The way consumers are researching and buying products has shifted significantly in recently years. Consumers have taken control of their purchase process. With websites, blogs, Facebook updates, online reviews and more, they use almost twice as many sources of information to make decisions as they did in the past. They know what they want to purchase, when they want to purchase it, and they resent any attempt to force-feed them messages. Because of this dramatic shift, the traditional marketing funnel paradigm is being replaced.
The new paradigm for marketing is the customer lifecycle that places customer needs, not business needs, at the forefront. The customer lifecycle considers the overall experience that a customer has with a brand and how that contributes to loyalty (or not). It also better reflects the ability of each individual to influence the purchase decisions of others to an unparalleled extent. The lifecycle also illustrates the fact that the consumer journey is not a linear path. Today, consumers flow easily across stages in an iterative cycle.
In this stage, consumers discover an unmet need. They begin to think about a relatively narrow set of products and services that might meet this need. Most consumers start their decision process with brands they are already familiar with.
In the next stage, consumers begin to actively explore and evaluate their options. The consumer is intent on purchasing. They begin to explore on the Internet, research options, read reviews, and pay closer attention to advertisements and promotions. In this stage, it is critical for brands to ensure that review and comparison information is widely available.
The third stage of the process involves the consumer’s decision and actual purchase. Consumers tend to make their purchases in the most convenient channel.
In the Engage stage, consumers engage with the product or service they’ve purchased. The experience that consumers have during this stage determines loyalty and whether positive or negative feedback is shared via reviews and social media. They may also engage with customer service or a user community to receive support. Consumer activity during this stage can also help companies identify other potential needs.
During the Advocate stage, consumers share their experiences of the product or service with others. They may do this through reviews, social media or direct word of mouth. Companies can encourage this by providing invectives to consumers to provide reviews.
What do Pandora, Netflix and Amazon all have in common? All three are world-class “segmenters.”
– Brian Halligan, CEO and Co-Founder of HubSpot
Another significant change in marketing is a growing understanding of how consumer behavior is increasingly varied, even within the same demographic segments. This has given rise to the concept of microsegments. Microsegments represent a more precise slice of a market and are typically identified through advanced technology and analytics techniques. Microsegments contain fewer consumers which allows for highly personalized predictive analysis and marketing optimization.
For years, marketers used demographic segments–not because this was the optimal approach but simply because demographic data was the only data readily available. Today, digital touchpoints provide much more information about consumer behavior, and this data can be combined with demographic data to create microsegments. For an example of the limitations associated with traditional demographic segmentation, see the illustration below comparing two individuals with similar demographic profiles.
Once marketers have defined microsegments, they can use quantitative and qualitative analysis to understand how each microsegment behaves at each stage of the customer lifecycle. Marketing investments can be allocated where they will have the greatest impact.
For example, consider the hypothetical case of a company that has made significant investments in its website and website content updates. By using data to better understand its most valuable microsegments, the company finds that only a small percentage actually visit the website during the customer lifecycle. Instead, the company finds that these consumers tend to visit online review and comparison sites during the Explore stage. The company is then able to shift resources from the website to content provided to comparison sites. Better product images, information and reviews have a significant impact on the purchase decisions of these microsegments, and the company experiences a near-term revenue increase.
One of the most powerful ways that data and analytics can be used in modern marketing is in helping marketers define microsegments and then analyze the behavior of these microsegments during each stage of the customer lifecycle. The insights gained from this analysis provide a strategic overview and roadmap for marketing that guides activities and investments and helps deliver significant financial results.