The Aesthetic Consumer Decision Journey, Part I: The Procedure Is Paramount

By now, you’re probably familiar with the term “consumer decision journey,” the Internet-driven idea that today’s connected consumers take a long and often non-linear path from determining a need to choosing the business that’s going to help them resolve it. Gathering information from multiple sources along the way — search results, social conversations, reviews from other consumers, etc. — they narrow their choices even as they’re exposed to an infinite array of other options and alternatives.

And aesthetic consumers are no exception. In fact, given the expense and often emotion-laden nature of cosmetic surgery, it should come as no surprise that many of them take months or even years to come to a decision. It’s a complex process and the more you understand the thinking that drives it, the more likely you are to be considered when they do.

Dissatisfaction with body image is pervasive — and drives interest

According to a RealSelf/Zeitgeist Research survey, 87% of U.S. women are currently unhappy with at least one area of their body — and more than half (54%) are willing to think beyond the beauty counter to address their concerns. When asked how far they’ve gone or would be willing to go to change the appearance of a body part, 31% (29.8 million) would consider seeing a plastic surgeon to resolve the issue, with another 23% (22.2 million) saying they’d be willing to pursue less-invasive treatments at a medi-spa or medical clinic.

Emotional goals drive action; fears about outcomes hinder it

Forget Beyonce’s behind or Kylie Jenner’s lips. Media obsessions notwithstanding, most people considering cosmetic surgery aren’t trying to emulate celebrities; they’re hoping to be happier with their perception of themselves. When we asked members of the RealSelf community what they hoped to feel after plastic surgery, 76% said “confident,” more than the next three choices (sexy, peaceful, appreciated) combined.

At the same time, though, wide-ranging fears continue to deter potential patients from pursuing those goals. Chief among them? When we asked those same members of the RealSelf community what their greatest fear associated with plastic surgery was, 31% said “I won’t like the results,” followed by “complications (27%) and recovery issues (11%).

Review sites and practice websites dominate online research

When asked what resources potential patients used to learn more about a doctor, 61% of respondents said review sites, 60% said practice websites and 34% said online health sites. Conversely, few turn to the major social networks to conduct their aesthetic research, with just 14% citing Facebook and Instagram, 10% citing Pinterest and 9% citing Twitter.

The data suggest that even though cosmetic surgery is becoming more mainstream, it remains a subject that many people prefer not to broadcast to everyone in their social circles. And, really, how much useful information can be gleaned from a pinned photo or 140-character tweet? Instead…

Aesthetic consumers rely on what other patients have to say

Based on the above, it’s clear that aesthetic consumers are motivated by personal concerns yet also interested in how others have dealt with similar issues and concerns. In that light, online reviews do more than just provide a testimonial to a doctor’s skills; they help build confidence, counter fear and provide reassurance that no one has to go it alone. Little wonder, then, that seven in 10 aesthetic consumers say it’s very important to read about others’ experiences and 87% wouldn’t even consider a doctor who doesn’t have visible patient reviews.

Doctor Takeaway

It’s not (about) you; it’s (about) them

As noted above, every aesthetic consumer is on a decision journey, hoping to resolve a body concern, gather information and gain the confidence that she or he is making an informed decision about it. In that regard, it’s not about finding a doctor, at least initially; it’s about finding information about procedures that may help them accomplish their goals. In fact, 40% of respondents in a RealSelf survey said they spent more time researching the procedure than the doctor vs. 26% who spent more time researching the doctor (34% said equal time).

Doctors who create and share content that addresses these consumers’ concerns and issues demonstrate that that they’re focused on patient care, not self-promotion, a key differentiator when those patients start narrowing their consideration set of potential providers. At that point, additional factors come into play, making them an excellent topic for a subsequent post.

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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