What Triggers a Purchase Decision?

I finally bought a portable speaker last week. I’ve been thinking about it for ages – browsing the electronics sections in stores, sporadically looking online for reviews and recommendations, noticing what other folks were using, and thinking about how and when I might want to use a speaker instead of my headphones. The thought of adding one more gadget to my already overlaoded travel case has kept me from pulling the trigger and actually buying one for probably two years. Until last week. And, being a marketing geek, my experience got me thinking: What was it that caused me to finally decide to make a purchase, and how was I influenced along the way?

As marketers seek to maximize their return on advertising invesment, there is a lot of ongoing discussion about attribution. We would like to put our marketing dollars where they are most effective – and so we would like to understand how the various tactics we use influence consumer behavior. Most people recognize that it doesn’t make sense to give all the credit for a “purchase trigger” to the last thing that happened just before the actual purchase. Lots of things could have influenced my purchase:  It might have been an ad delivered on Facebook, or a recommendation on Amazon, delivered to me because of prior browsing behavior. It could have been a helpful sales person; I remember looking a a display of portable speakers in a Verizon store a few months ago while my husband was buying his new phone – if a salesperson had started talking to me, I might have bought one then (or maybe not). It could have been seeing a speaker used by a collegue during a presentation.

In my case, the final trigger was a print ad in an airplane magazine. The ad emphasized a extra feature that I hadn’t even considered in my thinking: it added a microphone so it could also be a speaker phone. And that was the trigger for me – it pushed me over the edge of indecision and I made the purchase. I didn’t even bother to  look for other speakers with the same feature – I just typed in the URL in the ad and bought the darn thing. (By the way, I bought a  JBL® Flip Bluetooth Speaker – and I love it.) So should that ad get all the credit for my purchase? Should JBL move all its advertising dollars to print ads in airplane magazines?

JBL will know where that purchase came from, because the ad included a specific URL. They were  in the right place at the right time with the right message. But it would be a mistake for them to give all the credit to that ad, because of all the other factors that influenced my ultimate choice. A recent study from the Advertising Research Foundation highlights this challenge for brands. As digital and social media have become part of daily life, consumers are constantly in a state of what the ARF calls “passive shopping”; opinions and ideas about brands and products are being formed constantly and unconsciouosly, and often in ways that are not in the direct control of the brand.

This study is consistent with findings by McKinsey a few years ago: we should no longer use the model of a purchase funnel, but move to a model they call the Consumer Decision Journey. CDJThe purchase funnel implied that consumers systematically narrow their choices, and that marketers should push messages to consumers during each stage. McKinsey’s model emphasizes that consumers may actually expance the number of brands they consider during each phase of this journey, and are influenced but sources beyond the brand’s control.

The EVP in charge of the ARF study study summarized the findings: “digital and social media have fundamentally changed the purchase process – our sources, our view of markets, our emotional response, everything”.  All marketers have limited budgets, so it is impossible to truly be everywhere. So what can we do to adapt to the changing purchase process?

1. Be everywhere. Study your consumer’s behavior, and identify all the possible ways they develop opinions about your brand. The ABF study found that 78% consumers end up purchasing the brand they had in mind when they began active shopping, so it is critical for the brand to be thinking about how they can connect to consumers before they are actively shopping. There was no one

2.Surrender control. Amplify your reach beyond paid media channels. Embrace channels that the brand can’t directly control; be as intentional about your owned and earned media plans as you are about your paid media plans. Your objective is no longer to directly deliver your brand message to a large number of people. Rather, your objective is to have others talk about your brand – hopefully in a way that you want them to, but recognizing that they won’t always say what you would like them to say.

3. Make it matter. Brand content must be meaningful and impactful – this is what stimulates a reaction in the recipient. Give your consumers a piece of shareable content that expresses their own thoughts, but in a way that is better than they can do it themselves. And that means that there is no longer “one” message, but many messages, some of which are not even created by the brand. customized for situations and needs that are meaningful to small segments of our consumer base. React to consumer social behavior in real time to the greatest extent possible.

4. Connect the dots after purchase.  The ABF study showed that for grocery items in particular, post-purchase consumer behavior was most influential to the overall purchase decision process. Brands should identify ways to encourage consumers to talk about their brand and product experiences in a way that can be seen by other consumers. Even when feedback is negative, the brand builds trust with its consumers by allowing them to see the brand listening and responding.

5. Make online and offline work together. As my own purchase shows, consumers use whatever channel for purchase that makes sense at the time. For immediate needs, and in some categories, the consumer must go into a physical store to buy a product. For other products, consumers can make their purchase in either a virtual or physical store. By understanding all the touch points a consumer may encounter along the way to purchase, the brand can increase its chances of triggering the final purchase decision.

I”m a bit surprised that I haven’t heard anything from the JBL folks since I bought the speaker. I bought it directly from the URL in the magazine ad – not through a third party retailer – so they have my name and email address. It would have been so easy for them to send me an email asking about my experience with my purcahse, and perhaps encouraging me to write a review or make a comment in one of my social channels. They missed a chance to hear my opinion about how the the product could have been better for me (the carrying case only holds the speaker and not the charger). They missed the chance to make a connection with me. It’s not that I will rule them out in future purchased, but they have missed the time to establish that loyalty loop.