Despite the many years since John Dewey quantified the consumer decision-making process—and rigorous research on the topic—the steps haven’t changed much. What has changed, in reality, is the way that marketers can reach and assist consumers in the buying decision process.
The consumer decision process takes place over five stages, the first being “Need” and the last being evaluation of a purchase made. Understanding these steps and actionable steps you can take at each stage gives you an advantage when marketing to consumers.
We’re going to cover each stage and what you can do to leverage this information as a brand.
The 5 Stages of the Consumer Decision Making Process
Let’s define the five stages; then, we’ll dig into how to use this information to create more conversions.
- Stage 1: Need identification
- Stage 2: Searching for information on how to solve that need
- Stage 3: Investigating alternative solutions and information seeking
- Stage 4: The purchasing decision finalization
- Stage 5: Evaluation of final purchase choice
First, people identify a need, or they are made aware of a need they never realized they had. Second, they begin searching for information, learning about the problem they have, and solutions available to it. This step continues naturally into the third stage, where they find and compare alternative solutions.
Many people think the fourth stage is the end when you’ve closed the deal. It’s not, there is the fifth stage, and that is where consumers make a final evaluation of the purchase they made.
At this point, unhappy consumers are much more likely to leave an angry review than happy customers are to leave a positive one. That matters a great deal; one negative review can cost you up to 30 customers if there aren’t positives to counter it.
What can you do to help consumers find you, choose you, and leave the process satisfied? There are steps that you can take, starting before your customer even realizes they have a need. Let’s dig in.
Stage 1: Identifying a Need
This stage may seem like one you have little way of influencing. But, most businesses have marketing and sales teams whose job it is to help consumers define their need, and advertise to that need. However, there is another strategy you have that too many brands, especially small businesses, fail to utilize thoroughly—if they do at all.
Search engine optimization, known as SEO, is a strategy that you should be using to reach consumers while they identify their needs. Using keyword research, even using free sites such as AnswerThePublic or Ubersuggest, you can target the questions that people are asking when they begin thinking about the need your service or product serves.
Building a robust body of SEO content, including multimedia, social media marketing, and content marketing strategies, is essential. Focus on answering the questions people who need your service are asking, so you can be ready for them when they are looking for you.
This point is the beginning of your funnel and a significant place to spend money. Content is not something that you can simply stuff with keywords and expect to hit page one of Google anymore. This and stage two are essential steps for influencing the consumer decision process.
Stage 2: Searching for information on how to meet that need
This step is almost an extension of stage one because once a person has identified their need, they begin the research stage. Asking a neighbor for advice has morphed into requesting recommendations on social media, and digging through the newspaper or Yellow pages has given way to search engines and retailers online.
Consumers have questions at this stage: Can they handle this need themselves? Do they have to purchase or hire someone or something to meet it? If they do have to spend money, what are the best options from which to choose?
Customers even search on their smartphone while standing in the aisle at a brick and mortar store looking at what they want. You can still reach the consumer here, and show them how you can meet their needs or relieve their pain point. Again, we’re looking at advertising, but content and SEO is what gets you to the first page of Google.
It can be written, video, or an infographic, as long as it’s genuinely addressing the consumer’s need, and giving them trustworthy information about alternative solutions.
Stage 3: Investigating alternative solutions and information seeking
Your consumer is now sure that they have to buy something, or hire a company, to meet their need. They have read all they could, watched videos on how to handle it themselves, and determined that the best course of action includes a purchase. What is your best move here?
Answer their questions, and make the best marketing pitch you can, without overselling. That feeds into stage five, and we’ll be dealing with that shortly. You want accurate, high-quality, and reliable information that truly represents your product or service in an honest, positive light.
Instead of reaching out to people who already prefer another brand, concentrate on the conversation about your brand. What that means is, don’t try to push, “I know you want X, but you should try Y” it doesn’t work. Concentrate on your keywords, your products, and your consumer experience.
Stage 4: Closing the Deal (Making a Purchase)
The consumer has exhausted the time they have to make a decision or found the perfect solution. If you have done your job in stages one, two, and three, and leveraged SEO techniques to get your content to the consumer, it may be a purchase from your brand.
Your best bet at this stage is making sure your structure is sound. Shipping, ordering, scheduling, and paying for products or services should be as easy and intuitive as possible. All of that plays into the consumer’s experience and the upcoming evaluation of their final choice.
Purchasing is not the last stage, and you can not stop here. As a business, you must understand that followup, customer care, and experience are arguably as important as SEO, field marketing, and sales tactics. However, you should evaluate your structure also; do your marketing, sales, and SEO teams have the resources to out-do your competition? If they do, count that as a win.
The most important thing to do here is understanding that you can have 20,000 leads, but if you close none of them, your cost per opportunity is going to kill your bottom line. Concentrate on closing the sale. Using products that pursue abandoned carts, offer help, and support to consumers on their schedules.
You’ve spent money to bring the consumers to the table, do not forget that you must also get them to eat; making the sale and keeping your cost per opportunity reasonable is essential.
Stage 5: Evaluation of final purchase choice
Do you know your NPS? Net Promoter Scoring is a way for brands to measure customer loyalty, traditionally called a customer satisfaction survey. Because we know that unhappy consumers are much more likely to volunteer a scathing review than happy ones, it’s essential to seek out feedback from purchasers.
Think about the Walmart model of online shopping. They start with advertising, have an easy to use search interface on their website and apps, and regularly request feedback from those who purchase from them, whether it be shipped or picked up in their store, via customer satisfaction surveys.
Using NPS software to gauge customer satisfaction and loyalty to your brand is essential to understanding how your happy customers feel about the entire process. Understanding unhappy customers is equally important. Learn from them. Listen to them, and respond in supportive and empathetic ways. Bad reviews hurt, but they are our best learning opportunities.
Once you have gathered feedback, and have served customer needs or rectified issues, you are well on your way to understanding how to build loyalty with your consumer base. Happy customers return, captured feedback and ratings from them also help spread brand awareness and build confidence in prospects reading the positive reviews.
The Bottom Line on the Stages of The Consumer Decision Making Process
Here’s where you take steps to act on the information you’ve gathered, pay attention to how many people are coming into your funnel, and the percentage that you are closing. Take your information and use it to ask these questions:
“What can I do that sets my brand apart, what sets, packages, information, or innovations can I adopt or create to better serve the consumer?”
“How do I better help consumers understand how my product or service meets their needs?”
“Have I given enough resources to my SEO, marketing, and sales teams?”
Understanding how using search engine optimization allows you to reach your consumer base, and how to serve those customers and close the sale, is as important as giving them a great buying experience. Remember, follow up, understand and act on how they feel about the experience, and never stop innovating for them and build a loyal customer base.