Understanding the customer journey

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Google's ZMOT handbook

Google’s ZMOT handbook

If you’re a retailer or dream of becoming one, it is really important to understand the journey that customers go on when deciding to purchase – from the drivers and stimuli to timeframes involved.

Purchases generally fall into one of three categories, impulse, habitual and those that have been researched.

Just think about it – we’ve all picked something up in the shops that we hadn’t planned, while we also regularly buy certain things like groceries. Very few of us would buy an expensive product like a house, car or white goods without having a proper look around first. As you’d expect, buying patterns and timeframes change by retail sector.

According to research carried out by Microsoft / Carat in 2011, five drivers shape customer journeys: contacts, consumer, culture, category and context.

Whereas before we would have worked fairly smoothly through a process of awareness, familiarity, consideration, purchase and loyalty, digital technology has made the purchase process much more complex. Consumers use a variety of channels (they no longer just go into a shop to look around and buy) and the reviews and experiences of others feed – in a highly influential fashion – into the decision-making process for even the smallest of purchases.

IPSOS OTX / Google released data in 2012 that illustrates this nicely. Their research identified that 44% of people research online before buying online, 17% visit a store then buy online, 32% research online, visit a store to view the product and then buy online, while 51% research online and then visit a store to go ahead with their purchase.

These are interesting findings that show how important it is to having a digital footprint and which could make e-retailers consider having a bricks and mortar presence too.

Almost ten years ago, Proctor and Gamble coined the phrase First Moment of Truth (FMOT) to describe the first time a shopper encounters a brand on the shelf – a make or break moment where the product is either picked up or passed over for a competitor’s brand. The Second Moment of Truth (SMOT) describes the moment when the product either lives up to or fails the brand promise when sampled.

This thinking was evolved by Google’s MD of US sales and service Jim Lecinski who introduced the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) – where consumers evaluate their options online taking into consideration reviews, pricing and much more.

Leading digital analyst Brian Solis has actually taken the concept one step further, positing that there is also an Ultimate Moment of Truth (UMOT) where the shared opinions and experiences of others feed in a customer’s ZMOT time and time again.

Solis says: In addition to websites, landing pages and corresponding SEO and SEM strategies, businesses now must consider how to create experiences in every moment of truth that aren’t just meaningful or remarkable, but also shareable. The future of brands now lies in how UMOT meets ZMOT throughout the customer life cycle. Marketers must begin to architect, foster and optimize positive experiences in each moment that’s native to each screen, efficient in steps, and tied to desirable outcomes.”

So what does this mean? Well it means retailers have to compete for the attention of customers much earlier than before – a useful prompt for thinking about strategies and tactics on how to show up at the right place, at the right time and with the right content.

In short, brands need to consider how to harness positive experiences in order to secure that sought after and hugely powerful customer advocacy.

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