Digital Media and Purchase Decision-Making

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.Sales Funnel

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.

Beyond Web 2.0: Proposed Specs to Foster Truth in Elections

Web 2.0 was all about personalizing the web experience. It was great in some ways. I found friends on social networks that owed me money from 40 years ago.

But frankly, in the last election, Web 2.0 failed me. All the attack ads made me wish the web offered a way to tell when someone was:Bullshit

  • Distorting an opponent’s stance
  • Exaggerating egregiously
  • Misrepresenting facts
  • Quoting out of context
  • Putting true facts in a false light
  • Withholding information that changed meaning
  • Embarking on flights of unrestrained falsity.

So I went down to the local bar, cranked up the karaoke machine, sang a chorus of “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and mapped out the future of the Internet on the back of a napkin. Below, my personal wish list:

Web 2.1 would have Bullshit Daemons. (In Geek-speak, a daemon is a background process that handles user requests.) I’d like to be able to cursor over suspicious claims like “Obamacare calls for death panels” and have the daemon:

  • Figure out that Obamacare was actually H.R. 3962 from the first session of the 111th Congress
  • Locate the text of the original bill
  • Scan all 1990 pages of it for any phrases related to “death panel” such as “medical review board”
  • Determine (if found) whether such a board had the power to refuse funding for life-saving medical procedures
  • Send me the results and supporting documentation, and if the claim is false…
  • Put a big flashing red “Bullshit” warning across my screen.

Web 2.2 would have Blabber Daemons that would automatically:

  • Tag all references to false and misleading information with the aforementioned  Bullshit (BS) warning
  • Filter BS out of my searches
  • Email my contacts what I found
  • Post the findings on social networks

Web 2.3 would feature Zippo Daemons that would find all images of the biggest fibber each day on the Web. It would then retouch the images to make pants (or skirts) appear  on fire.

Web 2.4 would have an Elementary Education Daemon. It would let me highlight phrases like “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” The daemon would then:

  • Go to the FBI web site
  • Examine the latest Uniform Crime Report
  • Calculate the number of Americans who die from gunshots every day
  • Obtain autopsy photos of each victim
  • Email them to the entire NRA mailing list

Web 2.5 would feature a “What’s That On Your Shoe?” Daemon. This daemon would sniff out the consequences of lies used to justify ill-advised public policies, wars, boondoggles, and massive tax expenditures. It would then send out reminders to all registered voters before the first Tuesday in November.

Web 2.6 would introduce a “Get Real” Daemon that would highlight false flattery and pious platitudes, i.e., when someone calls America a “peace-loving nation.” The daemon would search the Internet for all wars waged in the user’s lifetime, list them by nation, rank order the list and present it to the user. When I ran this search, I found that we’ve been in some kind of war for the last 66 years straight: The Cold War (1947-92), The Korean War (1953-55), The Vietnam War (1955-75), The Contra Wars (1979-80), Grenada (1983), Star Wars (1984-93),  Panama (1989), The War on Drugs (1972 to present), Gulf War I (1990-91), Gulf War II (2003 – present), The War in Afghanistan (2001-present), The War on Terror (2001-present) plus covert wars. Let’s get real; Switzerland is peace loving.

Web 2.7 would have a Roto-Rooter Daemon because campaigning has become such a cesspool. This daemon would attach a Scarlet L to search results on all candidates who misrepresent the truth.

Web 2.8 would feature a Black-Hole Daemon that explained where my tax dollars went. This proposal may not be technically feasible.

Web 2.9 would introduce the Give-It-A-Rest Daemon. After a hard day of trying to figure out campaign claims, this daemon would program a personal robot to massage the pain in my neck, sooth my hyperactive grumble gland, and fetch a cold beer.

That last part sounds more rewarding. Maybe we should just skip from 2.0 to 2.9.

How a Mouse Click Can Affect Future Employability

My parents drummed into me the importance of “Buyer beware.” Today’s parents need to teach kids a variation on that phrase, “Browser beware.”

One of my younger employees once told me that he preferred digital media to mass media such as television because he didn’t have to suffer through commercials not targeted to him. However, the technology used to target digital ads can harm people who may not be aware of what’s going on (and he certainly didn’t fall into that group).

In 2011, The Journal of the American Association of Pediatrics published a study called Clinical Report—The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families. The report by Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, Kathleen Clarke-Pearson and the Council on Communications and Media cataloged both the negative and positive influences that social media can have. The report makes a powerful case for media literacy education.

The authors define social media as any Web site that allows social interaction
These include social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter; gaming sites and virtual worlds such as Second Life; video sites such as YouTube; and blogs.

JobInterviewThe authors point out that many social sites gather information on the person using a site and use that information to give advertisers the ability to target “behavioral” ads directly to an individual’s profile. They also discuss how this information can come back to haunt kids later in life:

“When Internet users visit various Web sites, they can leave behind evidence of which sites they have visited. This collective, ongoing record of one’s Web activity is called the “digital footprint.” One of the biggest threats to young people on social media sites is to their digital footprint and future reputations. Preadolescents and adolescents who lack an awareness of privacy issues often post inappropriate messages, pictures, and videos without understanding that “what goes online stays online.” As a result, future jobs and college acceptance may be put into jeopardy by inexperienced and rash clicks of the mouse.”

Browser beware!

It’s 10 p.m. Do you know whom your kid is texting?

An article by Liz Perle on, The Side Effects of Media, discusses a Kaiser Family Foundation report called Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds.

Perle, citing the report, points out:

  • Over the past 5 years, there has been a huge increase in media use – from nearly 6 1/2 hours to more than 7 1/2 hours today
  • Due to multitasking, kids pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes of media content into those 7 1/2 hours. Kids ages 8-18 spend more time with media than they do with their parents or in school.
  • Mobile and online media fuel these huge increases in media use
  • Three groups stand out for their high levels of consumption: preteens, African Americans, and Hispanics
  • Kids who spend more time with media report lower grades and lower levels of personal contentment
  • Parental involvement matters: Children whose parents set rules or limited access spent less time with media than their peers

Seven and a half hours a day almost equals the amount of time most adults spend at work. But these children consume media seven days a week, not five. During that 7.5 hours per day, the time they spend reading magazines dropped from 14 to nine minutes; reading newspapers dropped from six minutes to three.

Kaiser found: “Today the typical 8- to 18-year-old’s home contains an average of 3.8 TVs, 2.8 DVD or VCR players, 1 digital video recorder, 2.2 CD players, 2.5 radios, 2 computers, and 2.3 console video game players. Except for radios and CD players, there has been a steady increase in the number of media platforms in young people’s homes over the past 10 years (with the advent of the MP3 player, the number of radios and CD players has actually declined in recent years).”

Much of that media is moving into the bedroom, according to Kaiser. Kids report spending more time watching TV than using any other medium. Among 7th–12th graders, about four in ten (39%) say they multitask with another medium “most of the time” they are watching TV.

The researchers also say that in a typical day, 46% of 8- to 18-year‑olds report sending text messages on a cell phone. Those who do text estimate that they send an average of 118 messages in a typical day. On average, 7th–12th graders report spending about an hour and a half (1:35) engaged in sending and receiving texts.

But that’s not the only thing kids use smartphones for. Smartphones are rapidly becoming a media-delivery platform for this age group. Older teens report spending more than an hour a day consuming media via the cell phone alone (:23 for music, :22 for games, :22 for TV).

My take: These findings suggest that young Americans spend more time consuming media than they do eating, sleeping, or going to school. When I was growing up, the term “conspicuous consumption” referred to the clothes, cars and other things people bought to flaunt their wealth. One might say that among today’s youth, conspicuous consumption refers to the increasing ways that people devour information from smartphones. Seriously, parents need to set some limits for kids and teach them about media, just as they would teach them to drive. In the personal essay section of this blog, I describe (in sometimes painful detail) how different media can sometimes skew the way people make life-altering decisions.

How Social Media Impacts Brand Marketing: The Value of References

New research by NM Incite helps uncover what impacts social media may have for marketers trying to build their brands and connect with their audience more directly.

Consumers are spending more time than ever using social media, as demonstrated in the Social Media Report recently published by Nielsen and NM Incite, a Nielsen/McKinsey company. Building on this report, research by NM Incite helps uncover what impacts social media may have for marketers trying to build their brands and connect with their audience more directly.

Social media plays an important role in how consumers discover, research, and share information about brands and products. In fact, 60 percent of consumers researching products through multiple online sources learned about a specific brand or retailer through social networking sites. Active social media users are more likely to read product reviews online, and 3 out of 5 create their own reviews of products and services. Women are more likely than men to tell others about products that they like (81% of females vs. 72% of males). Overall, consumer-generated reviews and product ratings are the most preferred sources of product information among social media users.

Preferred sources of brand information

Research shows that social media is increasingly a platform consumers use to express their loyalty to their favorite brands and products, and many seek to reap benefits from brands for helping promote their products. Among those who share their brand experiences through social media, at least 41 percent say they do so to receive discounts. When researching products, social media users are likely to trust the recommendations of their friends and family most, and results from Nielsen’s Global Online Survey indicate that 2 out of 3 respondents said they were either highly or somewhat influenced by advertising with a social context.

Social Media also plays a key role in protecting brands: 58 percent of social media users say they write product reviews to protect others from bad experiences, and nearly 1 in 4 say they share their negative experiences to “punish companies”. Many customers also use social media to engage with brands on a customer service level, with 42 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds acknowledging that they expect customer support within 12 hours of a complaint.

Why consumers share their company experiences

Research dated October 14, 2011. For the full report:

My personal take: the value of social media in a marketing program is “references.” Other research I have seen (see post on Future of Digital Media & Responsive Design) indicates that click-throughs from conventional banner ads are not the primary value.