Do a Google image search for the term “consumer decision journey” and you’ll get a bewildering array of funnels, spirals and spaghetti-like flowcharts — all of which purport to explain the path consumers take from deciding they need something to actually buying it.
But while visuals can be helpful, it’s not really the shape of the journey that matters; it’s the new and unique behaviors that consumers exhibit along the way. And as Jason Thibeault recently wrote in a blog post on Econsultancy.com, anyone who wants to convert shoppers into buyers “must understand the new realities of these changes and align their digital and content strategies accordingly.”
Among the changes he cites:
The path is no longer linear: The old funnel-like model (awareness, consideration, purchase, etc.) simply doesn’t hold up in a world where people bounce from source to source, gathering reams of information along the way. This is especially true for long-lead purchases such as cosmetic surgery, which is why doctors need to launch their marketing efforts early in the game and commit to the long haul.
Discovery can happen at any time: All that easily accessed information has a downside: In an instant a new review, a fresh blog post or a follow-up search can prompt a consumer to restart the discovery process all over again where, of course, they may also discover the competition. The best defense against that is a good offense, built on a foundation of producing a steady stream of consistent, credible content that helps consumers make informed decisions.
Outbound marketing can be futile: Clearly, using a shotgun approach to blast out messages doesn’t work well when you’re not sure where your audience is at any given time. The better way is through inbound marketing in which you publish useful information that builds trust and a mutually beneficial relationship.
It’s not about campaigns as much anymore, says Thibeault, as it’s about engagement and involvement in the venues (like social media and communities) where users frequently look for answers to make a purchase decision.
The end goal isn’t just a purchase anymore: Once upon a time, a patient who’d had a breast aug or tummy tuck might (or might not) tell a few friends. Today’s aesthetic consumer is far more likely to tell the world via an online review. For her, it’s not just about the procedure; it’s about the entire experience (i.e., the journey) and doctors who continue to engage with patients post-procedure via email, social media or newsletters generate the kind of good feelings that turn satisfied customers into brand advocates.
Decision making is crowd sourced: Given the above, it’s impossible to overstate the role online reviews and other user-generated content play in people’s decision making, especially as younger consumers come to dominate the marketplace. (According to BazaarVoice, more Millennials trust recommendations from online strangers than from friends and family members.) And you don’t need a Ph.D. in psychology to know that the more expensive and more personal the purchase, the more important role the crowd is likely to play.
The new consumer decision journey also provides a marketing map for doctors
Doctors who understand the convoluted path consumers take when making purchasing decisions — and who adapt their marketing efforts accordingly — will not only be the ones those consumers find but also improve their odds of being the ones they choose.