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The beginning of customer journey – Initiation

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The customer comes to a crossing and stops because the brand successfully engages with him or something changes in the customer’s situation. In most customer journeys there is a defining moment when a person gets actively interested in buying, initiated. That moment can be identified rather reliably. Something makes a person actively start considering about buying something. Active purchasing consideration does create memories because it’s done.. well, actively in your conscious consideration. Active consideration could take years in some cases or it can spark purchase spontaneously. Depending on the category, differences are huge but also within a single product group customers’ behaviour have vast differences. In many smaller decisions the consideration is less profound but still, when ever you are breaking a habit or really considering about doing something, you can recall doing so when specifically asked about it. In fact the customer is the specialist in his own experience and we can learn from him. Best way of getting to know the dynamics and learning about the reasons for people to get interested is by doing one-to-one interviews. Interviews are actually for discovery, expedition trip to customer behaviour and drivers, differences and variety. Group discussions easily make people indicate rational behaviour although it was not. We would suggest one-on-one in-depth interviews or questionnaire before a group discussion asking person’s own thinking. In the group discussion some of the key findings could be thoroughly opened. This kind of approach enables capturing human behaviour more reliably.

There is a methodology in Psychology called Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (The Psychologist, vol 18, No1, January 2005) It has been developed for analysing people’s lived experiences. The methodology avoid making assumptions and does not test hypothesis. The person’s experience should be recorded as authentic as possible. They are done in one-on-one meeting. Interpretative means that the researcher looks for things that are distinct (i.e. idiographic studies), but will also attempt to balance this against an account of what is shared (i.e. commonalities across a group of participants). Researcher reduces the complexity of experiential data through rigorous and systematic analysis. Analysis relies on the process of people making sense of the world and their experiences. I use this methodology in Insight interviews and then create quantitative study based on these findings in order to quantify which phenomena has most meaning and can these phenomena related to specific business and brand be segmented in some way or result difference between segments and brands.

The best way we could come up when working on One Experience cross-channel buying behaviour mapping tool, was to start with one-on-one interviews and learning about the people’s reasons to get initiated in the first place and continue to map out the cross-channel purchase behaviour.

The initiation of the active consideration is often a result of certain drivers and motives in certain context being prompted to active consideration by certain touch point in certain channel. These reasons, channels, motives, contexts and drivers should be recognized and quantified in different target groups. They are the very foundation of profitable marketing operation.

You can roughly divide reasons to initiate in commercial and non-commercial reasons. Commercial reasons have to do with advertising, direct marketing, outbound telemarketing, retail, point-of-sale promotions, sales people and so on. Non-commercial reasons have to do with magazine reviews, word-of-mouth, actual need because of losing or breaking the old product, tradition based behaviour (e.g. in travelling every year at the same time), change in a living situation (e.g. moving) and so on.

Further, initiation can be divided in initiation in general and initiation to the brand. Initiation in general is about how the customer became interested in acquiring certain product or service in general and these reasons are often non-commercial when asked from the customers directly. This is not completely true because something has created the need in the first place. That’s why it’s also important to ask about their initiation to a purchased brand. Becoming initiated to certain brand is more likely to be commercial. In most cases you can narrow these reasons to a few major ones per segment. This information will help you decide where and what to do in marketing. How to effectively reach people and how to choose the message and content in most appealing way.

The Apple iPod is a great example of a product, which had  ”a long activation” period. The iPods were originally too expensive for many people who would have loved to get one. After some time, the price of the iPod reached tippin’ point, level which enabled most people to get one. At that point iPod rose from most wanted niche product to dominant brand. The MP3 format, iTunes and making CD digitization easy were the enablers of MP3 revolution. ITunes and buying music online were Apple’s strengths. However, the product design and user experience made it the most wanted brand and later on dominant market driver leading the way. Currently it has been predicted that when eye surgery costs come down to the level of 1500€, people choose surgery over new classes. Markets could change profoundly and rapidly.

We have learned from several cases that the brands often don’t know why and from who’s initiative customers got activated. In one case our client, advertiser, was wondering why their demand had suddenly increased dramatically and they made record sales without doing anything specifically. This company had very effective sales process delivering superb customer experience and consequently very high sales conversion. After running customer journey study for them we found out these people were originally activated by a competing company, which had launched a major direct mail campaign. The product was expensive and people wanted to take another offer just to be certain. This incident delivered record sales for the competitor. It’s likely that the active brand also sold more than in average but it’s absolutely certain that they also lost major part of their potential sales.

When you are concentrating on customer perspective you are simultaneously doing very effective competitor benchmarking and learning from their success too. In best case the competitor becomes your best salesman without knowing about it. You can also learn from competitor’s success.

In retail store you can roughly share products in two categories: must have and nice to have products. These products life cycle could vary greatly. In one CPG case that we analyzed we found three most common patterns in getting initiated. The first one was planned. People wrote on their shopping list that they will buy this product. The second was buying in stock when the product was in discount. The third was the biggest one… People who had made a mental note they should buy the product. However, this product was not in the priority list, which resulted ”pending activation”. These people were activated to purchase by just seeing the product in store or seeing an offer about it. The major sales increase for promotion was due to the fact that they had promotional spots that prompted people’s attention and activation by just being there. The sales would have increased even if there were no discounts because people just forgot to act on their decision. In many cases there is latent behaviour that must be recognized in order to optimize profits. There’s no need to offer major discounts if just being there does the job or offer smaller discount or on-top offer in order to justify the extra visibility in store and also activate stock buyers. It also has major indication in the media strategy. If the brand’s awareness and other KPI’s are in order, the most important goal is to have continuous activation going on generating faster re-purchases and increase in the market value. Depending on the product’s role in customer’s life there would also be possibility of creating CRM or social relationship management (SRM) approach that would keep customers active and engaged with them in product and service development.

Testing in the real environment is the only way to get a true business case

Making people move is a fundamental marketing goal. In order to optimize marketing effect, you must study, test and learn what kind of trigger and content create most response. You should also learn in which context or medium people would be most likely to act on the advertising and which interaction channels deliver best results. Consider, what is the role of your own mediums like website, retail or CRM. How can you leverage earned media like discussions online and press or other PR. Are there ways of collaboration with partners that would result synergy and low-cost leads? Where and how much should you invest in paid media like TV, print, radio, outdoor and online. You can manage what you measure and optimizing the mix takes a lot of learning, trial and error to make it right.

The second equally important issue is to learn where you should steer people post activation: online, mobile, customer service, retail or create a first action which help you support customer thru out the journey and purchase. Again, there are good learning’s available but each business is unique.

Consumers want to have control

Today’s consumer want to control the process of choosing and avoid being sold at. Pushing is irritating and considered as a bad customer experience. When customer has a medium in which there is a lot of choice he has the control. Customers choose what to concentrate on, and how much time they are willing to use in learning about product. Customers can choose to continue shopping online, in retail, mail order or to go and see the product live or choose not to do anything.

Advertisers have an opportunity to increase communications to own customers and creating own mediums in print and online. Previously marketing focus was mostly about finding new customers, although majority of the sales came from existing customers. Customer magazines and catalogues are part of customer loyalty, mobilisation marketing. The respondents consider the magazine or catalogue as respect of customers own space, time and consideration.

Buying is not easy

Marketers often assume that selling is hard and buying easy. For customers it is not easy to really understand the scale of offering and relevancy of it. At personal level they have ways of learning in their own time. Often the retail experience is too hectic and nervous for learning at own speed. Online services and catalogues allow people to have their own time and space. In one case outbound represented majority of initiation, but fraction of the transactions.  Banner ads are often judged wrongly due to this – people initiate but make transactions elsewhere.

Consumers consider concrete pricing, product pictures and good presentation of products as valuable service that makes buying easier. It’s easy to see for example how much catalogues and online travel advice decrease the need of personal advice from travel agencies and enable online buying.

The difference between emotional brand advertising with very little information and buying information sources is obvious.

Conclusions about Initiation

Initiation and getting activated is about prompting attention and making the person move. No matter how long there has been a latent interest, there’s always something that changes in offering, customers situation or the market that gets people activated. What is that, what is the motivation behind, what is the customer’s mindset at that point, which brands customer considers as options, which does he prefer if he does? Understanding this has a major influence in the overall marketing strategy.

In order to understand how customers are best reached it’s also important to understand the need of advertising and shopping consideration. For many brands there would be possibilities in helping customers learn about their value proposition by really making great product descriptions and photos for shopping medium use. Although the customers would not buy from these sources, they still learn from them. That’s free media that really hit the target. Brand’s own online service should be the source of ultimate information that really answer customer’s questions and engage with the customer resulting action.

When we were studying the different mediums capability to influence customers and how brands currently work, we came to conclusion that when brands are rapidly learning new, they are simultaneously forgetting old. Customer’s behaviour does change but when competing retail brands e.g. drop catalogue and go purely online, the other brand might gain advantage.

When measuring success brands should concentrate on how much did the advertising change customers perception of the brand positively, did the advertising justify higher price or increase the interest in wider audience with current price or did the advertising just activate people with discounts, which is good in the short run but could damage the brand in the long run. Which mediums performed best compared to the investment? If some mediums under performed was it due to the medium or advertising content? If you can answer all these questions post campaign, your capability to improve further is much better and you can actually predict outcome much better than previously which justify the spending.

What do you think? I’d love to get some comments :)

If you liked this one, check out how to manage customer interfaces and pre-initiation stage along the customer journey Brand-as-a-roadsign.

An article about the next stage in Customer Journey here: Choosing and buying – cross-channel influence

More advice about how to map and stury customer journey is available at https://futurecmo.org/2012/12/01/how-to-map-and-study-customer-journey/

Author: Toni Keskinen, Marketing Architect & Customer Journey Designer

http://www.linkedin.com/in/tonikeskinen

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