The rise of “social commerce” – the result of people being the media and everything being interactive – has forever changed the nature of business. Looking out from any CMO’s office all you see is a fluid fog because each consumer takes a unique path to purchase on a timeline that suits her needs and interests. We can no longer describe, and thus can’t manage, a standard decision-making process for our products and services.
Marketing in this fluid fog means we have to rethink some tried-and-true marketing tenets – like an orderly funnel. Technology has had a tremendous effect on how messages are consumed. We have interactive billboards, consumer readable bar codes, instant reviews–and a lot of the information is from people we don’t know, but somehow trust. As a result, the path from stimulus to consideration to purchase is quite messy.
In “The Consumer Decision Journey” McKinsey describes some of the unintended consequences of this environment. Rather than considering fewer products over time, consumers actually consider more products the closer they are to the decision point. So getting in the consideration set late in the game is actually now a good thing. This is not to say strong brands won’t dominate the conversation, they always will, but all is not lost if you can make an emotional connection late in the game.
And in this self-service world, consumers prefer to turn to others for their opinions and recommendations. These trends flip the traditional notion of how it is supposed to work. In a recent conversation with a motor-sports manufacturer, fully 50% of the calls to headquarters are for information – completely bypassing the dealer network.
So while stimuli, either broadcast or direct-to-consumer, remain critical in the overall marketing process the ability to surround consumers with interesting content is even more important. In ZMOT, or Zero Moment of Truth, Google articulates what happens between awareness and purchase (the original First Moment of Truth). In B2C worlds, consumers leverage 12 sources of information. In B2B, where the buying committee may consist of two-dozen people, the sharing and review of chunks of information proliferates.
Like media consumption before, we now must think in terms of content consumption habits. What devices and places are used? Do they use communal channels or do they rely on informational ones? What types of content does the person consume? Do they consume emotional, aspirational content or are they just looking for the next coupon? What is the timeline between first encounter and purchase? In short, how does content work in helping people choose?
The Fluid Fog concept is leading to some interesting questions and answers for marketers. Here is some of the thought-provoking content that started crystallizing my thinking about the concept:
The question then turns to: How do we coordinate our efforts to ensure that no matter where someone turns we provide the appropriate information? It used to be ‘as simple’ as posting it on the website, sending a newsletter, and providing scripts to customer service. No more.