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Consumer decisions

Do Marketers understand how customers make decisions?
Greg Zurnamer
Marketing Director: Huthwaite Africa

“Your product will only survive in a crowded marketplace if you stop advertising and start innovating-Seth Godin”

The number of P’s making up a good marketing mix has been the subject of debate amongst marketers for many years. The numbers of P’s up for discussion may, according to my Google search, range from 4 to 12. These P’s constitute a marketing checklist ensuring that marketers will be able to get their product from the factory into the hands of the buyer.  We all agree that if these P’s are out of sync or dysfunctional then the marketing message will be distorted and useless. Yet despite this fundamental truth many marketers still get it wrong. The world is littered with examples of products that have not found favour with customers.
The realty today is that customers make buying decisions and it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell or market products on a mass basis. Marketers are required to understand more clearly their target markets buying process and ensure that their marketing messages effectively supports or enhances this process. Marketing has moved from value communication to value creation. If products and services that are being marketed are not going to solve problems for the target market then they are increasingly going to be left out in the cold.

Marketers must through their marketing efforts help consumers identify, develop and qualify their needs. Many customers do not know what they need and even if they did know some are just not willing enough to make decision that will result in them buying product.

Neil Rackham founder of Huthwaite International and author of the best selling book SPIN SELLING spent 12 years researching and understanding how customers make buying decisions that result in products being purchased. More importantly for marketers his research found that the bigger the size of the purchase the more profound the movement through this buying cycle. So marketers who are particularly concerned with marketing highly priced and sophisticated products should be even more aware of guiding movement through this buying cycle. VW understood this when they launched their safe happens* campaign for Jetta a few years ago in America. For the first time motor vehicle marketing moved beyond dumping impressive features on consumers and rather sort to influence decision making around safety in an effort to sell their Jetta model. The result was impressive market growth beyond what VW had expected.

The Buying Cycle

Marketers are sometimes of guilty of planning lots of activities. It all too easy to let your strategy is weighed down by these activities and procedures. Many of these campaigns become so sophisticated and complex that marketers forget to remember that its people who make the final decision to purchase. All people irrespective of title, position and sex progress through these discreet phases when making decisions.

Change over time- This is the stage when consumers have not yet recognised their need to make any changes in their lives. Customers are happy with the status quo and are finding favour with the products they are using. Marketers can jump start this process by providing compelling and proactive messages that help customers understand and appreciate their challenges and opportunities.

Recognition of Needs
- During this stage customers become increasingly dissatisfied with existing situation and begin realizes the need to solve a problem or exploit an opportunity. The role of marketing at this stage is to help the customer uncover the source of their dissatisfaction and increase the buyer’s perception of the urgency and intensity of their need.

Evaluation of Options- As soon as customers have realised they have to change they will start to consider the alternatives available to them for solving their dissatisfaction. The astute marketer will help customers understand how their product or organisation can assist with solving their problems. The really effective marketer will make sure that through their campaigns they are influencing the decision making criteria in their favour.

Resolving concerns- At this stage customer will tentatively select a product or vendor that they believe will rectify their difficulties. However before the customer is willing to enter into agreement of buy a product or service they will carefully asses any associated risk and consequences with their decision. The role of the marketer in this stage is to uncover concerns, fears and apprehensions that the potential buyer might have developed. The larger and more complex the decision making, the more likely these concerns will develop. Marketing must be able to satisfy customers that these concerns will be effectively addressed. Failure to provide sufficient guarantees at this stage will result in customers abandoning their purchasing efforts.

Decision making- Once the customer is satisfied that all their concerns have been addressed then they will be ready to make a purchasing decision. Marketers need to ensure that everything customers need to enforce their decision is freely available.
Implementation- After the purchase has been completed customers will start to introduce, test and install the product or service they have bought. During this phase customers will firstly test the product for the reason they bought it in the first place. If the product fails to live up to expectations the customer will be left dissatisfied. Handling these customers will demand more resources and time which sometimes is not freely available. Marketers need to ensure that during this phase customers are regularly reminded about the reasons why they made the purchasing decision in the first place. Easy access to companies or service providers becomes imperative.

Change over time- The buying cycle does not end just because the customer decided to buy a product or service. Inevitably changes will take place. These changes will effect and influence the customer’s perception of what they are willing to tolerate. Each of these changes provide more opportunity to marketers to expand or grow their market by helping buyers anticipate and address additional problems that they might be facing in the future.

        Published with permission from Huthwaite Africa (

As product and services become more and more commoditized and the differences between them blurred the risk of price sensitivity and loss of attention is increased. Marketers who want to innovate and be different in the market place need to be far more considerate for the way consumers make buying decisions. Only when an innovation solves customer’s problems and challenges does it become a potent force.

Huthwaite Africa is the sole licence holder for all the products and services provided by Huthwaite International. All of the programs have been developed from research and validated and proven to deliver success in a complex market. Huthwaite Africa is the sole provider of SPIN SELLING® the worlds most research, most validated and most proven performance improvement program. We also provide marketing consulting and intervention that will result in products and services being more closely aligned to customer decision making and therefore better market share and sales. More information can be obtained from
www.huthwaitefrica.co.za or by e mail: gregz@huthwaiteafrica.co.za

*SAFE HAPPENS - campaign can be viewed on You Tube


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