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It has been argued that in our times it has never been easier to reach consumers and it has never been harder to make a connection with them. The challenge for the Marketing practitioners hangs on their competence to navigate the Purchase Funnel – Awareness to Consideration/Preference to Conversion/Purchase to Loyalty/Retention, in an evolved way. The funnel in its essence has not changed, technology though and consumer expectations of brands & companies has changed, and as a consequence the journey i.e. the consumer decision making process in the funnel.
If we follow the progression of Marketing, will observe that the post WWII – to the late 80s, ushered the Marketing department era breaking away from the sales orientation of the past. The main objective was to create brand awareness and interest through mass advertising using mainly TV and Print. Brand building and explanation of brand benefits was at focus, leading to purchase. From 1990 – to roughly 2010 consumers became more sophisticated in brand understanding, while companies had far more understanding of consumers due to technological advances, big data. Successful companies and marketing strategies were now distinguished by their ability to understand not only what the consumers are doing but also why they are doing it. This deepened the consumer relationship leading to more personalized offerings. Moreover in that period we observe the emergence of experiential marketing. The main objective became to keep the consumers we had (more expensive getting new ones). Pressure from shareholders/stakeholders directed marketing efforts largely towards offers with ROI fixated on its impact on financial results. Customer loyalty and associated marketing efforts in relationship marketing became the focus.
We seem to have now moved into a new era characterized as the mobile/social marketing era. It is largely characterized by real time connections and a consumer which is more in the driver seat regarding the relationship with brands and companies alike. To affect consumer behavior marketing actions should be based on mutual trust and respect. Authenticity is key. You cannot for instance be a tobacco company which values health & wellness. The consumer is not excited by bells & whistles a company imbues its products with. Two points could shed some light on this:
a. Simon Sinek’s “start with the Why” concept has a most valuable insight. He suggests that not the product per se but that the company’s “purpose, cause and belief of what inspires you to do what you do” is by far more potent call to action towards a consumer. Consumer buys not What you do but Why you do it. The consumer buys the Why you do it because it buys your belief. In the Why lies the trust the loyalty and in turn the opportunity for an authentic relationship. Consumer buys feelings not products.
b. Empirical market evidence, on successful brands, points out that brands should be perceived and become the platform where the consumer is invited to narrate its own personal story, where the brand is merely the facilitator. It is about them-the consumers- what they want and how they feel. They are the focus and not the brand. This points far beyond just casual consumer engagement and short term sales, necessitated by anxious boards.
So reflecting on the above, how is the Purchase Funnel being evolved in the new era of social/mobile marketing?
In broad strokes, the funnel is more dynamic and interactive to meet consumer expectations at all times and at different touch points, which obviously affects the way the marketing budget is invested. Moreover, the evolved funnel, should not be conceptualized as being a linear process but rather as a circular self-feeding loop. Some significant implications of this evolution:
Awareness (or Initial consumer Consideration), is not separated as off-line (TV, Print, Radio, Out-door boards) and online, it is rather, a coordinated marketing message which inspires employees and consumers alike, broadcasted in an online environment with offline aspects where necessary. This is important to effect a synchronized desired consumer response at both the digital environment (e-commerce channel) and the physical one (retail channel).
Consideration/Preference, takes place from consumers that have thoroughly researched both brand and company. The experiences of friends, family and online forums are heavily weighted in the decision making process.
Purchase, becomes less spontaneous and more purposeful based on deliberate examination and review.
Loyalty/Retention, is more like a consumer conscious self-endorsement based on authentic demonstration of brand & company values. The brand is viewed as an enabler to help someone achieve something or makes it easier to become something etc.