How to create an awesome Digital Strategy?

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Consumers  are making decisions differently today than ever before. They have more product choices, there is an expansion of touch points (magazines, radio, television, banner and paid search advertising, etc). There has also been an increasing importance of Word of Mouth (Social Media). Consumers are increasingly better informed. As a result of the sea-change in the information and perception age how should you think about your Digital or Marketing Strategy? What should be the way forward? Harvard Business Review published an article on Social Media branding which led me to share some of the cutting edge thinking via this persuasion.

Marketing and Advertising hasn't been able to keep pace with the changes in the way consumers are making their decision. I remember the days when I worked in the agency world where Strategy and Analytics almost invariably addressed needs and insights from a 'Marketing Funnel' stand-point. In many industry publications and white-papers the funnel approach/thinking is still prevalent. While it was (and to some extent still is) a good model to measure brand adoption and linear conversion it fails to capture two key elements:

(1) The dynamic nature of how consumers make decisions.

(2) Where to focus on from a strategy perspective to drive sustainable competitive advantage.

 Figure 1: Old School Thinking - Marketing FunnelFigure 1: Old School Thinking - Marketing Funnel

Products and brands come in and out of the decision making process rapidly. As consumers we don’t necessarily start out considering a large number of brands or products and then narrow down as a 'marketing funnel' in the above figure might suggest. The path to purchase (or successful transaction) is convoluted! To add to the complexity different consumers can buy, recommend, or evangelize the same product through very different touch-points or journeys. These discussions or journeys may start with their friends/family, expand to personal experiences or other opinions, or consultation with other experts in the field. Therefore the consumer journey is different for different people and is not necessarily linear.

As a marketer and a strategist, it is extremely important to understand this decision making process to maximize the chances of consumers selcting their product and where to focus their marketing efforts on. Personally, I am a big fan of succint representation of this complex subject by folks at HBR and McKinsey.

 

Consumer Decision JourneyFigure 2: Consumer Decision Journey

Let's examine the critical aspects of this decison journey:

1. Consideration: This phase typically starts with a Trigger. A trigger could be anything that surfaces opportunity. In my business (asset management) it could be performance or cost, for technology product it could be the hip factor (think "if you don't have an iPhone you don't have an iPhone"). At the end of the day, it's an external (usually marketing) stimuli which forces the consumer into the decision making process where he/she is led to think about a product or the brand. It has been a common belief in the old funnel approach that a consumer starts with a given number of brands and then winnows them down, however, the reality is that the number of brands in the initial Consideration phase is small.

2. Evaluation: This is a critical phase of CDJ as this phase represents the "mental negotiations" a consumer undertakes. In this dynamic phase of the journey, brands enter and exit the consumers mind. Either the consumer takes control and actively seeks out informaton about the brand/product (online or offline) or is influenced by his friends, family, or peers about the benefits of the brand/product. This is the stage where the number of brands in consumer's mind increases. This is where Digital Strategy can step-up and enable consumers to quickly dismiss other brands by competition or selective differentiation.

3. Action: This is the "moment of truth" phase of the journey. This is the phase when brands ability to "convert" / "close the deal" comes in. There is an element of impulse (e.g. buying a pair of jeans in a whim) but  impulse or non a vast majority of times this phase represents the culmination of marketing or messaging to the beginning of bottomline impact.   

4. Post Purchase: In the "old funnel" approach everything ends in the Action (or conversion) phase. In the new paradigm, the post purchase experience has become extremely important especially in the Word of Mouth (Social Media) age. This phase drives loyalty and future impression of the brand. It also determines whether or not the consumer will keep the brand/product in their consideration for future transactions and advocacy. More importantly, as the CDJ suggests, the shorter and least resistant path is represented via the Loyalty Loop hilighting the importance of this phase of the decision journey. 

It's also the hardest to master as it requires discipline and consistency.

It's time for marketers to adopt the new thinking and approach, its the "sweet spot" which will invariably reduce your acquisition cost and enable you to focus on the customer which should be the case anyways. Always!

What do you think about this model? Will it work within your business construct? If so what aspect of the journey would you focus on?