We live in a world defined by connectedness, a world in which we increasingly rely not on organizations or institutions, but on ourselves and people in our network neighborhoods, to validate potential courses of action. Yet as marketers, we continue to respond to communications challenges almost instinctively by “turning up the volume.” We hope our particular message will somehow cut through the clutter.
Behaving like this, we are the clutter.
The majority of the advertising we’re exposed to each day is a “let me tell you” proposition pushed out through a one-way channel. This approach can be off-putting with contemporary (read “desirable”) consumers seeking a more participative role in what’s new, what works, and what they want to buy tomorrow, today, right now.
Twenty years ago, the consideration cycle — the part of the classic buying process that sits between awareness and purchase — was pretty much off limits, at least partially because we lacked the technology to effectively leverage it. Now, with the Web, instant messenger, desktop agents (think Southwest Airlines’ Ding!), mobile phones, iPods, and RSS (define), some of the most sought-after consumers now come to you to do research.
For savvy marketers, this opens up consideration opportunities in the buying cycle and beyond. It occurs where opinions are actually formed and sustainable word of mouth begins.
The consideration cycle links “awareness” and “purchase” in the buying process. At this point, a consumer begins to validate her potential choices. Connected consumers (that is, most consumers) are very likely to manage consideration issues by talking with those they trust, taking advantage of social networks’ transparent nature. They think together and share information and experiences before buying.
For contemporary consumers, particularly the Millennials (those born after 1980) who are growing up with unprecedented access to real-time information, these consideration activities can either reinforce or “out” the awareness-cycle offer, driving or stopping any purchase intention. A marketing presence in the consideration process is now a necessary part of advertising and marketing.
Forrester Research reports one consumer as saying, “No matter what I hear, read, or find on TV, radio, or in a magazine or newspaper, I can verify it on the Internet.”
In the classic buying funnel, awareness leads down to consideration, which in turn leads to purchase. In the contemporary funnel, the funnel reopens, reflecting the post-purchase generation of word of mouth and consumer-generated media (CGM). It’s at this point in the cycle that marketers have the best opportunity to build strong links that drive word of mouth and, ultimately, evangelism.
Evangelists actively affect marketing efforts during the consideration cycle through word of mouth and CGM. Word of mouth and similar social media channels are activated post-purchase through use of a product or service. Word of mouth, distinct from buzz, is created by actual experience, not by advertising. It enters into the buying process during the consideration cycle, after your awareness efforts. You may still be pitching, but it’s a consumer with a story to tell who’s last at bat.
Use the Consideration Cycle, Luke
The addition of a consideration-cycle marketing strategy bridges a critical gap between awareness and purchase for marketers. Consideration-cycle marketing is a toolbox essential: it opens the channel for effective word of mouth. Given that, how should marketers use the consideration cycle?
- Use consideration-cycle platforms, including interactive forms of branded entertainment, such as video games, sustainable word of mouth, personal high-definition broadband video, and educational marketing, to support and amplify traditional media through robust, integrated campaigns designed for individuals rather than mass targets.
- Aggressively measure. These measurements should include both individual channels and the overall campaign. It’s not enough to know that branded entertainment worked in a particular application. It’s essential to know how well it worked with all the other tools, so the combined impact can be consistently replicated.
- Just as consumers have new tools, so do marketers. The consideration cycle opens both sides of the marketing transaction to a two-way conversation. The same tools that consumers rely on lend themselves naturally to consideration efforts. Use them.
- Connect the consideration-cycle contributions of current customers with existing measures of customer profitability. While everyone sees the value of repeat customers, marketers should also assess the role of specific customers as “reference experts.” Be sure these customers have stories to tell. One other thing: Be absolutely certain you know what stories they’re telling.
Consideration-cycle marketing is both a strategic approach and a tactical methodology primed for marketers in a connected world. Marketing need no longer be centered on what the marketer has to say but rather on what the consumer wants to know, now. Savvy marketers can play to that. It’s a shift in media models from ad-supported mass channels to user-supported niche content. Marketers can participate by creating their own content. It’s about ceding brand-ownership to the evangelists, thereby ensuring a healthy word-of-mouth contribution to marketing efforts. Smart marketers can confidently put consumers in control.
Ultimately, it’s about reaching consumers through an invited presence in social networks. Marketers must launch great products that offer true value and engage potential customers in genuine conversation at the critical consideration point in the buying cycle. Combine consideration-cycle marketing with your current programs, and collect the dividends of a connected world.
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