Rethinking the marketing funnel with Consumer Decision Journeys

The way customers shop and interact with brands has changed and the CDJ provides a practical framework for marketing to customers along this journey.

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The traditional marketing funnel, starting wide at the top and narrowing down to purchase was appropriate in the past but has become outdated. The way customers shop and interact with brands has changed in the digital age, we see this with our client’s customer journeys. The ‘Consumer Decision Journey’ (CDJ), as proposed by Edelman and Colleagues, provides a practical framework for marketing to customers along this journey. It provides a framework to update the traditional marketing funnel. This CDJ is unique to specific industries and a fair amount of research needs to be conducted to uncover it. Let’s look at how we can apply it to crafting a contemporary digital marketing strategy.

The CDJ consists of four stages. The best way to understand it is through examples.

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Purchasing a blender

I recently decided to purchase a blender. When I think back to how this idea came into my mind, I recall that I saw a blender at my neighbor’s house, Ted. On noticing me eyeballing his Nutribullet, Ted told me that it’s a fantastic blender. I started the consideration phase with just one brand and was influenced by a brand advocator who was happy with his product. As an advocator, Ted didn’t even need to be asked, he automatically wanted to promote the product.

Still in the consideration phase, my next step was to head online and learn more about Ted’s Nutribullet. I started to see competing brands and now I had created a basket of goods in my mind that I believed were similar.

I then entered quickly into the evaluate stage where I found myself reading reviews on each blender and beginning to understanding the pros and cons of each type. I threw some blenders out of my basket in my mind and added some others. I read many reviews on Amazon and even tried to compare them against each other. In this case the comparison didn’t work to well for me, but the reviews were critical. As soon as I read one negative thing about any particular model it sent my head into a whirl thinking “this can’t be good!” At this stage I was mainly interacting with “earned media.”

I even found myself in a physical store shortly afterward where I found myself asking the advice of the store owner; I was still in the evaluate stage but now interacting with owned media.

I did move through to the purchase stage in the sense that I decided on a model I liked and started to look for sales/promotions. However, I never ended up making the purchase. Although I am sure if I did, I’d be researching and reading a lot about my blender after buying it, to put my mind at rest that I got a deal and that my blender is better than my neighbors!

Only with market research

Thinking about the funnel in this way makes you realize that each journey is industry specific. Travel insurance, for example, takes a completely different path. On a possible journey, once the customer has booked his or her flights, they will realize they need insurance. There will likely be a lot of time spent on comparing and investigating differences in insurances as well as pricing. The point is that every industry & even every customer has a unique CDJ. Only through market research, a picture can be built up in each industry to understand it better and invest properly in marketing to it.

Implications for digital marketing

The CDJ enlightens our marketing efforts. It makes us realize that marketing needs to be practiced holistically. Having separate investment and strategy for online vs. offline or for SEO vs PPC is outdated thinking. These activities cannot be siloed, the CDJ forces you to think customer centric rather than marketing activity centric.

When working with the traditional model, brands tend to invest mostly at two touch points: consideration and buy. Consideration is where we drive brand awareness and buy is where the sale is made. In a CDJ model, for most industries, most of the marketing opportunity occurs at the evaluation stage and the “enjoy, advocate, bond.” This is where the consumers are most actively researching and engaging with your brand. All you need to do is invest time and money to respond to them.

It follows that the first step in considering the CDJ is moving investments to these stages in the funnel. I’m talking broadly because again this can be industry-specific, and market research is needed.

3 actions you can take from this

1. Divert display network prospecting
Move investment away from display network prospecting. Now I am PPC guy, my bread and butter is Google Ads, which often includes display campaigns, so I’m the first to acknowledge that the truth hurts.

Display prospecting is designed to target the consideration phase. But most of the times that you’ve purchased something, it’s probably not because of a banner that enlightened you to it. Consider the blender example, I was influenced by Ted, my neighbor. Another example is my tent purchase. I knew I was going camping in two months and the previous year I had borrowed a tent from a friend, so the consideration to buy a new tent came from a great previous experience with a friend’s tent.

Banners may have some subconscious effect on us, they likely do prop up an existing brands presence and dominance (think Coke and Nike), but their effects on consideration is mild in comparison with the strength of a brand advocator.

This shouldn’t be confused with remarketing and other high intent display audiences that can be accessed on the GDN and Facebook networks, many of these are effective and should be evaluated separately.  Remarketing would sit further down the funnel based on how the audiences are setup.

2. Reviews, reviews, reviews (and social proof). Invest heavily here
You can’t underestimate the importance of reviews today. I would venture to say that 90 percent of all online purchasers have read some kind of review before buying. (I don’t have any evidence to back it up, it’s my guess). This could be a review on a third party site like Amazon, a review on the brand’s site, or even a comparison site. Comparison sites fall into this category as they are pitching the brands against each other providing the ability to review differences.

All of this research is happening at the evaluate stage, this is where opinion is formed and this is where you should be investing. Some ideas as to how you can invest here:

  • Setting up a process to encourage reviews after a consumer has purchased.
  • Keeping on top of negative reviews and using social media monitoring tools.
  • Sponsoring advertising on comparison sites
  • Setting up Google or Facebook Ads that show customer testimonials in them to spread social proof. This would be ideal as remarketing for someone who has already come to your site.
  • Adding reviews and comparisons of your brand with other brands, on your own site. Then targeting searchers with Google Ads that are searching for compare, best and review related keywords. Try and get them to your site where you control the message rather than a comparison site..

3. Enjoy, advocate, bond. Invest in your own content
It’s worth focusing on this stage since it is so often overlooked. Many brands think that after the purchase is made, there is no point spending more money on the consumer since they have already made the sale. But you’ll likely find that it’s at this stage that the consumer is most actively engaged with the brand.

One of my colleagues bought a drone from DJI. After purchasing the drone, they spent more time on the DJI website looking at all the features and functions then they had before buying. They also checked other sites to make sure they made a good purchase to calm their sense of regret. This is the opportunity to provide a great customer experience, which makes the consumer not only feel they bought a great product but also received great service, which can be as important, if not more.

Investing marketing dollars at this stage to improve content, support articles, support chats and promote guides is critical and will create word of mouth marketing to others. Consider the difference between owned vs. earned media and that owned media can be utilized far better to the ends of creating strong advocators of the brand and products which flows back to consideration far better then banner prospecting will.

Let’s begin

Get your team together and start mapping out journeys. What’s the first thing that brings your product to a customer’s attention? Following that, how they are evaluating your brand and products to decide if it is right for them. Map out these journeys and then conduct market research to see if your thinking was correct. Every customer has a different journey and you could be way off, or there could be a lot of factors you hadn’t considered.

Once you have a good picture of where they begin and where they are spending time along their journey, work out if your marketing efforts are aligned with this journey. Are you investing too heavily on one part of the funnel? Have you invested enough in ensuring after purchase customers are getting a good experience and engagement with your brand?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the CDJ and whether you think it could help your own marketing strategy.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Mark Meyerson
Mark is the co-founder of One Egg, a digital marketing agency. He has over 10 years of experience specializing in paid search and digital analytics. He's spoken at SMX and published a number of best selling courses on Udemy.

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