Consumer’s purchasing behaviors have changed over the last 20 years, yet many companies are still marketing like it was 1954, pushing down advertising messages, focusing on media buys and eye-ball numbers, knowing little about how customers decide to purchase their products, how often, and most importantly, why.
Itamar Simonson, a marketing professor and researcher at Stanford University, posits that consumers have essentially three categories of input when making a purchasing decision: Preferences, prior personal experience, brand impression (P), point of purchase messaging, advertising from outside sources, packaging, shelf positioning, coupons, price point, (M), and the input of peers and others they know or have seen, like online reviews by customers, friends and family, co-workers, etc, (O). There is a balance between these three that needs to be satisfied, and he contends that it’s a zero-sum game, since the more you rely on one factor to make purchasing decisions, the less you rely on the other two.
Your job as a marketer is to make marketing, (M), the most influential it can be, since it’s the only factor you have direct control over. But this can back-fire if the other factors are too far out of balance one way or another. If all your marketing messaging, packaging, color selection, product size, convenience, media placements, shelf placements are all perfectly aligned, but the product itself is too far down-scale for the audience, or the quality is low, or the need for the product disappears or is usurped by an innovation, you still lose the race with the consumer. Too many negative reviews, bad word-of-mouth buzz, poor peer referral, and even if the marketing is perfect, the product will tank.
This effect is tied to several factors inherent in the product itself. The higher the complexity, the broader the range of choices, the more important peer review becomes. The risk of making an ill-advised purchase rise with the level of price and complexity of the product. A carton of milk isn’t too complex, and the price point is relatively low risk, as purchases go. Under those circumstances, even though there is a seemingly ever-widening range of choices of types of milk, (P) plays the largest part of the purchase decision. It would take a tremendous amount of marketing dollars to shift that and make people’s perceptions and purchasing habits change. On the other hand, items like cars, computers, and personal consumption, (like restaurants), rely increasingly on peer reviews to drive purchasing behavior.
As marketers, it’s our job to make our efforts so direct, so appealing, so transparent and dependable, to make our brand so reliable and stable, that our brand burnishes consumer’s choices of ANYTHING carrying that brand. That makes (M) the biggest factor, and develops a level of trust with the consumer that really moves the needle in the long term. This serves several purposes, including strangling competitors and locking them out, expanding the brand’s circle of influence, broadening the potential audience for the brand, and keeps the brand evolving and contemporary with the target consumer as their behavior grows and shifts throughout their lives, keeping the brand relevant.
Review sites and their reviewers change constantly. If you want to win the battle for consumer mindshare, continually strive for quality, keep your brand consistent with that quality, and go the extra mile for customers – that way no matter what the platform or source of the review, they will be overwhelmingly positive and you’ll get the purchasing nod.
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