Customer loyalty is harder to cement than ever before, with 58% of consumers changing brands from one purchase cycle to the next, according to data from management consulting firm McKinsey. And so both the good and bad news for brands is every future purchase is theoretically up for grabs.

To further complicate things, while the evolution of the linear customer journey is well-documented by this point, it is nevertheless difficult to assign a specific shape to the new form as no two customer journeys are alike anymore.

“[Consumers] are narrowing and broadening their consideration set in unique and unpredictable moments,” Google noted in a blog post about how customer intent is reshaping the marketing funnel. “People turn to their devices to get immediate answers. And every time they do, they are expressing intent and reshaping the traditional marketing funnel along the way.”

In fact, martech news site Martech Zone said consumers use an average of nearly five touchpoints before they make a purchase today as they figure out the exact right option for themselves. Here are eight signals along that unpredictable customer journey that indicate a prospective customer is preparing to buy.

In this article:

They Seek Information and Select Early Favorites
They Research Via Search Platforms, E-Commerce Sites, and Brand Assets
They Read Reviews
They Watch Video
They Visit Stores and Tap Into Mobile Search
They Drop Hints on Social Media Platforms
They Reach Out to Sales Representatives
They Talk to Their Bosses if Necessary
They Make a Decision
The Cycle Continues

They Seek Information and Select Early Favorites

Early on, customers identify a need for a particular good or service, but they still don’t know who they will buy it from. And so they survey the landscape. This, B2B marketing automation platform Pardot says, is when marketers have to focus on generating awareness with messaging on a far-reaching platform like social media, so potential customers realize what a brand offers and what distinguishes it from competitors. But this isn’t the time for a sales pitch. 

Content should be focused on your buyer’s pain points — not your product or brand,” Pardot says. 

At this point, customers also determine an initial consideration set of brands. McKinsey says getting onto this list with early messaging is critical, as nearly 70% of brand choices are made by this point. After getting on that list, the key is to then remain with the customer, wherever their journey takes them. By using predictive tools like a customer growth indicator, brands can identify which customers are most likely to be in that early consideration set and they can allocate their marketing budgets accordingly to ensure they’re in lockstep with potential customers.

For more on how to connect with your customers:

It’s All About Empathy: How to Understand, Influence, and Connect With Customers

They Research Via Search Platforms, E-Commerce Sites, and Brand Assets

Once a customer has his or her list, the research phase begins in earnest. According to Pardot, 72% of consumers turn to Google with general search terms as they seek out educational material and reviews. (However, multiple studies have shown consumers are increasingly starting their queries for product searches on Amazon.)

As consumers move from general search to brand websites, they consume content like reports, white papers, and/or blog posts. Pardot recommends using a marketing automation tool to track downloads and collect information, even though it’s still too early for an overt sales pitch at this point.

As buyers learn more, they start to hone their questions for the brands that remain in their consideration set — and eliminate those that don’t meet their needs. Relevant content helps consumers arrive at those conclusions.

“This stage is all about building trust with your prospect and establishing your company as a credible source of information,” Pardot says. 

Then customers return to search to get even more specifics on how particular brands can address their concerns. In its post about the new marketing funnel, Google agreed the journey widens and narrows as customers consider different brands along the way.

For more on how to build customer trust with video marketing:

Video Marketing: How to Build Brand Trust

They Read Reviews

The second round of research is when consumers seek out reviews through search and social channels, Google noted. In fact, a 2018 report from product experience management platform Salsify found Amazon listings with more reviews convert at higher rates and outrank competitors 58% of the time. The study also found better reviews were the most popular reason consumers said they’d be willing to buy a higher-priced item over a competitor’s.

“When it comes to bragging about your particular product, nothing speaks louder than the experience of your current customers,” Pardot says. “Have a number of case studies and customer testimonials on hand to show prospects what others have achieved by choosing you, and how positive their experience has been.”

In a November 2017 blog post about the consumer decision journey, McKinsey partner Dave Elzinga said platforms and technologies have made it easy for consumers to comparison shop, and social media has brought transparency into what a consumer’s circle of friends, family, associates, and other influencers think and buy. That also means there’s an opportunity for brands to win back some consumer trust if they can appeal to consumers themselves.

They Watch Video

Google said second-round research also includes watching product demonstration videos to determine which brand will make the cut.

In an August 2019 blog post, Stephanie Cao, product marketing manager at Google’s online advertising platform AdWords, said 50% of shoppers use online video while in a store to brush up on a product before talking about it with a sales representative. This helps shoppers remember what they’ve learned so far and what information they’re after next. Google says the lesson for brands is to invest in mobile experiences and a machine learning and automation strategy.

“Machine learning can help you understand and predict intent in ways that simply aren’t possible manually,” Google says. “It can also help you find missed or unexpected connections between business goals and the habits of your key customer segments.”

For more on how to build an effective video marketing strategy: 

Guide to Building a Video Marketing Strategy

They Visit Stores and Tap Into Mobile Search

Google research has also found mobile search queries within stores have grown 15% in recent years. That means they are turning more to their devices for additional help, even after zeroing in on specific brands and retailers. 

Before customers come to a store, they are looking for information such as product availability and store hours, which retailers should make easier to find. In fact, Google said 41% of shoppers want retailers to share more about their in-stock inventory.

“Our data also shows that shoppers continue to hunt for deals while they’re in-store, and search online for things like ‘[retailer name] + in-store coupons’ or deal aggregators like RetailMeNot,” Cao wrote. “Help customers get a head start by making this information readily available before they’ve walked through your doors.”

They Drop Hints on Social Media Platforms

Along the way, customers also leave clues on social media that their needs may be changing, like asking questions about a problem outright or commenting on other users’ posts. They may also pose questions about your competitors.

By tracking these hints, brands can better determine which prospects are moving toward a purchase or will be in the market for new goods and services soon. Social media monitoring tools can help brands stay on top of these conversations.

That’s according to the education platform the Digital Marketing Institute, which says social signals for B2B brands also include announcements of new senior executives, which may indicate pending budget changes, or office expansion, which signals growing business needs.

For more on providing top-notch  social media customer service:

Social Media Customer Service: Best Practices

They Reach Out to Sales Representatives

For a large B2B purchase, customers also use the research and comparison stage to contact sales reps for personalized demonstrations. This is where Pardot says data collected by a marketing automation tool can help sales reps target their conversations with those buyers to ensure the demo is valuable for each prospective customer.

B2C customers may also look for additional information directly from brands. By creating content like videos that answer consumer questions, brands can greatly increase the odds of conversion. According to a stat from Neil Patel, founder of digital marketing consultancy NP Digital, product videos are hugely successful brand assets that can increase the likelihood of purchase anywhere from 64 to 85%.

They Talk to Their Bosses if Necessary

In B2B specifically, prospective buyers will also have to loop in senior management as they move closer to a decision. 

Any purchase that involves a monetary investment is going to require sign-off by C-level execs, so your buyers are going to begin focusing on content that contains information about pricing, ROI, and the bottom line to justify their expenditure,” Pardot says.

Brands can help usher this process along by creating content that speaks to those executives about the benefits of a specific product or service and addresses early concerns like onboarding or customer service.

They Make a Decision

Finally, it’s the moment brands and consumers alike have been waiting for: The customer knows which product or service is right for their individual needs and is prepared to click “buy.” This is also the point brands can get specific with their sales pitches to encourage buyers to close the deal.

The Cycle Continues

While it may be harder to follow the buyer journey than ever before, brands nevertheless have plenty of opportunities to engage customers through each stage of awareness, research, and education. A hard sales pitch that pushes customers down the proverbial funnel doesn’t cut it anymore. Instead, it’s the brands that invest in tools to identify and track prospects, as well as in the content to answer their questions along the way, that are poised to not only generate sales in the near term, but loyal customers over the long haul.

Angie Tran
Author

Angie is the Senior Copywriter at AdRoll. Prior to AdRoll, she was a Content Writer at various digital marketing agencies. A writer by day and a reader by night, Angie’s other hobbies include cooking and learning useless movie trivia.