Consumer buying is not random, as some retailers seem to believe. In fact, Business to Community points out that many retailers still approach product and service marketing with an almost willy-nilly attitude, as if certain products just happen to appeal to certain customers and that purchases either occur or they don’t.
Interestingly, though, there is an actual scientific method for determining what goes into the consumer buying process—a method that makes marketing to a target audience more than just a toss of the dice.
We’ve listed the 6 stages of the consumer buying process below, along with ideas on how you can effectively market to them:
Stage #1 – Problem Recognition
Essentially, before a purchase can take place, the customer must believe that what they want, where they want to be, or how they perceive themselves or a situation, is different from where they actually are. Because the desire is different from the reality, it represents a problem for the customer.
But for your business, it creates opportunities. By “creating a problem” for the customer (regardless of whether they recognize that it exists already or not) you are initiating the buying process. You can achieve this through content marketing by sharing facts and testimonials of the benefits your products or services can provide. Additionally, you can ask questions to draw consumers into the buying process. This prompts potential customers to realize that they have a need that requires a solution.
Stage # 2 – Information Search
After a problem has been established and recognized, the customer then begins the search for a solution. If they have a dog in need of a leash with a more comfortable fit, for example, they will start looking for pet supply retailers. To capture this “searching” demographic, you should aim to establish your brand as an industry leader or expert in a particular field.
This might include becoming a Google Trusted Store, or advertising partnerships and/or sponsors prominently on all your web materials, as well as other marketing collateral.
Becoming a Google Trusted Store increases your search rankings and provides consumers with a sense of security by displaying your business’s status on your website. Plus, improving your brand’s credibility influences the information search process by keeping your business in the mind of the customer and in front of the competition.
Stage # 3 – Evaluation of Alternatives
Standing out from the competition doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a customer will purchase your products or services. In a digital age where information is readily available, customers are conducting thorough research prior to making purchases. This means they’re checking out all of their options to make sure their decision is the right one.
Your marketing goal here is to keep consumers on your site throughout the entire Evaluation of Alternatives stage. For example, leading insurance provider, Geico, lets customers compare rates with other insurance companies on their own website (even if the competition has cheaper prices). By doing this, Geico is simplifying the Evaluation of Alternatives process, as well as building relationships of trust with potential customers.
Stage # 4 – Purchase Decision
It may come as a surprise that the purchase decision actually falls in the middle of the consumer buying process. You’d think that at this point, the customer would be ready to move forward with their purchase after thoroughly exploring pricing and options. But, even at this stage, they could still decide to back out.
The Purchase Decision is the most crucial step in the consumer buying process because it is the point at which profits are either made or lost. This means you’ll need to provide consumers with a sense of security while reminding them of the reasons they wanted to make the purchase in the first place. Speak to the need or problem that was created in step one, as well as providing more information on why your brand is the best choice for solving their problem and fulfilling their need.
Stage # 5 – Purchase
With all the stages that lead to a conversion now completed, a purchase is a sure thing, right? Unfortunately, you could still lose the customer during the purchase phase. Needless to say, marketing is still going to play an essential role here (even if it’s more straightforward and simple). It’s a good idea to test your online purchasing process to make sure you’re not creating purchase barriers. Ask the questions below to determine how consumers might feel about your site’s checkout experience:
- Is it too complicated?
- Does it require too many steps?
- Is the load time too slow?
- Does your website have a responsive platform so purchases can be made just as easily on a mobile device as on a desktop computer?
Simplifying your brand’s purchase process will help you avoid the loss of customers and revenue.
Stage # 6 – Post-Purchase Evaluation
Even if a purchase has been made, the process does not end there. Ultimately, the customer must decide whether or not they are satisfied with the decision they made. And that means that both profit and customer loyalty can potentially be lost.
To mitigate the possibility of product returns, try to identify the source of dissatisfaction and offer an exchange that is simple and straightforward. Keep in mind that even if the customer is satisfied with his or her purchase, this may not guarantee that they purchase from your brand again in the future. Use this as an opportunity to send follow-up surveys and emails to your customers thanking them for their purchases and requesting their feedback.
Understanding how consumers arrive at their purchase decisions will help you develop a marketing strategy that effectively addresses each stage of the 6-step consumer buying process so you can truly meet the needs of your customers and improve their purchase experience. This, in turn, will help you increase conversions and establish long-term customer loyalty.