F#%! the Funnel Part 3 – Boutique’s Customer Buying Cycle
Sophie Cork , Boutiques’ DISCOtiquer and Senior Planner
In the third and final installment of our F*** The Funnel series, we reveal our alternative to the traditional AIDA funnel.
If you’ve been following our discourse about the traditional AIDA funnel over the past few months, you’ll be familiar with why we think it’s no longer fit for purpose. We knew we needed to come up with a solution that could address the issues we have with the funnel, and be something far more reflective of today’s landscape.
Our first decision was to ensure our model was cyclical, showing how consumers can flow through, and between, stages. This circular shape also allows for a continuous flow, which shows how consumers can go back and forth through the different stages as they weigh up their options or new brands enter the mix, as well as looping back post-purchase into experience and advocacy.
We also wanted to ensure our alternative could be something that could go beyond showing the steps of the purchase journey, to being something that could help brands understand how to move consumers through the process and ultimately ‘win’ customers. In order to do this, we knew we needed to show two perspectives: one that reflected the consumer’s experience – what they were experiencing and doing, and the goal of the brand at that stage. Our cycle is broken down into different layers: the main consumer ‘Stage’ and related ‘Consumer Action’ of what they’re likely to be doing that this stage. This is then followed by the outer brand-focussed layers of the ‘Brand Goal’ and related ‘Brand Tactic’, showing what brands should be trying to achieve at that stage and some suggested ways to achieve it.
Finally, as a channel agency, we would have been remiss for not including a nod to the channels that are best suited to each stage of the cycle. Instead of positioning specific channels by stage however, we suggest channel features instead, allowing for the nuance of channels and the different ways they can be employed. For example, in the traditional ‘old-funnel’ landscape, TV is often allocated as an “awareness” channel due to its delivery of reach and frequency metrics, but it can be employed throughout the journey when used in different ways (DRTV for purchase-driving, brand TV for emotional response). The outer layer of our Cycle therefore reflects the role or feature of the channels we feel are best suited to helping brands at that stage.
Here we’ll go through each Stage of the Customer Buying Cycle, detailing the layers that make each section and explaining both the consumer and brand perspective experienced at that stage:
The stage consumers spend most of their time in is the ‘Living’ stage. Here, the consumer is going about their daily lives, not actively thinking about the category or brand and not considered to be ‘in-market’.
It is here where the consumer’s familiarity with a brand is built, as they are both ‘Observing’ and ‘Gathering’ information about brands. Here they are subconsciously absorbing the signals from the advertising they see –branding, positioning, offering – and blending them to form an overall picture and understanding of the brand and what is on offer.
While this can be a difficult stage for brands to crack, as while in the ‘Living’ stage, consumers are often in a state of passive consumption, seeing possibly hundreds of adverts a day and are unlikely to be giving many their full attention, those brands who can get noticed (‘Attention’) and be remembered (’Memory’) at this stage are more likely to be considered later down the line once the consumer has entered the market.
The methods which brands can employ to help them at this stage range from the typical mass-reach channel “awareness” goals of ‘Reach’ (be seen by lots of people) and ‘Frequency’ (be seen lots of times), to the memory-structure enhancing goals of ‘Relevancy’ (be seen in the right place), ‘Distinction’ (be ownable) and ‘Differentiation’ (be different).
The ‘Trigger’ stage is when the consumer enters the market, and it can often be influenced by situational factors such as an item no longer being functional, or occasional factors such as a new season or event coming up. Social influences like recommendations or reviews can also be triggers to influence purchase.
While brands can often have little influence on the external factors – the ‘Needing;’ – they can create appeal – the ‘Wanting’ – by positioning themselves to become a trigger and creating ‘Desire’.
Brands can employ targeted channels in order to reach the right people at the right time, through the tactic of ‘Relevancy’, but they can also position themselves as being desirable by presenting consumers with an opportunity for improvement, or what we have called ‘Problem Solving’. For example, that could be through a functional benefit offered by a product (such as a new feature on a phone that hasn’t been seen before), or through conveying a wider emotional benefit that their brand offers (that owning the phone in question will improve your lifestyle or image).
Now to the biggest and most complex stage in the Buying Cycle, and one that we have sub-categorised into two parts: the ‘Looking’ phase. This is where the consumer considers different options from different brands and moves between ‘Exploring’ what brands have to offer and ‘Evaluating’ them against their personal needs.
Consciously, the consumer is on a mission to make smart informed decisions. Less consciously, the consumer seeks emotional ‘Connection’ with the brands; they are looking to be inspired, for representation or for means of personal expression. They are seeking an emotional resonance to aid their buying decision.
Meanwhile, more rational decision-making takes place where practical factors of the options like product specifications are considered and weighed up against each other. Here the ultimate decision typically comes down to ‘Trust’. (Which product do I trust to best meet my needs? Is this brand trustworthy?).
The two ‘parts’ of this process happen concurrently and seamlessly, working together towards the ultimate decision-making, and there are many different tactics which brands can employ to help them be chosen.
To build an emotional connection with consumers, brands can utilise ‘Story-telling’, compelling longer-form narratives, done best when presented through ‘Visual’ channels which allow for greater appeal and brand salience. Brands can also consider the ways in which to communicate the ‘Emotional Benefits’ of the product, showing consumers the role within the bigger picture of their life, similar to what was seen in the ‘Trigger’ stage.
Meanwhile, in order to aid more rational decision-making, brands should convey the ‘Functional Benefits’ and the ‘Product Features’ to consumers clearly and transparently. Utilising social ‘Proof’, such as highlighting consumer reviews, is a tactic to provide assurance to potential new buyers.
While in the ‘Looking’ stage, consumers are likely to visit a brand’s website and social media channels, as well as conduct online searches to find out more. It is imperative therefore that not only is information readily available on these channels, but that these ‘windows’ to the brand are well-established and reflect a clear, cohesive identity.
The ‘Buying’ stage reflects the moment the consumer purchases and becomes a customer of the brand.
This critical moment can be derailed by a poor experience – faced with barriers like expensive delivery costs or lack of availability, brands can quickly lose favour with the consumer and be discarded as an option.
Brands should therefore aim to make the buying process as easy and seamless as they can. Exploring all possible barriers consumers might face and working out ways to overcome them is crucial for minimising drop-off at this stage.
Tactics like ‘Incentivising’ consumers such as offering discounts or free delivery, and ensuring a positive customer experience whether online or instore through ‘Support’, can increase the likelihood the brand will be chosen and even favoured for future purchases.
Finally, the inclusion of the ‘Using’ stage, which is where the consumer is now using the product they bought and experiencing the brand post-purchase, addresses a pitfall of the traditional funnel which stops at acquisition which overlooks a highly important stage for brands in building retention and loyalty.
Here is where brands should be building favourability, getting the consumer to ‘Bond’ with the brand and, ultimately become an asset to the brand through ‘Advocacy – where the consumer has the opportunity to speak or act on behalf of the brand, spreading awareness to and engaging with new people.
Tactics like ‘Incentivation’ (eg. discounts for returning customers or loyalty schemes) and ‘Interaction’ such as through personalised content or requests for feedback can help improve the customer’s experience. Do it right and they’ll become an important tool for spreading word-of-mouth recommendations, and may skip all the other phases next time they’re in-market and go straight from ‘Trigger’ to ‘Buying’.
So that explains each stage and layer of the Customer Buying Cycle, our alternative to the traditional AIDA funnel.
If you want to understand how the model can be applied to your brand to help you overcome challenges and discover the available opportunities, reach out to us for a free exploration call!