When you launch an online marketing campaign, you have one core objective: to engage a potential buyer at the point where they are most likely to be persuaded to make a purchase decision. For years, this decision point has always been evaluated in the context of the sales funnel. That is, a prospective customer begins by considering several brands and is then guided by product marketing to reduce the number of brands they are considering. At the end of the funnel, the consumer remains with one brand that they eventually purchase – which, preferably, is yours. 

The Sales Funnel’s Limitations

The key steps of the traditional sales funnel are awareness, familiarity, consideration, purchase, and loyalty. But the sales funnel’s linear logic fails to account for the diverse touchpoints and buying factors that drive purchase decisions today. The sales funnel also doesn’t truly accommodate the explosion of choices and channels precipitated by the proliferation of the internet. Modern consumers are increasingly informed and discerning. A more sophisticated and less linear model is needed to help your business navigate this complex landscape.

Enter the Online Consumer Decision Journey Sales Model 

The consumer decision journey sales model recognizes that the decision-making process is more circular in nature than the linearity of the sales funnel suggests. There are numerous paths to purchase. Today’s online consumer relies on multiple avenues to research products and informs themselves and they learn both online and offline. Information is extracted in-person, by word of mouth, at events, from family and friends, through exploration, on social media, and much more. 

Whether you are a business or an online marketer such as an SEO agency, you have to focus on consumer behavior and psychology at each touchpoint of the decision-making process. That way, prospective customers can be engaged, influenced, and empowered accordingly. Understanding the online consumer decision journey sales model is therefore crucial to your marketing’s success.

The Stages of the Journey

Today’s online consumers are keen on making their own decisions at their own pace, time, and on their terms. Their mindset has evolved in tandem with the proliferation of the internet and customer decision-making has changed accordingly. Digital marketers have to understand the unique journey of each customer and develop appropriate strategies and tactics for each stage. Here’s a look at the main stages of the online consumer decision journey.

1. Passive Exposure

Passive exposure occurs when consumers aren’t deliberately shopping for a product, but are still accumulating product information even as they go about their everyday routines. The consumer is exposed to products, services, brands, advertisements, media, and content.

2. Active Exposure

In the active exposure stage, the consumer pays greater attention to their desires, wants, and needs. They start to engage with product information. The consumer begins to aggregate the products and services that will form their preliminary list of potential purchase options. These purchase options are referred to as a consideration set. 

The size and composition of the consideration set can increase or decrease through the decision journey as the consumer discovers, assesses, explores, and compares their options.

3. Initial Consideration

The initial consideration stage is where consumers begin to place products or services in categories that fulfill their selection criteria, based on their previous perceptions and information.

4. Research and Discovery 

In this stage, consumers conduct online searches, explore information, and inform themselves on their purchase decision. With this research may come an increase in the consideration set as they come across products that seem promising.

5. Active Evaluation

Active evaluation occurs as the consumer weighs competing products and services. They evaluate, add, remove, products and services from the consideration set. The consumer assesses substitutions as they consider new criteria for product deliberation.

6. Final Consideration

At this stage, the consumer narrows their consideration set and moves toward a final decision.

7. Selection or Decision

This is the point where a transaction occurs. The consumer selects a product and makes a purchase. From here on, they embark on the post-purchase phase of their journey.

8. Post-Evaluation

The post-evaluation stage is where customers assess their experience with the product or service. They evaluate their interaction with their purchase and this forms the foundation for their future purchase decisions.

9. Post-Engagement

In this stage, the customer shares their product experiences and perspectives with others. This may occur in various forms including writing online reviews, posting on social media, or providing product feedback to the seller.

Post-Purchase Personas

In the post-purchase journey, consumers will fall into two broad segments: consumer loyalty and consumer opposition.

Consumer Loyalty

Consumer loyalty is exhibited by consumers who are pleased with the product, service, or brand. They are loyal, and therefore more likely to engage in repeat purchases. Within the consumer, loyalty segments is the sub-segments of active loyalty and passive loyalty.

– Active Loyalty

A consumer portrays active loyalty when they positively advocate for a brand, product, or service. They do this using various channels including word of mouth, online reviews, social media posts, and consumer referral programs. Consumers in the active loyalty segment will not seek alternative products, services, or brands.

– Passive Loyalty

The passive loyalty sub-segment involves consumers staying with a product, service, or brand only until they find an alternative. They want to know what competitors and substitutes are available in the market. Passive loyalty consumers are easily swayed by incentives and external information.

Consumer Opposition

Consumer opposition is shown by people who are disloyal or opposed to a product, service, or brand. They are unlikely to purchase the same product or brand. Like consumer loyalty, there are two sub-segments.

– Active Opposition

The active opposition sub-segment comprises customers actively dissuading or disrupting other consumers from buying or considering a product, service, or brand. They typically share their negative experiences by word-of-mouth, social media posts, and online reviews.

– Passive Opposition

In this sub-segment, consumers do not actively oppose a product, service, or brand but they defect to a rival product without explaining their decision to anyone or notifying the seller. They are disengaged and disinterested and do not share feedback unless prompted via surveys.

Aligning With the New Model

The modern consumer’s purchase decision journey is multidimensional, interconnected, and non-linear. Consumers have more information, power, and choices than ever before. It is crucial that your business aligns all elements of advertising, marketing, messaging, creativity, and strategy in order to support each consumer along their decision journey. 

This entails knowing your consumers and their journey, laying plans for each stage, planning holistically, consolidating and simplifying stages for efficiency, remaining agile and adaptive, and coordinating marketing and advertising budgets.

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