started my marketing career in the ice-cream business.
Yes, I could eat all the ice cream that I wanted, and yet I didn’t - I actually got lactose intolerance as a side effect of all the tasting sessions I had to do. In hindsight, my job was fairly simple: half of my productive time was spent creating new ice-cream recipes, the remaining half was spent creating effective communication — mainly classic ATL — to sell millions of them. My focus was on creating profitable recipes that enthused people’s tastebuds, convincing them to rush to the nearest fridge. All I had to do was to build enough Awareness around the product, making sure it was good enough for people to buy it again and again, and profitable enough for my company to make a lot of money. The only other thing we had to care about was to create enough Stand Out and Presence in the Action phase of the Consumer Journey, and that was my Sales colleagues’ duty. The game was overwhelmingly rigged in favor of big, incumbent players; lots of money were spent to make millions of people salivate, and to ensure that the product was ubiquitously distributed in every store’s fridge. That’s it: Awareness and Action. I didn’t have to try hard to convince anybody. A mouthwatering poster and a 30°C outdoor temperature was all I needed to convince people.
"All I had to do was to build enough Awareness around the product, making sure it was good enough for people to buy it again and again, and profitable enough for my company to make a lot of money."
At that time, the Conviction phase of the consumer journey was considered relevant only for big ticket items, the so-called durable goods. And even in that case, the process wasn’t in marketers’ hands, as it was taken care of by acknowledged and talkative sales reps.
More than 20 years later, the picture is quite different. And yet marketers still struggle dealing with the new picture, because it’s difficult, painful and damn complicated. The time has come to make some clarity about why this is not an option anymore.
The Consumer Journey
Let’s look at the Consumer Journey concept for a moment. Dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, it is a way of describing the cognitive process happening in a consumer’s mind, from the inception of the desire of a product or service to the actual experience of it. It is circular in nature, but for the sake of clarity, we represent it here as a linear sequence. In our version of the model, the four main phases are split into further 8 sub-phases for further precision.
In the ice-cream example discussed before, the duration of the consumer journey is almost instantaneous. If the message is memorable enough, it will be satisfied as soon as possible. But this is not true for many categories that are experiencing much longer time gaps between stimulus and purchase. Turns out that the length of the consumer journey has little to do with the durability of the product/service sold, but it depends upon three specific variables: Information, Time and Money.
- INFORMATION QUANTITY
This is the most influential factor. If to understand the performance of a category time and attention are required, this fact alone will definitely influence the journey’s length, regardless of cost and duration. Example: Health Travel Insurance. It will only last for a week, and I can afford the out of pocket. But if I don’t take some time to look into it closely, I might find myself in serious trouble.
- USAGE DURATION
Sometimes the product or service is neither too complex nor too expensive, but it will be used for a very long time. Example: an IKEA lamp. It might cost only $10, but it is supposed to stand in my sitting room for years, impacting the look and the ambiance. I will carefully browse among alternatives to choose the best fit.
- RELATIVE COST
Money is the last influential factor. As people in the luxury business know well, impulse purchase is the main pattern in a Hermés. There’s often very little planning, thinking and searching when buying a Birkin bag, whose price ranges between $40,000 and $500,000. It only depends on the relative impact of the sales price on one’s personal budget. So if someone is desperately looking for a Birkin but can’t afford it at its market sales price, she will spend some serious time searching for cheaper alternatives providing similar value, like owned bags, imitations or other less expensive iconic alternatives. Otherwise, the journey will be short, very much like that of an ice-cream.
For the product or services which are heavily influenced by one of the factors above, the consumer journey takes time. If all the three elements are at play, it might last several months. And yet, many companies fail to recognize this dynamic, as they still focus on Awareness finalized to Action. Picture this: a consumer is browsing for information about an information-dense (type 1) category of products she needs. She is then followed for the next weeks by the same tedious digital advertising that keeps showing one of the products she read about. The banner links to a “Buy Now” page featuring a discount that she doesn’t care about, because she’s still trying to make up her mind. Sounds familiar?
Yes, I know. We don’t know where in the journey the consumer is, so we’d better give it a shot anyway. But if we were aware of the consumer journey’s length, we had at least designed a landing page that would be Conviction-driven, not Action-driven. At least.
The impact of digital content on the Consumer Journey’s length
There’s more. The massive proliferation of digital content and its immediate, ubiquitous access, has deeply impacted consumers’ behavior for good. Today it takes just a few seconds to verify the performance of a product or service, regardless of its complexity, duration or budget; so why not do it? In other words, with today’s abundance of content, every category is experiencing a significant increase of its journey’s length, including ice-cream. Before choosing the ice-cream flavor for tonight’s movie, why not checking what other people think about it? There’s a new IPA beer on the shelf: is it going to taste good?
Whether or not you as a company have taken care of providing Conviction Content online (that is, content about performance designed to convince people to prefer your product/service), it doesn’t matter; someone else has. Every e-commerce platform provides a platform for consumer reviews, and actively promotes it, as it is one on the main conversion drivers for them. If I don’t find consumer reviews at this Merchant, I will look for them elsewhere, and I will close the deal there. Is that simple.
This means that the concept of “Trial” has completely changed. People are less and less willing to take risks, to feel the “thrill” of trying out new things without some sort of reassurance, as this reassurance is so easily available 24/7 at their fingertips.
"People are less and less willing to take risks without some sort of reassurance, as this reassurance is so easily available 24/7 at their fingertips."
So today it doesn’t really matter what category your products or services belong. You must be aware that the Conviction phase plays a huge role in Action, that is. NO way your commercial is doing the job, or create enough familiarity to skip the urge of finding out how people’s real-life experience was. The time of mouth-watering, thirst-quenching advertising doing all the job by activating your reptilian brain (basal ganglia) is over, as it immediately followed by the paleo-mammalian and neo-mammalian brain (limbic system and neocortex) looking for emotional and rational justification.
People at Pepsico might have noticed this already. The recent (Jan 2020) launch of Mountain Dew Zero Sugar has been welcomed on Amazon with 1,200 consumer reviews in just a few months. When “bookluver1999” writes “I’m switching over to diet mt dew now! Tastes very similar to regular mt dew to me and not strongly like a Diet drink.”, she might convince a few Diet Coke drinkers to try a Mountain Dew Zero instead.
Time for every Brand to take care of its Online Conviction Phase
No B2C companies are immune to this phenomenon anymore. Whether they care or not, whether they take control in their hands or let it spontaneously happen, they have to face the reality; there’s a huge elephant in the room named Online Conviction Phase, and it is influencing every business’ bottom line. The question is: how businesses should deal with this, and how to build a marketing strategy that sells?
1. ACKNOWLEDGE THE KEY ROLE OF CONVICTION
Accepting further complexity in our job is painful. The importance of the conviction phase in marketing is not new and yet, in my experience as global marketing consultant, 9 times out of 10 I had to create awareness about this topic, and build strategies to manage it. It looks like the Kübler-Ross model for grieving applies here too. The key role of Conviction in a modern consumer journey is a FACT. The sooner marketing accepts it, the sooner it can transform it from a threat into an opportunity. Hiding the head in the sand in denial is of no help, as agile competitors are already taking advantage of this scenario. Time to move on and act fast.
2. MAP OUT THE CONVICTION SOURCES IN YOUR CATEGORY
Now that you’re not in denial anymore, you can explore the market as your consumers would do. Where would they go to know more about alternative choices? What information do they have immediately available when buying online? As of 2015, 45% of US consumers were using mobile phones to search for online reviews while making in-store purchases. Picture yourself in a store, in front of the shelf where your product sits. What searches would you perform? What are the results? What are the most evident findings? Once you map out the most influential conviction touchpoint in your market, you can eventually assess how your Brand is positioned in this phase of the journey.
3. ANALYZE YOUR COMPETITIVE PERFORMANCE
Articles, videos, how-to’s, consumer reviews — many different meaningful resources are available to consumers. The quantity of information is such that it can’t be handled by human beings anymore. To this purpose, a number of automated tools, often referred to as Brand Reputation Monitoring tools, have hit the market trying to simplify the data collection and classification problem. However, many of these tools leave the burden of data sense-making to the client. Complex and frustrating keyword searches and analysis often leave marketers without relevant, actionable insights. Because of these limitations, many companies are often analyzing only their reviews and the conversations around their Brands. But knowing that your Brand has 60 positive reviews every 100 has no meaning, if you don’t know how your competitors are doing. You might think that 60% positive is good, but what if the market average is 85%? What if your direct competitor has a 95% positive? Monitoring is only useful to manage angry customers in your post-sales funnel. To understand how you are doing in the market, and what business actions are required, Performance Benchmarking is necessary. We refer here not only to the quantity and quality of the content that is available to consumers about your product/service, but also to its actual performance in terms of customer satisfaction. At this level of analysis, a new class of Artificial Intelligence tools is required, that can seamlessly handle huge amount of online data and is sophisticated enough to automatically provide actionable business insights.
4. TAKE ACTION
Now you know everything about the Conviction phase in your category. You know the key touchpoints, the key players, and you know how your Brand performs compared to your competitors. Now it’s time for action.
The first step is about filling the gaps. If your Brand is missing relevant content where it matters along the consumer journey, and namely in the Conviction phase, now it’s time to work on it. One of the biggest challenges in this phase is that creating Conviction Content (or Hub & Hygiene content, according to Google’s framework) is not as exciting as doing advertising, while it is much more challenging in terms of workload. It also requires a pretty significant shift in the communication strategy, slowly but steadily moving your Brand from being an advertiser to thinking and acting like a publisher.
The second step is about the general sentiment towards your Brand that the content currently available expresses, especially when it is User-Generated Content like Consumer Reviews. A key assessment in this phase is provided by the Content Risk Map, shown here below.
A Brand in the top right quadrant has all it’s needed. Apple can count on a huge number of online reviews praising their mobile phones. No further action is needed from a content perspective.
A Brand in the top left quadrant has stellar online reviews, but little exposure. Xiaomi would benefit from a content syndication strategy, bringing the satisfaction of the few to the attention of the many.
A Brand in the low left quadrant has a lot of work to do. The product doesn’t perform well, the only good news is that it’s not a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 kind of fiasco — only a few people noticed. ZTE's growth is seriously hindered by the low performance, but the situation could be significantly improved by their next launch if they do their homework.
A Brand in the low right quadrant is in serious trouble. It has a lot of exposure, but consumers are expressing lower-than-average satisfaction. Blu promises affordable access to mobile technology, but they are dangerously walking the line between cheap and bad. The situation can be reverted, but some serious work on owned content and future R&D must be done, as successfully demonstrated by Samsung.
It doesn’t matter what category a Brand belongs to, Conviction Content can make or break any B2C business today; taking care of the Conviction phase is a must for every Brand that wants to succeed. Introducing this new dimension in the marketing process can be demanding, but technology is coming to Brands’ help, providing effective solutions to assess the competitive situation and provide actionable business insights.