Decisions, decisions! Even when we aren’t aware of them, we’re making them all the time. Many of those decisions we make easily, without even thinking – orange juice or coffee? Gym or happy hour? TV or sleep? But with larger decisions we tend to think more deeply, and take longer to decide.
Purchase decisions are similar. Some are made quickly, without much thought, while others can take weeks or months of research and deliberation to decide. That’s why, as marketers, it’s important to anticipate the decision-making path of your consumer, and to answer questions before they arise.
From the moment a consumer decides to start researching a purchase, she’ll inevitably be presented with many available options. How will you differentiate your marketing from the competition? Effective analytics are essential to unlocking the full potential of your marketing initiatives. One of the key ways data can help you is by revealing the path your buyers take toward a purchase. Learn more about this purchase journey in our ebook, Deliver More Purchase-Ready Consumers with Marketing Automation.
In 1968, researchers Engel, Blackwell, and Kollat developed a five-step model of the consumer buying decision process (known as the Engel-Blackwell-Kollat or EBK model), and that model is still useful for marketers today. Here are the five steps of the EBK model, and how you can use them to stay a step ahead of your buyers:
Step 1: Problem Recognition
The first step of the buying cycle is that the consumer recognizes a problem which needs to be solved, or a need which needs to be satisfied. Basically, the consumer is looking for a solution to resolve a state of discomfort. The discomfort could arise from anything – an inability to get work done in time, frustrating technology or processes, or a competitor gaining an advantage.
At this stage, having built brand awareness is extremely important. If you can be the first solution a buyer thinks of – before he’s even started to research – your company will have a huge leg-up. This is also why you should highlight customer challenges/pain points in your marketing – that kind of marketing will resonate in the problem recognition phase.
Step 2: Information Search
The second step in the decision making process is to gather all information available about possible solutions. The larger the purchase decision, the longer this process will take. A consumer will want to be very thorough in her search and seek out info regarding features, pricing, ease of use, etc.
While buyers used to contact companies directly in order to research, today this information gathering happens through self-education – which is where marketing comes in. It’s crucial that your marketing is found by the consumer during her search. There are lots of ways to “get found,” but ranking highly in search results is crucial – our SEO Cheat Sheet provides a great overview on leveraging website optimization to get found. You’ll also want a strong content marketing strategy at this point, to help your buyers get educated while they research.
Step 3: Alternative Evaluation
The third step is the (often tedious) evaluation process. Most consumers have a list of criteria that the solution must meet, and as a marketer, you must know exactly what is on that list. What’s a deal-maker, and what’s a deal-breaker in the eyes of your consumer?
As the buyer evaluates, your marketing should speak to his needs and interests. There are many ways to make sure your marketing is relevant: you can build buyer personas to understand common criteria, objections, and challenges; you can segment and target your lists to send effective nurture emails; and you can personalize your website (and other content) in response to buyer attributes.
Step 4: Purchase
This is the fun step! Once the consumer has made up her mind, she no longer has a problem…she has a solution! Time to celebrate!
It’s also time for something even more fun – metrics! Now that you’ve guided someone from problem to solution, you’ll want to replicate that success with other buyers. And to do that, you’ll need robust reporting on how your marketing actually affected the sale.
Check out our Essential 8 Reports for inspiration.
Step 5: Post-Purchase
The best marketers know that the process doesn’t end at the purchase step – in fact, that’s only the beginning of a customer’s value for your company. Once acquisition is out of the way, your new goal is to create long-term relationships between consumer and company, ensuring that you get the most value out of your customers, and they get the most value out of your products.
Now that you know the steps of the consumer decision-making process, start thinking ahead! Optimize your marketing for every stage of the process, by building brand awareness, upping your inbound marketing game, personalizing your marketing efforts, running robust reports, and continuing to market to your current customers.
Do you consider the five-step decision-making process in your marketing? If so, how? If not, why not? Let us know in the comments below.