Dec. 18, 2013

The Purchase Loop vs. The Purchase Funnel

The most important thing you can do for your website (and your digital presence as a whole) is to visualize your buyer’s journey. The buyer’s journey is the path that your customer follows: from the moment they enter your market until the moment they buy and beyond (including the process of turning them into a recurring customer and brand loyalist).

For years, marketers visualized the buyer’s journey as a purchase funnel. Traditionally, four main elements of the buyer’s thought process make up the purchase funnel. They typically follow a linear path, beginning at the top and moving further and further down the funnel.

Awareness, the phase when a person takes notice of a product or service
Interest, the period when a person envisions himself buying
Desire, the moment a person decides that they want to buy from you
Action, the physical step of buying from your organization

Today, marketers have reimagined a more accurate model of the buyer’s journey. The new purchase loop takes into account how people interact with digital media before they buy your product or service. Here are the elements of a customer’s thought process that go into the purchase loop.

Openness: A person shows interest or curiosity about a market or a niche. They haven’t specifically zeroed in on any products or brands but may be vaguely aware of them.
Realized want or need: Something a person reads or sees pushes them from open-mindedness to a conscious need or want.
Learning and education: A person begins to look into the general information they should know before they even consider buying something in your product or service category.
Ideas & inspiration: The consumer actively searches for stimuli that will push them into the next phase of the buying process.
Research & vetting: This is where a person gets into the nitty-gritty of evaluating their options, looking at prices, reviews, and other determining factors.
Post-purchase evaluation & expansion: The person uses your product and decides whether or not to endorse it to friends, family, and colleagues. They also consider the possibility of purchasing from you again down the road.

The most important takeaway from the new purchase loop is that it shows how your customers no longer follow a linear path. They may start at any point in the loop and move freely to another point, covering as many or as few of the touch-points as they need to make the purchase.To plot your unique buyer’s journey, you’ll need to do some research.

Techniques for learning about your buyer’s journey

Getting to know your customer and understanding her motivations is essential to every public-facing element of a successful business. Your buyer’s journey relies on more than just descriptive information, though. To truly understand your purchase loop, you need to gather behavioral data.
Behavioral data is rooted in action. What action does your customer start with? Which action is he most likely to take next? Which behaviors eventually lead to a purchase? You need the right data to get to the crux of this. 

What kind of data helps you plot your buyer’s journey?

-Bounce rates help you understand when content either isn’t effective or addresses your visitor at the wrong point in the process.

-What content does your visitor consume after they’ve visited a specific page? If your visitor is presented with three separate pieces of content after they’ve finished reading a blog post, for example, which link do more visitors pursue?

-Understand which content performs best through which distribution channels (social, blog, email, etc.). Use this data to build comprehensive channel profiles. For example, the majority of your Twitter followers may already be customers, while your LinkedIn brand page may cater more to potential buyers.

-Find out what kind of information your customers typically desire at each point in the purchase process. A blog post meant for someone who is new to your market looks very different than one meant for an expert, after all.

What strategies can you use to get to this information?

-Watch how visitors interact with your content in real time (using the right software).
-Conduct interviews with customers to understand how they went through their purchase decision.
-Monitor forums and review sites where your customers interact to better understand where other customers point them when they ask questions about purchases.
-Read industry blogs and news outlets and see which posts get the most social sharing.

With all this information in hand, visualize your buyer’s journey by drawing your purchase loop, complete with all variations you’ve seen through your research. One loop may show what happens when your brand enters the conversation very early in the process, while another might show what happens when your brand appears in the product evaluation phase.

One of the most important things to remember about your buyer’s journey is that you’ll never stop revising it. The web is a constantly shifting entity, and you’ll have to update your predictions to keep up with it.

This post is a segment of The Small Business Guide to Going Digital in 2014.
Download your free copy of the ebook now. 

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