The Consumer Journey Is Increasingly Self-Directed. Should Brands Be Worried?

Today, consumers are masters of their own destiny. Ongoing technology-driven changes in consumer purchasing behavior have had a profound effect on how individuals shop for the products and services they need—and, consequently, on how businesses and marketers have attempted to influence that process, often referred to as the “consumer journey” or “journey mapping.” These changes have accelerated over the past year as unprecedented challenges continue to ripple across the global economy, but the simple truth remains that consumers are better equipped now than ever before to navigate and even drive their own purchasing journey.

In this crowded and fiercely competitive environment, brands must develop an intimate understanding of their audience and what they value in order to make an impact, establish credibility and eventually build long-term loyalty. This presents a challenge, as consumers are armed with more and better information than ever before (and a healthy sense of skepticism about the communications they receive from companies). It is only through authentic engagement with these individuals at every touchpoint (both physical and digital) along the consumer decision-making journey that brands can stay top of mind and differentiate themselves from the competition.

Personalization is key, as no consumer’s path to purchase is exactly like another’s. However, their interactions with a given brand can generally be mapped to four critical touchpoints along their journey:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Purchase & Product Experience
  4. Brand Loyalty

Achieving awareness is the first and most consequential step in the consumer journey—simply breaking through the clutter to reach a larger audience is a hurdle many brands struggle to overcome. Knowing where and how to engage consumers in a meaningful way requires a robust understanding of exactly who is interacting with your brand, and why. By conducting a data-driven audit of a brand’s marketing activities (whether that entails tracking website traffic, email clickthrough rates, social media activity, and/or any other metric), brands can better understand their audience and leverage those learnings to amplify awareness in the future.

Once a brand has advanced into the consideration phase of the consumer journey, they are placed in active competition with other brands as the consumer conducts self-directed research, which can include targeted visits to your brand’s website, an online marketplace listing or one or more social media pages. The answers that consumers find (or don’t find) bear directly on their decision-making process, so it is absolutely critical to ensure that you deliver relevant content in a way that is both authentic and easily accessible. Deploying a thoughtful content and digital marketing strategy is key to guiding individuals toward the third (but not final!) step of their consumer journey—purchase.

Marketers have traditionally viewed purchase as the narrow end of the sales “funnel,” a useful but increasingly antiquated model that visualizes the consumer journey with awareness at the wide end and consideration at center as the consumer gradually narrows the field of choices down to one final decision.

One failing of this model is that it does not take into account that consumers can enter and leave at multiple points—especially in today’s digital ecosystem. The fast-paced nature of web-based information exchange means that there are opportunities for brands to interrupt the consideration step very late in the cycle. Consumer journey mapping complements the insight gleaned from the traditional funnel model, allowing brands to develop tailored messaging unique to each of their audience segments—better positioning them to earn consumer loyalty.

How to Help Your Audience Navigate the Consumer Journey

  • Conduct a data-driven audit of your brand’s marketing activities to better understand your audience at each step of their consumer journey
  • Deliver relevant, authentic and accessible content to capture your audience’s attention and drive them towards purchase
  • Strive to exceed consumer expectations at every touchpoint to increase short-term sales and earn long-term brand loyalty

From everyday consumables to complex, B2B services, consumers have more choices to navigate and better information with which to make their decision than ever before. The good news is that brands have more opportunities to influence and even interrupt the consumer journey by demonstrating an authentic understanding of their audience and of what they value.

Consumers today choose when and where and whether they engage with brands, but they don’t control how or if brands deliver an experience that meets their expectations. Earning brand loyalty means delivering an exceptional experience throughout the consumer journey—up to, at and beyond the point of purchase.

Brands that are able to effectively exceed consumer expectations at every touchpoint (including, importantly, the experience of using the product or service itself) will be best positioned to make a lasting impression and inspire their audience to seek them out again and again in the future. Achieving this level of passionate advocacy is a critical long-term objective, as satisfied customers may recommend the brand to others who are setting out on a consumer journey of their own.

To learn more about this topic or to discuss an issue impacting your business, contact Bailey’s Vice President of Client Services, Jamie Gailewicz, at 610-818-3103 or email us at [email protected].

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