How to Make The Consumer Decision Journey Better Than Ever

The consumer decision journey is constantly evolving. A few years ago, McKinsey redefined the consumer decision journey to be an “accelerated loyalty journey”. In this journey, digital engagement meant that brands could build and maintain connections with consumers at hyper-speed – without limits to the automation and proactive personalization that could be used to drive sales.

Obviously, brands have bought in whole-cloth to the idea that they can accelerate the loyalty journey after consumers have made their choice. While some have benefitted, many more have simply stuffed email inboxes, overloaded their consumers and put out a lot of irrelevant marketing messages. In an environment where everybody is trying to accelerate their loyalty journey, everybody also seems to get past the point of diminishing returns.

How can brands overcome this and provide a consumer decision journey that meets the expectations people have today? Simple: they need to understand how the journey has evolved and how consultation has become key to both first-time purchases and replenishment. From there, they can use the time consumers take in their favor by offer them interactive, personalized touch-points and increase conversion by influencing consumers in new ways.

In this article:

What is the Consumer Decision Journey Like Today?

Why Time is on the Brand’s Side

How Brands Can Develop a “Consultation Decision Journey”

How to Personalize Interactions in Real-Time

Why Brands Have More Chances to Sell Than Ever Before

How is the Consumer Decision Journey Evolving today?

There are more brands competing for attention, engagement, purchases and loyalty in more places than ever before, and consumers have reacted by using more content and consultation than ever before. 

50% of shoppers expect to make a purchase online and pick-up in store. 45% expect in-store associates to be knowledgeable about online-only products. 87% believe that brands need to put more effort into providing a seamless omni-channel experience. 80% of consumers move between online search and video when researching products before they buy, and 55% specifically do so on Google before learning more via Youtube. 

The consumer decision journey has become a dynamic, multimedia, omni-channel process. Our own research has found that 71% of consumers use their mobile phone to do additional research while standing at the shelf – in many cases doing so to avoid in-store representatives.Consumers know they’re being influenced, they know messages are being tailored to them, and they distrust brands that don’t enable them to find information themselves.

In this consumer decision journey, brands need to be open, honest, forthright and helpful – whether with a new or existing customer. It’s naive to assume that, just because a consumer has bought from you before, they’re all of a sudden incapable of considering what another brand has to offer. When brands open up their journey and take a more informative approach, they aren’t just “letting the cards fall where they may”. They’re actually opening the door to significantly improving their customer experience and increasing sales as a result. 

Time is on the Brand’s Side

From the brand’s perspective, consumers are now “choosing their own adventure” every time they want to buy something. It’s impossible to imagine every possible journey a consumer can take. Instead of trying to jam consumers through a funnel, they need to create optionality in their experiences. This means that the experience can respond in real-time depending on what the consumers is saying or may be thinking about the products they’re evaluating.

In this process, having enough content and enabling consumers with interactive experiences is key, but how data is used in this case is just as important. Third-party data has been the engine of growth in digital marketing. As consumers have balked at its overreaches, brands have realized first-party data is essential to enabling informative approaches that speak to the individual consumer. Once you get key data about your consumer, you can use that to optimize the way you communicate with them. 

For example, retargeting a consumer on the basis of a website visit or a product page view is more effective than not doing so. But, getting users to disclose information about why they’re looking for a particular product or service allows you to understand if there’s a better choice for them. This kind of iterative approach is already deployed with practices like customer journey retargeting. However, given today’s consumer decision journey, brands need to think of offering flexibility and new product discovery at every step of product consideration and evaluation. 

This could be done through personalization of ads and landing pages, website content, emails, other marketing messages and through real-time interactions with conversational AI. These are all essential engagement marketing tactics, but they’re useful to brands because they don’t rely on massive, aggressive positioning bets and media plans. These capabilities soften the edges for consumers to make their choices clear

Developing a “Consultation Decision Journey”

At a broad level, tools like marketing automation enable brands to do this in more places, but the interactions most tools provide is rarely real-time. Real-time is critical because that’s how consumers are considering products today. As mentioned above, they’re bouncing between search channels and video channels. They could also be looking at social indicators and reading authoritative content to try and make the best possible decisions.

Virtual Product Advisors are one solution that can shorten this process and turn your consumer decision journey into a consultation decision journey. There are brands out there with real salespeople offering meaningful guidance, recommendations and advice to consumers, but those salespeople are usually restricted to in-store scenarios or require cost-intensive appointment booking processes to get in front of consumers.

Virtual Product Advisors offer a more cost-effective way to enable the “consultation decision journey”. They’re always on and responsive, able to act as product experts and trusted advisors and – most importantly – can get consumers to disclose key information about themselves that drive recommendations and affirmations of the best possible product choices. By doing this through interfaces like messaging and smart speakers, brands can accelerate the consumer decision journey in an entirely new way. 

This is just one example of how brands can deploy virtual skincare advisors to help make consumer purchase decisions faster and easier. 

Consumers who interact with virtual product advisors actually spend more time with them than they do with traditional websites, but they still report the experiences as quick, easy, fun, friendly and informativeHow does that make sense? Well, despite this contradiction, Virtual Product Advisors shift the “burden of learning” about a given offering from the consumer to the brand.

Instead of forcing consumers to do all their research themselves, brands can proactively learn about consumers in a programmatic way through their ads, websites, social channels, voice assistants and even in-store. They can then personalize recommendations, content, special offers and the entire process of consulting a product catalogue.

Personalization Requires Multiple Real-Time Touch-Points

In perfecting your consumer decision journey, you might as well use every channel or no channel at all. Virtual product advisors give you the ability to personalize interactions. At each step, these interactions can be improved depending on the channel they take place on.

Imagine your consumer interacts with conversational advertising. They may not make a purchase right off the bat, but when they interact with your ad, they tell you things about what they’re looking for. It could be a skin cream that fights aging, refinancing on their mortgage, a bigger vehicle that’ll support their growing family. All of it is industry and context specific, but more powerful depending on what offering you’re seeking to position and sell.

Using this as a starting point, brands can short-circuit some of the “wait and see” that happens in today’s consumer decision journey and begin proactively retargeting consumers on the basis of these kinds of concerns. When they’re ready to take their consultation further, virtual advisors (powered by the same AI as their advertisements) allow them to then move on and take them deeper into more complete product recommendations, whether on websites, social channels or even directly in ads.

Ultimately, consumers will also continue to do online research in-store via their mobile devices, and continue to, at times, ignore the in-store representatives (who are only there to help!). They’ll also continuously increase their adoption of new commerce channels like voice. Every one of these channels then plays a part in omni-channel marketing

Brands can still benefit by offering omni-channel retail support with services like free express shipping or BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store). However investing in the infrastructure of digital engagement is a much quicker win than relying purely on brute-force eCommerce delivery plays, and with every channel you add, you can get more of the benefits of solutions like conversational conversion optimization, which allow conversations to achieve their best possible outcome in every instance. 

Making decisions easier by personalizing experiences is the best path brands can take to improve the consumer decision journey. By articulating they’re offering in a clear personalized way to each and every consumer, they win more business as a result. This is irregardless of whether a consumer is new or returning or what channel they choose to engage on.

Brands Have More Opportunities Than Ever To Influence Consumers To Buy

Consumers are exposed to more than 10,000 brand messages each day. Turning these messages into something that actually influences them requires an entirely different experience. Conversational AI has that power, and for many of the world’s leading brands, it’s already transformed the consumer decision journey.

Take Vichy, whose virtual skincare expert had 35% higher Average Revenue Per User compared to their traditional eCommerce website. Or Sally Hansen, who collected 11,000 emails in only 5 days with a uniquely positioned holiday campaign.

The consumer decision journey isn’t evolving on its own – it’s evolving because people have endless choice available to them everywhere, but they’d rather have better choices instead. Conversational AI is just one form of personalization that is achieving this, but one that can actually carry over to every step and engagement you need to drive better results for your brand. 

Still have questions?  We’re fired up to help as many brands as possible to raise the bar of user and customer experience in eCommerce.  If you need help implementing website engagement tools for your brand or want to talk further about any of the tactics in this article, we should talk ASAP!

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