Charting the Consumer Journey: 3 Ways to Create a Better Buying Experience

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ADOTAS — For many companies, it’s a mystery: What goes on in customers’ minds when they decide to make the leap from consideration to consumption? The journey from the store aisle to the register can be difficult to track — psychologically, emotionally, and behaviorally.

When a customer decides to make the leap from looking to buying, there’s a complex, multifaceted process that informs the decision. Breaking down the process can show a company how the journey is flowing forward and where it’s slowing down — or stopping altogether.

Tracking Your Brand Experience

The consumer journey is the path a consumer takes from being a prospect to becoming a paying customer, mentally and physically. Every feature of your product influences that decision: branding, appearance, store setting, feel. Your brand, messaging, and consumer experience don’t carry the same weight, but each is important.

The tipping point might come from a straightforward online experience, a good review from a friend, or interesting packaging. Ascertaining how your customer experiences your brand from the first impression to the final checkout can show your company what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and, most importantly, how to fix it.

Mapping the Journey

Here’s a guide to how most customers progress from shoppers to owners:

  • First impressions count. Provide second and third ones. Does the image of your brand stay fresh, or is it forgettable? This impression is essential, but it can get lost in the competition for a consumer’s attention. Is that happening to your product?

  • Your consumers need something. A customer doesn’t always “just happen” to pick up your product. Often, he’ll arrive at the store knowing he needs something. That’s when the desire for a “want” begins to take shape.

  • They’ll begin to investigate their options. Most customers will do their due diligence before spending money. This process looks very different depending on your industry. Naturally, an automobile purchase will affect someone differently than a product priced under $10, and each requires a different degree of research.

  • Outside experiences inform their decisions. If a potential customer visits your storefront, anything can affect his final buying decision: the décor, friendliness of your staff, or accessibility of your layout. The right design — online or off — can make the difference. If you’re selling a service, your employees need to sell themselves and be as polished as possible.

  • They’ll buy. But immediately afterward, they might regret it. Buyer’s remorse isn’t a new concept, and many companies don’t realize a “thank you” goes a long way. Create repeat customers by understanding what they need after a purchase.

  • Then, they’ll determine value. This is where referrals and brand loyalty are built. Companies like MINI Cooper and Apple have turned their customers into brand disciples. How? By offering great service, great design, and great follow-through.

A Forward Path

Every time your customer touches your brand, it matters. Why? It offers a unique opportunity to interact, capture his attention, and prove you’re worth his time and money. When you use these moments to your advantage, you’re creating a fresh, seamless experience. And that can make the difference between a sale and a loss.

Competition is fierce, and if your brand hasn’t tailored a quality customer journey that respects your customers’ wants and needs, you can still succeed — but you won’t reach your potential.

How can a company drive engagement at every point in the consumer journey? Here are a few ideas:

  • Use creativity wisely. It’s important to use creative methods to drive engagement early in the process, but it’s smarter to keep things standard when traveling deeper into the buying cycle. Don’t distract customers with ads late in the process. Focus on the sale at hand.
  • Make it easy. Once your customers make the decision to buy, it’s time to offer the simplest, most efficient buying experience possible.
  • Give thanks. After you’ve completed your sale, bring back the creativity: Your chances to create a rewarding journey lie in the beginning and end of the cycle. Show appreciation and transform a single sale into repeat business.

Recognizing that the customer journey is more than a single sale can help your company increase repeat business — and it can help you create innovative, exciting media placements, too. Let your customers be your guide: Think about a “day in the life” of your buyers. What are unique ways to give them that first, second, or third impression?

One of my company’s clients, an event planning firm, used hand stamps at popular bars and restaurants as a branding opportunity. Why? We knew their client base’s behavior. We knew we could turn that opportunity into a way to reach the right people for their business.

Recognizing your brand’s entire consumer journey can help you create a seamless brand experience. It will also allow you to reach your customer base in new, interesting ways — creating a stronger relationship with them than ever before.

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