In 1898, Elias St. Elmo Lewis developed the Purchase Funnel, the now familiar pathway customers travel from consideration to purchase. There are four steps in the process that have always been integral to every CMO's approach to marketing: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action.
The Purchase Funnel
Awareness - A person becomes aware of the product either through advertising or the recommendation of a friend.
Interest - After having been made aware of the product or service and determining its relevance, the person expresses interest.
Desire - This step is an exponential progression from the Interest stage. The person moves from a "nice to have" mentality to a "must have" mentality.
Action - The person puts desire into action and makes a purchase decision.
While this purchase funnel has served marketers well over the years, a recent study conducted by Latitude found 87% of consumers now travel a less linear, more complex pathway to final purchase. The study identified six behavioral or mental states a buyer experiences when considering a purchase.
The 6 Behavioral and Mental States Involved in the New Purchase Loop
1) Openness - Consumers experience a receptiveness to new or better experiences, which results from pre-existing interest in or curiosity about a category or topic area. At this stage, it can be a conscious or unconscious desire for a brand.
2) Realized Want or Need - A piece of information, a news story, an article, or a friend's recommendation acts as a catalyst, giving the consumer a reason to start looking into things the person wants or needs.
3) Learning and Education - At this stage, the consumer moves from initial interest to a research mentality to gain an understanding of the broad fundamentals in order to make a purchase the consumer can feel good about.
4) Seeking Ideas and Inspiration - Here, the consumer seeks a solid reason to look for, notice, and keep track of examples, thought-starters, and motivators surrounding the product in question in order to take the next step.
5) Research and Vetting - Here the consumers gathers information to support feelings of purchase intent. Options are compared, deals are sought, prices are compared, and reviews are read all to determine personal associations with the brand.
6) Post-Purchase Evaluation and Expansion - Following purchase, the consumer uses and experiences the purchase to decide how he or she feels. At this stage, they might post a product review or share their experience with friends.
This new purchase consideration track takes into consideration a person's emotions, and understands the process isn't linear -- that a person can bounce from one stage to another as they make their way to final purchase.
The study also took a look at the types of media used during each stage of the process.
In each of the six stages, the internet far outweighed all other media used during the purchase consideration process. In every stage except post-purchase, the internet was integral to the process for three quarters of respondents.
Reliance on television, without surprise, has practically fallen off the map in terms of being a useful medium during the consideration process. Just 29% report relying on the medium even at the earliest stage. With that finding, one has to call into question the millions of dollars brands spend to "build awareness" when, clearly, every other medium is more heavily relied upon.
The Role of Inbound Marketing
So, how does a marketer realign their tactics to better align with this new purchase consideration cycle? Put simply, your brand needs to be there when someone comes looking for a solution to the problem or need you serve. Let's address what you as a CMO must have in place in each of the six stages when potential customers start looking.
At this stage, a potential customer might not even know they need your product or service. But they are open to suggestions if they can be convinced there is a need. For example, a person may not know they need an electric socket that's actually a security drawer to hide valuable items (yes, a product like that exists ), but if they read an article about how the best way to hide things is in plain sight (or in places no one would ever think to look), they might become more open to the idea of considering such a product.
How would they come to this conclusion? By reading a piece of content that addressed home safety -- like a blog post with the five steps one should take before they leave for a month-long vacation. And how would they find this information? They'd find it from you, because as CMO, you would have an inbound marketing program in place that generated SEO-friendly content which allows you to present a need, and also conveniently slip in a mention of your cheap but very effective solution.
Realized Want or Need
At this point, the person heading off on that month long vacation to Belize may have come to the realization that there are home safety concerns with which to contend. So they run off to Google and type in "home safety." This is where effective SEO strategies come into play. The person probably hasn't come to the conclusion they need an electric socket that doubles and a place to hide valuables, but they do have general home safety concerns and don't want their valuables at risk if their house is broken into while away. So they will be seeking broader home safety advice, and you want to be there via the right keywords, with a link to a product information page, blog post or landing page on which they would find a whitepaper on, say, The Top Ten Home Safety Concerns When Going on Vacation.
Learning and Education
Akin to the second step in the loop, this third step sees our vacationer understanding there are certain home safety-related steps they must take before they leave town. They know they need to inform their neighbors; they know they need to make sure their home alarm system is in working order; they know they need to arm themselves with home safety-related information -- so after having downloaded and read your whitepaper, they would be receptive to the follow-up email you would send them (since you collected their email address on the landing page) which offered another whitepaper or report that further explained the importance of home safety, and the steps they could take to achieve it.
Seeking Ideas and Inspiration
Here, because our vacationer seeks a solid reason to look for, notice, and keep track of examples, thought-starters, and motivators surrounding the idea of home safety, additional content assets would be helpful. Think things like case studies or testimonials from customers who had the misfortune of having their house broken into but, because they had your nifty electric socket hideaway, didn't lose any of their valuables. And you would be able to send better targeted content assets, because you used progressive profiling on your landing pages to drill down into what the vacationer's more specific pain points were.
Research and Vetting
Here the vacationer realizes they will, in fact, be buying certain home safety products before they leave for vacation. Because you have determined their predilection for home safety products through the previous information they requested, you can offer them customized, relevant information such as a report on the cost benefit analysis of various home safety products. Your product being the best choice for their needs -- needs which you've gotten to know over the course of your interactions with them -- leads to a purchase of your product.
Post-Purchase Evaluation and Expansion
Because they bought from you and because they are in your lead management system , you can continue to market to them using marketing automation to deliver them information on the additional home safety products you offer, such as the in-wall oven that's actually a heavy duty safe. Okay, that's not actually a real product. At least not to my knowledge.
It's extremely important to note that these six stages do not always occur in linear order. Rather, they align with the differing and not always logical state of human emotions that come into play during a purchase decision. But with proper inbound marketing tactics applied to each of the six stages, you'll be well positioned to address the needs of your target audience, convert them into leads and, ultimately, into customers
How do you think the new purchase loop changes the way marketers do their jobs?
About.com Latitude Study
Originally published Feb 8, 2013 2:00:00 PM, updated June 10 2021