If you are in sales or marketing, you definitely heard of the “buyer’s journey.” It’s that mystical, CandyLand-esque pathway that buyer’s take on their way to purchasing a product or service. And we’ve been taught that it’s a pretty standard process, regardless of industry—discovery, consideration, and decision…or something of the like. But digital is a very disrupting influence. Not only have digital processes rewired entire industries; they have fundamentally transformed the buyer’s journey in five ways.
#1. It’s no longer linear
Up until digital really changed the way we interact with organizations, the buyer’s journey largely looked like this:
It was a straight shot with one step following the next, a linear color-by-numbers approach. But because of digital, the buyer’s journey probably looks more like this:
How did digital transform it into this spaghetti mess? It might be because consumers are inundated with information 24/7/365. From social media or the Web, new information comes online every second that can impact a purchase decision (i.e., a new review of a product or service). As such, consumers are bouncing around the different aspects of the buyer’s journey—discovery, consideration, and decision—as new information is discovered.
#2. Discovery can happen at any time
The linearity of the buyer’s journey ultimately became disrupted by one critical factor—the availability of information. When the information is all known and available, the process can obviously be linear. The consumer goes through an information acquisition process that has a start and an end. But in the digital world, where new information can be created each second of the day, that’s not the case. A consumer can think they are finished with the evaluation process when they find new reviews, new write-ups, or new videos about their intended purchase decision…new information that can even insert a new competitor into the mix sending them back down the ladder to start all over again.
#3. Outbound marketing can be futile
The problem with outbound marketing—that is “broadcast messaging”—is that it’s trying to reach a consumer that is not traveling on a straight line. Without any knowledge of where the consumer is going to be in the buyer’s journey, sending messaging out in the hopes that you hit the consumer is futile. In fact, so much of the messaging is lost that there is little in the way of ROI. Think about the click-through rate for banner advertisements today—less than 1%. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, seeks to participate in the conversations that consumers are having. Inbound marketing is about publishing helpful content that will lead the consumer back to the information that they need to help them make a purchase decision.
#4. The end goal isn’t just a purchase anymore
In the golden days of marketing, the linear buyer’s journey pointed to one end goal—making a purchase. And when the consumer was happy with the purchase, they told some friends. They recommended your company. Digital has exacerbated that a thousand fold. Now when consumers have made a purchase, they might share their experiences on social media (good or bad). They might write a review. They might pen a blog post or post something on YouTube. The purchase is no longer the end game. It’s the relationship after the purchase. That’s the real value anyway. One purchase with a good experience can lead to dozens of new customers.
#5. Decision making is crowd sourced
If there is one thing that the digital world has done it’s to empower everybody with a voice. Anyone can have a blog. Anyone can create a Facebook profile. And through these mediums, they can say whatever they want to whomever might listen. That is no truer than when it comes to buying products. It seems that everyone has an opinion. Just read through the Amazon.com product listings. When today’s consumers think about buying something, they appeal to the wisdom of the crowd. They post questions on bulletin boards and on social media…and the crowd weighs in with their thoughts helping the consumer not only to make the decision but also to direct further inquiry.