4.9.Buying Decision Process- Five Stage Model
The consumer decision-making process follows the stages shown in Figure.
Problem recognition - Problem recognition arises when the consumer realizes that there is a need for some item. This can come about through assortment depletion (where the consumer’s stock of goods has been used up or worn out) or assortment extension (which is where the consumer feels the need to add some new item to the assortment of possessions). At this point the consumer has only decided to seek a solution to a problem, perhaps by buying a category of product. The needs felt can be categorized as either utilitarian (concerned with the functional attributes of the product) or hedonic (concerned with the pleasurable or aesthetic aspects of the product). The current view is that there is a balance between the two types of need in most decisions.
An internal stimulus, or drive, comes about because there is a gap between the actual and desired states. Drives are generated by encouraging a revision of the desired state. The higher the drive level (i.e. the greater the gap between actual and desired states), the more open the individual is to considering new ways of satisfying the need: in simple terms, a starving man will try almost any kind of food. It is, of course, stimulating and enjoyable to allow gaps to develop between the desired and actual states. Each individual has an optimal stimulation level (OSL), which is the point at which the drive is enjoyable and challenging, without being uncomfortable. OSL is subjective: research shows that those with high OSLs like novelty and risk-taking, whereas those with low OSLs prefer the tried and tested. Those with high OSLs also tend to be younger. Drives lead on to motivation, which is the reason why people take action. The level of motivation will depend on the desirability of the end goal, and the ease of achieving the end goal; motivations are subjective, so it is difficult to infer motivation from behavior. Information search - Having become motivated to seek a solution to the need problem, consumers engage in two forms of information search.
- The internal search involves remembering previous experiences of the product category, and thinking about what he/she has heard about the product category.
- The external search involves shopping around, reading manufacturers’ literature and advertisements, and perhaps talking to friends about the proposed purchase.
The purpose of this exercise is to reduce risk; buying the wrong brand of biscuits involves very little risk, since the financial commitment is low, but buying the wrong hi-fi could prove to be an expensive mistake. Evaluation of alternatives - Having found out about several competing brands, the consumer will evaluate the alternatives, based on the information collected or remembered. In the first instance, the consumer will select a consideration set, which is the group of products that would most closely meet the need. Typically a consumer will use cut-offs to establish a consideration set: these are the minimum and maximum acceptable values for the product characteristics. Signals are important when making choices; a particular price-tag, a brand name, even the retailer will have some effect on the consumer’s perception of the product. Price is frequently used as an indicator of quality, for example, but this can be reduced in the presence of other signals. Occasionally the use of cut-offs eliminates all the possibilities from the consideration set, in which case the consumer will have to revise the rules. This can result in the creation of a hierarchy of rules. For marketers, the challenge is often to ensure that the product becomes a ’member’ of the consideration set. The decision-making process appears lengthy and complex as stated here, yet most of us make several purchasing decisions in a day without going through a lengthy decision-making process. This is because most of us use heuristics, or decision-making rules, for most purchases. These are simple ’if . . . then’ rules that reduce risk by using previous experience as a guide. Heuristics divide into three categories:
- Search heuristics, which are concerned with rules for finding out information;
- Evaluation heuristics, which are about judging product offerings; and
- Choice heuristics, which are about evaluation of alternatives.
The decision-making process may contain a number of interrupts – points at which the search is temporarily suspended. Interrupts come in four categories:
- Environmental stimuli, which include in-store promotions (perhaps eye-catching posters for other products);
- Affective states, which include physiological needs (the sudden need to go to the toilet, or to have a coffee);
- Unexpected information, for example a change of layout in the shop or some change in the product attributes; and
- Conflicts, which occur when the consumer realizes that the original decision making plan cannot be followed, or an alternative plan appears that is not consistent with the original plan.
For example, an approach–approach conflict occurs when a second product is presented that would probably do the job just as well. This means that the consumer has to make a comparison, and the search pattern is temporarily suspended. An approach–avoidance conflict might arise when the consumer finds out the product is much more expensive than expected; an avoidance–avoidance conflict might arise when the two alternatives are equally distasteful. The effect of the interrupt will depend on the consumer’s interpretation of the event. Sometimes the interrupt activates a new end goal, or perhaps a new choice heuristic might be activated. Sometimes the interrupt is serious enough for the search to be abandoned altogether; here the strength of the interrupt is important. Clearly a sudden desire for a cup of tea will not permanently interrupt a search process, but the news that one has lost one’s job very well might. In most cases, consumers will resume the interrupted problem-solving process once the stimulus has been absorbed and accepted or rejected.
Purchase - The actual purchase comes next; the consumer will locate the required brand, and perhaps choose a retailer he or she has faith in, and will also select an appropriate payment method.
Post-purchase evaluation - Post-purchase evaluation refers to the way the consumer decides whether the product purchase has been a success or not. This process usually involves a comparison between what the consumer was expecting to get, and what was actually purchased, although sometimes new information obtained after the purchase will also color the consumer’s thinking. Before the purchase, the consumer will have formed expectations of the product’s capabilities in terms of
- Equitable performance (what can be reasonably expected given the cost and effort of obtaining the product);
- Ideal performance (what the consumer hopes the product will do); and
- Expected performance (which is what the product probably will do).
Sometimes this evaluation leads to post-purchase dissonance, when the product has not lived up to expectations, and sometimes to post-purchase consonance when the product is as expected or better. In either event, the consumer will feed back this information into memory, to inform the internal search for next time. One of the more interesting aspects of dissonance is that there is evidence to show that a small discrepancy between expectation and outcome may provoke a bigger change in attitude than a large discrepancy. This is because a small discrepancy may force the consumer to confront the purchase behavior without offering a ready explanation for it. Consumers will usually act to reduce post-purchase dissonance. There are four general approaches to doing this:
- Ignore the dissonant information and concentrate on the positive aspects of the product.
- Distort the dissonant information (perhaps by telling oneself that the product was, after all, the cheap version).
- Play down the importance of the issue.
- Change one’s behavior.
From a marketing viewpoint, it is generally better to ensure that the consumer has accurate information about the product beforehand so as to avoid post-purchase
Consumers express dissatisfaction in one of three ways:
- Voice responses, in which the customer comes back and complains;
- Private responses, in which the consumer complains to friends; and
- Third-party responses, which may include complaints to consumer organizations, trade associations and TV consumer programmes, or even legal action.
The most effective way of reducing post-purchase dissonance is to provide a product that meets the customer's expectations. This is partly a function for the manufacturer, but is also a problem for the retailer to address since it should be possible to ensure that the consumer's needs are fully understood before a recommendation about a product is made. As a fall-back position, though, every effort should be made to encourage the consumer to complain if things do not come up to expectations. This is why waiters always ask if the meal is all right, and why shops frequently have no-quibble money-back guarantees. Ferry companies and airlines provide customer comment slips, and some marketers even make follow-up telephone calls to consumers to check that the product is meeting expectations.
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The customer buying decision process is rarely linear. Customers typically don’t start at point “A” and move through each subsequent step of the buyer’s journey until they reach the finish line. Instead, customers move into the purchase funnel different phrases. They may enter early at the top or middle of the funnel or join late in the journey right before they make their purchase.
So brands need to have a strategy to catch customers at each entry point and know how to market to prospects at each stage of the buying decision processClick & Tweet!.
Let’s look at how you can position your marketing campaigns to help customers find you at every phase of their journey.
What Is the Buying Decision Process?
Before you can optimize your customer’s buying decision process, you must be clear about what it entails. You must know the consumer buying process definition.
The buying decision process is the path that customers take while moving toward doing business with you. It’s similar to a purchase funnel in that it is a downward flowing path that starts wide at the top (as prospects become aware of a brand) and ends more narrowly at the bottom (as prospects becoming paying customers).
It’s frequently described as a five-stage consumer decision-making process that includes the following phases of consumer activity.
5 Stages of the Consumer Buying Decision ProcessClick & Tweet!
1. Need Recognition
The buying decision process begins when a consumer realizes they have a need. They become aware they have a problem they want to solve or a gap they want to fill.
At this point, the customer may or may not know what will solve their problem. They may only be aware that they want to change their reality or situation. Or they may have an idea about what will help them but are not quite sure which brand, product, service, or solution will provide the best option.
Customer Examples: A consumer buying process example at this phase could be a college freshman, Sarah, who has a computer that is starting to run slowly. She is getting ready to start the semester and needs a computer that will efficiently help her with her assignments.
Or, it could be a project manager, Joe, who is tired of his team using an outdated method of Excel spreadsheets for keeping track of their projects. He needs a new tool or system for project management.
2. Information Search
The next phase of the buying decision process begins when the customer starts looking for information that will help them solve their problem. They know they need something to fix their situation but aren’t sure which solution is best for them.
The customer starts searching for information that will help him or her better understand their situation and identify what will fix their issues. At this point, the customer frequently turns to online research and conducts searches to find solutions.
Customer Examples: Sarah, the college student may start seeking information to help resolve her immediate problem, which is speeding up her computer. Depending on what she finds, she may also begin searching for options for purchasing a new computer.
The project manager, Joe may start researching topics about improving project management and may find multiple software solutions that could improve his processes.
3. Option Evaluation
Once the initial information search is complete, customers start reflecting on what they learned or discovered. They begin to evaluate their options to determine which is the best solution for their problem.
Customers at this point in the buying decision process have a lot to consider. They must determine what solution is the most trustworthy, affordable, highest quality, and highest performing. They look for reasons to believe why one solution has more benefits than the other.
Customer Examples: In this phase, Sarah might be making a comparison list of multiple computers. The list may include prices, features, and reviews.
Joe is at the point where he is doing product demos to see which software best fits his needs.
4. Purchase Decision
At this point of the buying decision process, the customer is ready to pull the trigger and make a purchase. They have made their decision about which product, service, brand, or solution is best for them, and they are ready to buy.
The research and evaluation are over, so now the customer just needs a clear pathway to purchase. For a brand to help customers through this phase, you need to make it simple to buy. You also need to present additional reinforcements (like great reviews, testimonials, discounts, etc.) that will lead to purchase and avoid negative reinforcements (like bad reviews, additional expenses, barriers, etc.), which will cause customers to turn away.
Customer Examples: Now that the college student, Sarah, has decided to buy, she is likely eager to make the purchase and get her computer. She may, therefore, be more likely to buy the computer if she gets free and expedited shipping.
Joe, the project manager may need final approval for making his purchase, but he will also be eager to get going, so a free trial may be the way to get him through this phase.
5. Post-Purchase Evaluation
At the last step of the five-stage consumer decision-making process, the path to buying is complete. The customer has made a purchase. But that doesn’t mean the customer journey is complete. Now is the time when the customer reflects on whether they made the right decision.
The customer will consider if the solution accurately and fully meets their needs. They will decide if it was worth the cost and if the brand delivered on their promises. They will feel either satisfaction or buyer’s remorse. If it’s the former, the customer could come back to make another purchase. But if it’s the latter, the customer could reject the brand, never make another purchase, and even share their negative experience with others.
Examples: When Sarah makes it to this phase of her buying decision process, she is using the computer and discovering what she likes and doesn’t like. Reading resources that show her how to better utilize the computer could make her like it more.
Joe is going through a similar process. He is utilizing the tool, distributing it to his team, and hearing feedback from his colleagues. Seeing articles about how this software has helped people like him will likely improve his perception of the product.
How to Nurture Customers at Each Stage of the Buying Decision Process
As we went through the five stages of the buying decision process, you saw how a buyer could start at the beginning and work their way through the phases.
But often, this theory doesn’t work out exactly as planned.
The buying decision process isn’t always linear, and customers rarely only enter at the beginning. Instead, customers come and go throughout the process and enter the funnel at the top, middle, and bottom of the process.
So you can’t focus on only catching customers at the beginning and hoping they find their way through the rest of the process. You must optimize the buying decision process from top to bottom to catch customers at every stage of their journey.
To accomplish this and improve the buying decision process in marketing for your brand, use these best practices and Alexa tools at each stage of the process.
No. 1: Attract Customers in the “Need Recognition” Phase: Actively Write Guest Posts.
In the first phase of the buying decision process, prospects are just becoming aware of their problems. They aren’t actively seeking answers or solutions yet.
So to capture attention in this phase, you must seed content in places where audiences will passively see it. You must work to get your content in front of their eyes and call out their problem because they are not yet looking for solutions. To do that, create and place content in locations where your audience spends time online.
To get your solution-focused content in front of your target audience, engage in guest blogging. Writing content for sites your ideal audience visits will help you make introductions with customers before they know they need your brand, products, or services.
To find the best guest blogging sites, use Alexa’s Audience Overlap Tool.
Enter your site or one of your known competitors. A brand that is trying to connect with the project manager mentioned in the example above may enter Trello.com, as Trello is a project management tool. The results will show a map of sites that have an audience similar to Trello’s audience. You can assume the people visiting Trello.com are also visiting the other sites on the map.
You can use this information to find guest blogging opportunities. Select up to 10 related sites that your target audience visits, and run an analysis in Competitor Keyword Matrix.
This will uncover common keywords and topics that drive your audience to these other sites. Use that to create a plan for writing content about topics that relate to those sites but also expose problems that your brand, products, or services solve. This approach is a good way to help your target audience identify problems before they even know they have them.
No. 2: Attract Customers in the “Information Search” Phase: Target Popular Topic Keywords.
To attract attention during the information search phase of the buying decision process and bring customers into your funnel at this point, make your brand visible in online search.
When prospects research to find potential solutions, you want them to find your content. So you should publish a variety of top-of-the-funnel content. TOFU content helps a prospect solve their problem or answer their question. This type of content is usually published as:
- Blog Posts
- Interactive Content
To develop topics for TOFU content, perform keyword research to discover the terms your target audience uses most using Alexa’s Keyword Difficulty Tool.
Enter a term or phrase that relates to your industry offerings. The project management company, for example, may enter “project management.” The keyword discovery tool will then return a report that includes related terms along with their relevance, popularity, and competition scores. Each of these metrics will help you identify the top keywords for your content.
Ideally, you would target terms that have a high relevance and popularity score, as that indicates the term is widely searched for and tied to your topic. You would also want to target low-competition keywords that have a competitive score within your range, so you have an opportunity to rank for the term.
No. 3: Attract Customers in the “Option Evaluation” Phase: Optimize Your Website.
When customers are in the option evaluation phase, they already have an idea about the solution they need. They just don’t know which specific solution is best. At this point, they are researching specific brands and options to see which one they should choose.
To catch consumers in this phase, you need to engage in MOFU marketing (middle-of-the-funnel marketing) and optimize your website so customers can find you when they look for you.
You should create content like buyer’s guide, landing pages, FAQ pages, and case studies that are optimized for search, so when interested audiences look for additional information about you, they can easily find it.
To make sure your MOFU is optimized and visible in search, use Alexa’s SEO Audit Tool and On-Page SEO Checker.
Start with the SEO Audit Tool and run a complete check on your website. This website SEO test produces a report that ranks your website SEO factors as well as provides a list of actions you can do to help your website improve its rankings. Focusing on these improvements will help your website show when customers search for MOFU content to aid them in their buying decision process.
After reviewing the status of your site’s overall SEO, look at each page to see if it’s properly optimized. Enter a URL from your site along with the page’s targeted keyword into the On-Page SEO Checker to see how well the page is structured for SEO. The tool will scan the page and give you optimization tips to make the page more likely to be found in search.
No. 4: Attract Customers in the “Purchase Decision” Phase: Target Buying Keywords.
When customers find themselves in the purchasing decision phase of their buyer’s journey, they are ready to seal the deal. They are ready to buy.
To catch customers at this point, you must make it as easy as possible for them to buy. You need to position your brand so that when the customer searches for a path to purchase, they find it right away. You can accomplish this by optimizing your site to target buyer keywords.
Buyer keywords are phrases that customers search for when they are planning to make a purchase. Click & Tweet!The most powerful buyer keywords are transactional keywords, which are phrases like:
To identify the buyer keywords that will lead customers to your website, use Alexa’s Competitor Keyword Matrix.
Enter up to 10 competitors, run the report, and then navigate to filter the results. Click the checkbox to “Show Potential Buyer Keywords” and apply the filter.
The filter will drill down your results and display the most used keywords that also have purchasing intent. This report can give you ideas for the terms you should target so that when customers search to find buying options, they will discover your webpages.
No. 5: Optimize “Post-Purchase Evaluation” Phase: Retarget With Industry-Related Content.
The post-purchase evaluation phase is a little different from the other stages of the buying decision process in that it is somewhat linear. The customer can only get to this phase by making it through the purchase phase.
While the post-purchase phase might sound like the end of the process, it does not mean the relationship is over.
Instead of thinking that the buying decision process is over, consider that this is the beginning of a relationship with long-term customers. You already know the audience is interested in a specific product, service, and industry so set up plans to remarket and reconnect with this audience.
Create more content related to your industry and place it where the customer will be likely to see it. Send it to customers through your email newsletters and use retargeting ads to present new content to past customers.
To find hot topics to write about in your industry, use Alexa’s Competitor Keyword Matrix.
Enter up to 10 competitors and run the report. Then use the “Use Cases” filter to “See the Top Industry Keywords Targeted.”
From there, you can see the top keywords that are mentioned on other websites in your industry. This information helps you identify the topics that are likely interesting to your audience and will give you a starting point for creating content to bring the customer back into the buying decision process.
Optimize the Buying Decision Process With Alexa’s Marketing Stack
The buying decision process is rarely a linear path that customers follow from top to bottom.Click & Tweet! Customers enter the purchasing process at all stages, and your brand must be prepared for it.
Use these tips to improve the likelihood that customers will connect with your brand at each phase of the buyer decision process. And, get extra help with the tools mentioned in this post. Sign up for a free 7-day trial of Alexa’s Advanced Plan to get full access to the tools listed in this post along with other powerful competitive research, keyword, and SEO tools.