So I got into a debate last month with a friend who runs a very successful Internet marketing company. The subject was purchase decision models.
I argued that before people purchase a brand, they must prefer it. And before they prefer it, they must consider it. And before they consider it, they must be aware of it. The entire process is like a leaky funnel. At each step, a certain number of people fall away.
My friend argued that the only things that mattered in his world were finding the right key words, optimizing web content for search engines, obtaining the top spot on page one of search results, and funneling leads to people who could close the sale. Who was right? We both were.
There’s no argument that being the first brand people see when they begin to shop is a huge advantage. (It’s called awareness.) Being first in a Google search is like being at eye level on an end-aisle display in a grocery store, or placing your ad on the inside front cover of a magazine. You virtually guarantee people will see you. But that’s no guarantee people will buy you. You have only gained awareness.
In most product categories, people consider three to five choices. They compare prices. They assess performance, risk, value, convenience, and many other factors. Finding the right key words for SEO is very similar to finding the right words to put on a package or in a headline. In all cases, you highlight the benefits most important to a specific target audience. The objective is to get on the prospect’s shopping list – to make them consider you. But success at this stage still doesn’t guarantee a sale. Every organization has competition. You still have to become the preferred alternative.
Becoming the preferred brand among those considered requires the customer to see your brand as the best fit with his or her needs. When prospects use search engines, they are essentially defining their needs. For instance, they may be looking for a “safe compact car under $20,000.” Search engines help sort options the same way that shoe leather and shopping trips do. “Optimizing” the pitch for a specific audience is always necessary to become the preferred choice. Before search engines, the words we used for optimizing were “market segmentation” and “targeting.”
What it takes to win a sale varies by industry. In many, it is crucial to funnel leads to sales people. In others…not so much. Regardless, making the sale is always the final objective in the process and the amount of sales will vary relative to success of efforts earlier in the process.
Purchase Decision Process
In retrospect, I think my friend and I were arguing over semantics. I was talking about a general process. He was talking about how a specific tool worked within the context of that process.
The Internet is somewhat different from mass media in that it can simultaneously be a channel for communication, sales and distribution. Regardless, the steps that consumers or businesses go through in deciding which brand to purchase remain basically the same.
The question is not “Is awareness necessary?” The question is “How will we build awareness?” Any business leader who thinks awareness is not necessary in the Internet Age is limiting his/her potential.
The question is not “Can we skip the consideration and preference phases and send prospects straight to sales people or an order button?” If people want to consider several brands, they will. It’s important for companies to provide enough information to enable prospects to evaluate the alternatives.
Even though the technologies of selling change constantly, buyers never do.
Digital media primarily affect the efficiency with which marketers can reach people, present information and take orders.