Most marketers are familiar with the four stages of the customers' buying process, around which marketing activities can be planned. The four stages are need-and-want recognition, information gathering, evaluation and purchase. Within each stage, marketers have the opportunity to improve the customer experience and influence the customer through all stages toward a purchase. However, the mass adoption of the Web channel among customers has shifted the stages of the customer buying process from a mostly offline activity to an increasingly online activity. Many customers now go through the entire buying process online, or use the online channel though multiple steps of the process. For example, a customer might recognize a need for a car by seeing an online ad, search for information about the car online, seek out recommendations from others about the car through an online forum and then purchase the car at a nearby dealership. Therefore, marketers must respond with specific e-marketing techniques that address each stage of the process. By 2015, more than 40% of business-to-consumer (B2C) commerce (online and off) will be influenced by addressable branding and advertising, contextual marketing, community marketing and transactional marketing (0.8 probability). In each step of the customer buying process, e-marketing technologies can be best placed to help or lead customers toward a purchase.
Customer Buying Process E-Marketing Opportunity 1. Need/Want Recognition
2. Information Search
Addressable Branding, Advertising
Figure: E-Marketing and the Customer Buying Process
Source: Gartner (February 2007)
Need and Want Recognition:
This is the start of the customer buying process that deals with awareness. Here, e-marketing opportunities, such as addressable branding and advertising functionality, can help establish awareness and need. Banner ads, sponsorships, interstitials and others are e-marketing activities that can expose customers to products and services. Data gathering tools, such as Web analytics and online surveys, can start to quantify different needs and wants. Because these e-marketing activities are addressable, customers can respond to and interact with a brand (click on a banner ad, search for more information or request information) in real time. Information Search:
Once customers establish a need or want, they seek information about that product or service. Contextual e-marketing techniques (providing information from explicit searches or questions) are becoming extremely useful as a mechanism to seek information and have become a routine step in the customer-buying process. The success of Google and its contextual search functionality shows the power of providing tools for the customer to seek relevant information that helps them through their buying process. Contextual marketing, such as search marketing (organic or paid), location-based search (matching the user's location to proximity of product/service), customer-preference management tools and available RSS feeds, is a natural fit to align explicit information gathering with relevant answers. Evaluation: This is the point in the buying process where customers look at the choices available, including the opportunity cost of not choosing the next-best alternative. Considerations, such as service, price and convenience, are part of the evaluation process. Reaching out to trusted friends, family or social networks to seek out these answers has a substantial impact on evaluation. Community e-marketing functions, such as community marketing, customer feedback, message boards, customer reviews and blogs, will also provide the tools to help customers though the evaluation process...