternative metaphor explaining what marketers do.
It says consumers are moving outside the marketing funnel by changing the way they research and buy products. Here’s how marketers should respond to the new customer journey.
#1 Sophisticated approach
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.
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.
#2 Decision-making process is not linear
The funnel analogy suggests that consumers systematically narrow the initial-consideration set as they weigh options, make decisions, and buy products.
Then, the postsale phase becomes a trial period determining consumer loyalty to brands and the likelihood of buying their products again.
Marketers have been taught to “push” marketing toward consumers at each stage of the funnel process to influence their behavior.
But our qualitative and quantitative research in the automobile, skin care, insurance, consumer electronics, and mobile-telecom industries shows that something quite different now occurs.
Actually, the decision-making process is a more circular journey, with four primary phases representing potential battlegrounds where marketers can win or lose: initial consideration; active evaluation, or the process of researching potential purchases; closure, when consumers buy brands; and postpurchase, when consumers experience them, McKinsey report adds.
#3 Consumer-driven marketing is increasingly important
Marketing used to be driven by companies; “pushed” on consumers through traditional advertising, direct marketing, sponsorships, and other channels. At each point in the funnel, as consumers whittled down their brand options, marketers would attempt to sway their decisions. This imprecise approach often failed to reach the right consumers at the right time.
In today’s decision journey, consumer-driven marketing is increasingly important as customers seize control of the process and actively “pull” information helpful to them, McKinsey report adds.