Patients Take Purchase Decision “Journeys”

They say the longest journey begins with a single step but for consumers considering cosmetic surgery, it’s the steps that follow that may matter most. And for doctors trying to market their practice in these socially-driven times, being there for the entire journey is more important than ever.

These days, aesthetic consumers no longer take a linear route to choosing a doctor, says Tom Seery, CEO of RealSelf.com. Instead, they’re on a decision journey that can last years and contain twists and turns. Along the way, they gravitate toward fast, easy and free access to answers, real patient feedback and first-hand accounts.

That model mirrors what marketing experts refer to as the “consumer decision journey,” or CDJ, a concept first formulated by McKinsey & Company in 2009. Where traditional marketing theory described the typical purchase process as a funnel — wide at the beginning as consumers considered many brands, then narrowing to a final choice — the CDJ model recognizes that the process is a more circular one that involves an initial trigger, followed by active evaluation and, ultimately, a purchase and ensuing loyalty.

At the same time, McKinsey’s research suggests that the traditional model of “pushing” marketing messages to consumers is becoming increasingly outdated:

In today’s decision journey, consumer-driven marketing is increasingly important as customers seize control of the process and actively “pull” information helpful to them. Our research found that two-thirds of the touch points during the active-evaluation phase involve consumer-driven marketing activities, such as Internet reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family.

For aesthetic professionals, the significance can’t be overstated for one simple reason: Consumers considering cosmetic procedures undertake significant — and often lengthy — journeys themselves before they ever get close to making a decision:

I have wanted to get implants since 2001 recently wrote a member on RealSelf.com, who finally had the procedure in February 2012.

Dreaming of this FOREVER wrote another after five years of debating whether or not to pursue breast augmentation.

Wishing I’d done this a decade ago, wrote a third of her decision to have a Mommy Makeover in January.

What’s that mean for doctors? First and foremost, it presents an opportunity to interact with potential patients over an extended period of time. Second, it offers that opportunity at a time and place when those prospective patients are hungry for information (and comfortable in the company of other consumers) with shared concerns. And third, it conforms to the way consumers make purchasing decisions in ways no Yellow Pages ad or direct-mail brochure can.

As McKinsey’s David Court notes,

When marketers understand this journey and direct their spending and messaging to the moments of maximum influence, they stand a much greater chance of reaching consumers in the right place at the right time with the right message.

Doctor Takeaways

1. Understand the journey aesthetic consumers are on

Many aesthetic consumers, especially those considering procedures for the first time, are nervous, excited and searching for both information and reassurance that they’re making an informed decision. Reading online user reviews — both pre- and post-procedure — is key to understanding their mindset.

2. Prioritize how, when and where you expend your marketing efforts

Roughly 70–90% of spending on marketing goes to advertising and retail promotions that hit consumers at the consider and buy stages, writes David Edelman in the Harvard Business Review, yet consumers are often influenced more during the evaluate and enjoy-advocate-bond stages. Targeting the latter will also help create brand advocates who can spread your message even further.

3. Take your message to consumers during their evaluation period, not just at the point-of-purchase

As more consumers turn to the Internet during the active-evaluation phase, doctors should, too. In this environment, says McKinsey, focusing your energies (and budget) on digital assets — your website, programs that foster word-of-mouth and SEO/PPC efforts — is likely to provide a better ROI than buying space in traditional media.  Marketing just before the decision, such as in an online doctor directory, is far less effective.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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