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MBPT Spotlight: How Not to Get Lost on the Consumer Journey

7/16/2013 02:26:41 PM Eastern

Data creates new opportunities to understand how real people
find their way to brands, and new insights as to how to communicate in ways
that support their journey. But how do you navigate through all of the
information that's available?

For a moment, take a look at the objects around you. Now,
think about the process you went through in acquiring these items. My guess is
that, in some cases, the process was pretty simple.

Let's say that you're drinking a delicious cup of tea. Did
you do some background research by looking at videos on expert tea blogs? Did
you run it past your friends before you bought it? Did you go to different
stores to compare prices? Probably not.

The truth is that while we have numerous ways to obtain
things and an almost infinite ability to research them, sometimes we don't
expend the effort. There are times that you want to be an "empowered" consumer...and
there are times you just want a cup of your favorite tea.

What about more high-involvement purchases, like your
television, kitchen appliances, furniture and even the pictures on the walls?
These could all be the end product of a decision-making process in which
communications play a bigger and more multi-layered role than ever before. By
way of illustration, MediaCom's own Car Buyer Journey research identified 30
different forms of influence from communications in the period leading up to
the purchase.

We are now increasingly adept at shuttling between different
content sources to help us make an optimal decision, including brand
information, third-party experts, peer reviews and algorithmically-derived
comparisons. And because of the increasingly ubiquitous access to the Internet,
we can do this exploring anywhere or anytime.

Also, because most of us are not Spock-like creatures of
pure logic, our journeys are not tidy, linear affairs: most likely they involve
an interplay between emotional and rational needs as we backtrack, recheck our
facts (until we find ones that we like) and procrastinate before we actually do
something.

Opportunities and Challenges

The upside here is clear: There's lots more opportunity for
communications to play a role in influencing decisions. The brand that spots
the right times to connect with consumers (and provides the right content that
shifts the decision process in their favor) will win. The only downside is
complexity, which causes confusion and alienates customers.

Here are five fundamentals that can help.

1. Look for the category patterns

Journeys may look complicated, but it's essential to
understand how different kinds of information influence the decision-making
process. Don't be intimidated by "big data." Just bringing together digital
data from across the spectrum can reveal patterns of intention and behavior
between consumers and the brands in your category. At the other end of the
scale, "method insight" (getting a real-world feel by accompanying consumers
during their decision journeys) is an equally legitimate way of understanding
the nuances in these journey "patterns."

2. Understand where communications can play a role

Identify the most important points at which your
communications can connect with your customer's decision-making process. Data
can help inform your view in terms of both the volume of opportunity and the
quality of the connection. Assess where you can effectively disrupt your
competition.

3. Understand what content people are using

Consider the kind of content people are connecting with
right now. What role is it playing in their decision making? This is not a
creative critique, but a view on the consumer's use of "content," whether it be
brand advertising, peer reviews, retail communications or aggregators. Where
does content need to be emotive, where is it rational, where is it lean-forward
and where is it interruptive?

4. Connect your content

In a world where every screen is a potential shop window,
are you making it easy for people to navigate your content? Think of your
agency as communication plumbers: our job is to keep consumers within our
communication system by making sure that all the elements of the plan are
correctly linked together, a la Super Mario Brothers.

5. Collaboration is key

Taking a consumer-centered view of the decision-making
journey is a brilliant way to align the efforts of your agencies with a common
vision: the right objective for the right content delivered at the right
connection point. Far from complicating matters, this provides a touchstone for
creativity and analysis. Instead of being intimidated by the expanding role of
communications in influencing decisions, we should embrace it as an opportunity
to understand more intimately how real people are finding their way to our
brands. Just as importantly, it's a chance for us to create more coherent
communications that support them on that journey.

GroupM's MediaCom is one of the leading media agencies in
the U.S.

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