By Laurel Rossi, Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Revenue Officer, Infillion
Let’s say you’re a sporting goods retailer. You send your customers regular emails—information on the latest exercise trends, tutorials on new workout equipment, the occasional discount offer. One customer ignores your emails for weeks on end. Then one day, he pounces and orders your most expensive running shoes.
Were most of the emails a waste of effort? Did they work collectively, keeping you top of mind? Perhaps there was something magical about the message that produced the sale? Maybe the customer was inspired by nothing other than his or her own shopping impulses?
There has been much discussion in our industry about the collapse of the funnel. What we should be examining is the mindset of an emerging class of customer—one who rarely travels up and down a path from awareness to purchase but is always ready to make a decision about a brand.
Welcome to the “Age of Constant Consideration.”
The continued growth in ecommerce, coupled with the ubiquity of smartphones and social media, means that people jump from just looking to ready to buy quickly, a mindset that may help account for the 7.5% jump in e-commerce spending on Black Friday to a record $9.8 billion in the U.S., according to Adobe Analytics.
This state of constant consideration has led many marketers to go all in on lower-funnel tactics, such as search and retail media. But those tactics are largely centered on reaching people who are definitely shopping. That’s not a behavioral state that most people remain in continuously.
Infillion recently conducted research on this new consumer mindset. The data is compelling:
Nearly half (45%) of respondents said they are actively considering brands and products, vs. just 6% claiming to be in the awareness phase.
95% of those who had just completed a purchase said they were already contemplating their next one.
Touchpoints leading to a sale are fluid, each important in its way: Social media and word of mouth are the leaders for driving awareness, while the importance of search engines soars during the consideration phase. As decision time nears, reviews and company websites become front of mind. Never in the top five touchpoints at any stage, but critical nonetheless, are things such as streaming TV, apps, signage, packaging, physical stores and human salespeople. In which of these touchpoints can marketers afford to be invisible?
People shop when they need something, when they’re bored, and even when they didn’t set out to make a purchase. Essentially, shopping is now an always-on behavior, even if the consumer doesn’t think of it in those terms.
And this macro consumer shift has major implications for the advertising ecosystem. The always-in-consideration dynamic scrambles 50 years of conventional thinking. Instead of steering customers through a predictable, linear journey, today’s marketers must be in continuous communication with them. This can take many forms other than traditional advertising. For one, marketers likely need to produce more content and touch base with consumers regularly through email newsletters and SMS efforts.
That doesn’t mean that each interaction or touchpoint can be expected to lead to a sale—far from it. But brands need to be there consistently, ready to deliver when these always-in-consideration consumers are ready to make a move. Loyalty has become more fragile, and recency is crucial.
CMOs should also rethink many traditional means of measuring advertising success, such as tracking conversions, calculating return on investment, and attribution modeling. Brands will have to continuously test and learn new channels and vehicles, knowing that in many cases immediate impact won’t be apparent.
The line between branding and direct marketing is getting blurred. Creative executives will have to excel at storytelling while enabling consumers to jump on offers when they decide the time is right.
This is where data and technology geared toward creative execution should finally pay off. After years of hype, brands and media partners can deliver sequential messaging, reaching consumers at different moments of receptivity. Generative AI should prove valuable.
Storytelling, too, can include many voices. We’re witnessing the rise of community consumerism, in which buyers are constantly seeking the opinions and experiences of others, both for shopping and “validating” their purchase decisions. Brands may want to incorporate consumer reviews into their online messaging, and perhaps at physical retail locations as well. Consumers are going to look up reviews anyway, so why not amplify the voices of a brand’s best advocates?
Media companies need to develop new methods of delivering these always-ready shoppers and become more than suppliers of ad space. Some may veer toward more of a consumer intelligence role. Similarly, retail media networks won’t be able to rest on their point-of-purchase laurels. The future leaders will find ways to connect with people at a variety of times and locations—not only at the digital checkout counter.
The future of marketing is about forging new types of relationships with consumers. Brands need to continuously connect with shoppers, even in small ways, to ensure their presence and mindshare when the mood to shop strikes. That means advertising will need to become even more personal, well-timed, and informed by customers themselves.
Effective campaigns and media plans won’t look like they did before, and it won’t be easy. But the rewards are waiting.