So Long Purchase Funnel, Hello Consumer Journey

Posted by Steve Kerho on June 5th, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Purchasing a new car is not what it used to be.

Back in the day, before widespread adoption of the internet, automakers could put a large chunk of their advertising dollars toward traditional media and point of purchase, i.e., car dealerships. If a customer was in the market for a new car, he or she would visit a dealership after being spurred to action by a TV spot or a print ad.

There, potential buyers would find glossy brochures showcasing the latest brand models and salespeople who helped them find the perfect driving solution for their needs. After a test drive or two and some negotiation, the customer would make a down payment on a new vehicle and drive off into the sunset.

It is no longer that simple. The purchase funnel is dead, but the consumer journey is alive and well.

Today, the road to purchase is significantly more complex, due to the overwhelming information – both technical and anecdotal – that is available on the web. As consumers research all makes and models, the process is no longer a linear narrowing down of options but a constant flow of choices that are illuminated by information found online. They research safety, performance, ownership costs and fuel economy.  Even the number of cup holders could be a deal breaker. This journey, which now begins predominantly on the web, can last up to 6 months, only to begin again with each purchase of a new vehicle.

Automakers know that the consumer journey has shifted.  The type of information sought out has not changed, but it is consumed in a whole new way and on a multitude of devices and channels.  Articles and reviews from sources such as manufacturers, 3rd parties and other consumers is digested months before the actual purchase and continually pursued throughout the entirety of a car’s lifetime.

When that customer is in the market again for a new car, either for himself, a partner or a teen-aged child, you want them to be brand loyal and buy another vehicle from your manufacturer and dealership. Automakers need to rethink what is of most value to the customer in the long-term, at each point along the journey, and how they can forge a relationship that spans the average length of a car owner’s purchase and beyond. Therefore, it’s essential to effectively populate the “content highway” throughout the consumers’ journey.

For example, the owner’s manual should be a key component in building loyalty and maintaining satisfaction. As you can guess, I don’t mean the physical printed copy that lives in the glove compartment.

What if it was available via an app on your phone and you could quickly search how to change a flat? Now, you’re talking. The convenience and ease of access would increase the consumer’s loyalty factor, not to mention, true love for the brand. Take things a step further and make the process for getting directions on how to fix your flat as simple as taking a picture of it so that your app could identify the corresponding steps to get you back on the road.

Car owners want to feel that the relationship with the brand doesn’t end when they drive their new car out of the dealership. Offering support and guidance at each mile of the consumer journey is key to building a lifelong relationship.

The fact that this process isn't linear isn't important.  What is important, is that marketers need to know what information consumers need at each phase of the shopping and ownership journey, and what the best device and channels are for that content. Successful marketers understand, that in the context of the consumer journey, it is more effective to think like a publisher than an old school marketer who is still wedded to the inaccurate convenience of the purchase funnel.

2 Responses to “So Long Purchase Funnel, Hello Consumer Journey”

  1. David Harris says:

    Kerho, great article! Every touch point is part of an experience that builds both brand loyalty and value in the minds of the consumer. The journey of any brand should combine both the pragmatic and emotional touchpoints. As an example when ever a consumer has a comment, suggestion or complaint those are touchpoints that provide input back to the brand and how the brand handles it will generate an emotional response from the consumer. The collection of those experiences create a desire or disinterest in the minds of the consumer. Additionally I have seen many brands build cult followings by bringing together enthusiasts at events. Scion did it years ago, Honda has tried it a few times to reach the youth market, Mazda does it through club events at its HQ. These events are where magic happens and brands create experiences... But they don't stop at the physical events they now live digitally too. Brand Building is not advertising nor is it the spray and pray media executions that are all too prevalent in todays digital community. Instead understanding consumers needs, desires, expectations and manifesting an experience that brings them together is what is needed. Its' hard work because you really have to live and breath with the brand and its consumers. For the typical CMO who has just over 1000 days to define their career its just easier to spray and pray.... For the companies that understand that digital has redefined the consumer equation and that marketing is not about TRPs and impression its about people and passion they will play to win in the long run... But as long as companies expect CMOs to deliver instantaneous results... spray and pray as good as any plan, just don't expect your brand to command a premium in a market that can replicate a product or service quickly.

  2. Steve Kerho says:

    David - great insights and insightful examples. I especially like the comments regarding "spray & pray" as the go-to approach that is too often the default strategy. At the end of the day what we should all be focused on is consumer engagement - that is the key. It requires a more thoughtful balance of what the consumer needs and what the marketer wants.

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