by Marta Pereira
on February 22, 2017

Studying the consumer decision process


Marketing has always been about understanding the consumer decision process. Back in the 60s, when the discipline was starting to grow, authors Engel, Kollat, and Blackwell (1968) published what is known to be the first Consumer Decision Model, which after a number of revisions looked like this:

Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 15.00.34

Source: Blackwell,Miniard et al. 2001 (as found in Bray, 2008)

If you focus on the Decision Process column, you’ll see that it starts by a need recognition, followed by search, the evaluation of alternatives and finally the purchase (and then consumption and post-consumption evaluation, which will ultimately have an impact on new purchases). All of these stages are influenced either by environmental and individual factors, or both.

Now, back in the 60s there was no such thing as digital marketing, never mind mobile marketing. Have these technological revolutions of the last decades radically transformed this process?


Micro-moments and the change in consumer behaviour


The answer is no, they haven’t. Just take a look at the video below, published last year by Google to describe what they call “Micro-Moments”:


Let’s look at the second example, for instance – the “If-only-we-had-an-SUV” moment. A young man struggles to fit toys, strollers and other child paraphernalia in a cluttered car trunk, which makes him realise he needs a bigger car (need recognition). He then goes on to search for an SUV online. The video doesn’t show it but I would say that after that he will probably search for alternatives to the Acura RDX and compare them (pre-purchase evaluation of alternatives).

So what are these micro-moments anyway, if not just a reminder of how consumer behaviour has always been like?

The concept of micro-moments, which essentially describes the event of recognising a need and acting upon that recognition, is nevertheless useful because it highlights two things that, unlike the structure decision process itself, are now very different from the reality of the 60s:


  1. the speed at which the decision making moments take place in a mobile world
  2. the ability of marketing managers to know and act in those exact same moments


When Engel, Kollat, and Blackwell published their model, the search phase would probably involve visiting a few stores and talking to salespeople. Now people just need to reach their pockets. What this means is that need recognition (those “i-want-to-know”, “i-want-to-go”, “i-want-to-buy” and “i-want-to-do” moments) and search happen almost simultaneously. If you’re in the train back home after work and you realise you forgot it’s actually your wife’s birthday and you need to buy her some flowers (you should, you know you should!), you’ll get your phone and check for flower shops near the station where you are getting off.

Which brings us to the second part of why it makes sense to talk about micro-moments. If you are the flower shop owner, you need to take advantage of this. You need to make yourself known where these moments come. According to a comScore study (see picture below), 78% of searches on smartphones resulted in a purchase, and 63% of those purchases happened within a few hours.


Serched Yield Purchases

So not only are the need recognition and search stages converging in a shorter timeframe, the actual purchase, in most cases, also takes place in the same day.


How to take advantage of micro-moments?


1. Recognising relevant moments

It all starts by understanding which moments are relevant for your business and how these can be recognised.

What type of needs are your company’s goods and services useful to? If you are selling fiber broadband, you want to be there when people explicitly intend to buy a new bundle, but perhaps it could also be interesting for you to be there when someone’s asking “why does my internet keep going off?”.

It’s also crucial to understand that search happens in different contexts. In the digital environment, it can happen both outside and inside your website or app. People might be inside a brick-and-mortar store looking for a specific product on your online catalogue.

So yes, make yourself relevant through advertising, but don’t forget about making your own content easy to access and understand – as as relevant as possible through personalisation.

2. Helping is selling

The ability to generate sales from micro-moments relies on your ability to understand customer concerns and make things easier for them. If I’m looking for a personal loan, the first thing I want to do is to calculate repayments. Why do I need to read through pages of irrelevant information before finding a calculator?

Tools such as calculators and configurators are great ways to help prospective customers understand what is the most appropriate product for them, therefore eliminating a lot of noise in the decision making process.

Make sure these tools are easy to use. The easiest interface will always be a conversational one: ask about the customer’s characteristics and needs and provide recommendations. Whilst historically this type of interface has been reserved for human interaction, chatbots are now able to do the task.

3. Putting an end to internal competition

The concept of micro-moments makes it clear (if, surprisingly, it wasn’t already) that the different stages of consumer decision making do not necessarily take place in one single channel. The famous ROPO (Research online, purchase offline), as well as its reverse, are realities that you need to deal with not only by having the right technology, but most importantly by having the right sales incentives and performance metrics.



It’s not easy but there are a few successful cases, such as the one of Target mentioned in a 2015 report by Harvard Business Review and Google:
At Target, individual stores now receive generous credit for online sales that occur in the ZIP code regions surrounding their stores. Target has reset its system to make sure everyone is working to the same end. Store employees are “our greatest ambassadors out there, 300,000 strong,” says Carl. “They love to drive sales through mobile now, because they’re getting credit for it. So we’re channel-agnostic. We just want the sale at Target.”

Source: Micro-moments and the Shopper Journer (2015), Harvard Business Review

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