My brother bought one of the first Mini Coopers. Actually, he bought one of the first of the new generation of Minis - not the originals. I don't remember the actual year he bought the car, but it was when the Mini was all over the media but you didn't see too many of them out on the road. So, when he bought his, he didn't get to just drive it off the lot. He placed the order and then had to wait about six weeks before the car actually arrived.
It was a stretch of time where I think he thought more about that car than at any other time, before or after. He had already made the decision to buy and committed the money but had yet to experience the product. This was a period before Facebook or Twitter, but we all certainly got a good number of emails from my brother about his purchase and his upcoming ownership. In particular, they had given him a website where he could actually track the progress of the shipping of the car. He knew the moment that the container ship reached this side of the ocean.
I think about this episode, in particular, because there seems to be a new focus on the so-called purchase funnel. This is the idea that has become so common to marketing: that consumers move through a series of steps toward a purchase, and that at every step the audience gets smaller.
Today, the new focus on the customer journey is massively influenced by digital technology, especially search and social. Google has made a big splash, changing the nature of the discussion of the consumer journey, shifting the metaphor we use away from the "funnel" and toward the concept of "moments of truth." Google's primary statement on this idea is ZMOT, the so-called Zero Moment of Truth.
If you haven't had a chance to read through the thinking on ZMOT, you definitely should. But the shorthand of the idea is that it leaps from previous thinking, which said that there was First Moment of Truth, the instant in which a consumer makes a decision to buy one product over another. Think of the shopper standing in the toothpaste aisle making a choice among dozens of brands. Google argues that there is a moment of truth that precedes that one where the consumer encounters the brand online and makes a decision about its value based on content and opinions of others. That Zero Moment leads to the First Moment.
I think this is accurate and we have certainly seen it. It is interesting to note that we increasingly see people who walk into that toothpaste aisle become overwhelmed and pull out a smartphone, collapsing the Zero and First Moment into one. There is a Second Moment as well, when the consumer actually tries the product and decides if it was worth the price or fits her needs.
I also like this idea of moments because it allows us to consider other moments, such as the one my brother experienced with the Mini. This is the gap of time between having made the transaction and experiencing the product. For the Mini, this was several weeks. For the toothpaste, it might be a few hours. But for every product ordered online, it will be at least a day between buying and getting, considering shipping.
Personally, as a strategist, I love this stretch of time. Traditionally, we would have considered the consumer who bought something in the bag and not anything to be concerned with. We needed to move attention and resources back to the top of the funnel, trying to draw more people in. But with social media, we have a chance to engage these consumers in a very direct and organic conversation. They are focused on the decision they made. If the purchase is large at all, the consumer most likely is feeling some stress about whether or not the decision was a good one, for example.
This is why I want to include an option in all of the shopping cart/checkout pages on e-commerce sites that have "follow on Twitter" or "like on Facebook." It would be so incredibly powerful to not only get a new follower at that moment, but also to identify this particular person as having purchased a particular thing. This would be an opportunity to not only get any special needs or requests, but also to create an opportunity for advocacy, inviting them to tell their friends about the purchase they made.
Ultimately, though, the best thing about replacing the funnel as the illustration of how consumers get to a decision is great. The funnel is a convenient idea, but only requires you to have a very narrow and overly-structured vision of consumer behavior. Plus, in some key categories like cars, consumers are very actively fighting against being in the funnel. People like to buy things, but they tend to dislike being sold things.
The idea of a series of moments, connected together with technology and underpinned with data, can help us to achieve a goal that everyone in marketing - at least part of the latest generation - is striving for: allowing the consumer to be in control and to have a more precise understanding of how people decide, without ever having to force or coerce them.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
March 19, 2014