Where Is E-Marketing in the Buying Decision Process?
We know e-marketing is here to stay. We know that its influence on the marketing exchange process is significant. But how does e-marketing fit into the buying decision process?
To answer that, let’s first review the buying (or purchase) decision process. Go interview ten marketing gurus and you’ll likely have ten versions of the buying decision process, but all in all, they represent the same three steps (sometimes broken down into 5 or more substeps):
1. Need/Desire Recognition. We know that for any purchase to take place, the potential buyer has to recognize an unfulfilled need or desire. This recognition can be caused by an internal stimulus (my stomach feels empty) or an external stimulus (I smell the pleasant aroma of my favorite food).
2. Need/Desire Development. Now that we recognize this new “need,” we have to develop it so we can know what to buy. What kind of food is available in our immediate vicinity? Do we recognize the restaurants nearby? Is the food we want a reasonable distance away? How much do we want to spend? How much time do we have to eat? The questions (there are hundreds more) are seemingly endless, but at least some must be answered before we make the decision to buy. In fact, it’s during this step that we both gather information (“information search”) and evaluate the various options that arise (“alternative evaluation”). The information search can be both internal (retrieved from our own memory of past events or prior information search) and external (sought out specifically for this decision process. The alternative evaluation can take on a number of forms and processes, and ranges from specific comparisons of easily measurable details (e.g., the calories per serving) to general comparisons of more abstract concepts (e.g., comparing the personal satisfaction of supporting a friend’s restaurant versus the pleasure derived from the ambiance of a small café versus the opportunity costs of a time-consuming drive).
3. Need/Desire Fulfillment. When we’ve reached some threshold of information and comparisons, we make our exchange (i.e., our purchase) and then consume or use what we’ve bought. We also conduct post-purchase and post-consumption (post-usage) evaluations, which will likely influence the next buying decision process.
So where can e-marketing come into play? Pretty much everywhere a marketer can have an influence, and that’s throughout the entire process.
Online promotions, emails from friends, what we read in a blog – all of these can stimulate our recognition that there’s something out there that we want, but that we don’t currently have. Thus, it’s important for marketers to have channels in place to reach people where and when they’re most likely to recognize their needs or desires. Targeted ads (e.g., using behavioral advertising), well-placed mentions in online text exchanges, or opt-in email marketing could be used to stimulate need recognition.
As for the need/desire development process, whether it’s a Google search, a product comparison table on a website, or asking questions on a discussion board, we know that e-marketing plays a key role these days in how people formulate what it is that they want. Think about how you might have purchased a car or a house 15 years ago and how you’d do it now. The vast majority of people have moved at least some part of that process online.
Finally, for a number of products, even the final fulfillment of the product can have at least one online component. Whether it’s a completely online transaction such as purchasing on-demand video, or a partial online transaction like buying clothing from an online retailer, or even a face-to-face transaction that involves an after purchase online satisfaction survey, e-marketing again plays a role.
So not only is e-marketing here to stay, but it has permeated the buying decision process. For marketers, this means that understanding e-marketing is as essential as understanding the buyer.
And we all know that in marketing, understanding the buyer and the buying decision process is sensible.
Questions to consider:
- In what ways has e-marketing changed at least one step of the buying decision process for a business or industry that you know well?
- How can social media marketing do more to influence a particular step of the buying decision process?
- How has e-marketing changed your own buying decision process for a particular product or industry?
- Will the government attempt to limit the role of e-marketing in the purchase decision process? How and why?