Understanding the importance of brand awareness to the success of a business and the role it plays in the consumer journey is integral to all the work we do from creating a new brand identity to updating the UX of an app or website. A recent article by McKinsey beautifully captures some key insights into the consumer journey.

How consumers make decisions

Every day, people form impressions of brands from touch points such as advertisements, news reports, conversations with family and friends, and product experiences. Unless consumers are actively shopping, much of that exposure appears wasted. But what happens when something triggers the impulse to buy? Those accumulated impressions then become crucial because they shape the initial-consideration set: the small number of brands consumers regard at the outset as potential purchasing options.

The funnel analogy suggests that consumers systematically narrow the initial-consideration set as they weigh options, make decisions, and buy products. Then, the postsale phase becomes a trial period determining consumer loyalty to brands and the likelihood of buying their products again. Marketers have been taught to “push” marketing toward consumers at each stage of the funnel process to influence their behavior. But our qualitative and quantitative research in the automobile, skin care, insurance, consumer electronics, and mobile-telecom industries shows that something quite different now occurs.

Actually, the decision-making process is a more circular journey, with four primary phases representing potential battlegrounds where marketers can win or lose: initial consideration; active evaluation, or the process of researching potential purchases; closure, when consumers buy brands; and postpurchase, when consumers experience them (Exhibit 2). The funnel metaphor does help a good deal—for example, by providing a way to understand the strength of a brand compared with its competitors at different stages, highlighting the bottlenecks that stall adoption, and making it possible to focus on different aspects of the marketing challenge. Nonetheless, we found that in three areas profound changes in the way consumers make buying decisions called for a new approach.

Alternative to the marketing funnel: The consumer decision-making process is now a circular journey

Brand consideration

Imagine that a consumer has decided to buy a car. As with most kinds of products, the consumer will immediately be able to name an initial-consideration set of brands to purchase. In our qualitative research, consumers told us that the fragmenting of media and the proliferation of products have actually made them reduce the number of brands they consider at the outset. Faced with a plethora of choices and communications, consumers tend to fall back on the limited set of brands that have made it through the wilderness of messages. Brand awareness matters: brands in the initial-consideration set can be up to three times more likely to be purchased eventually than brands that aren’t in it.

Not all is lost for brands excluded from this first stage, however. Contrary to the funnel metaphor, the number of brands under consideration during the active-evaluation phase may now actually expand rather than narrow as consumers seek information and shop a category. Brands may “interrupt” the decision-making process by entering into consideration and even force the exit of rivals. The number of brands added in later stages differs by industry: our research showed that people actively evaluating personal computers added an average of 1 brand to their initial-consideration set of 1.7, while automobile shoppers added 2.2 to their initial set of 3.8 (Exhibit 3). This change in behavior creates opportunities for marketers by adding touch points when brands can make an impact. Brands already under consideration can no longer take that status for granted.

Article by McKinsey