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How to Use Testing to Match Messaging to Customer Needs, on Every Device


Traditionally, consumer-focused marketing has used the purchase funnel model to illustrate the various decision stages consumers pass through before converting into customers. The five stages—awareness, opinion, consideration, preference, and purchase—outline a neat, linear process in which the field of possibilities is gradually narrowed until a single product or service is selected.

purchase funnel illustration photoThis funnel model has inspired decades of marketing strategy. By focusing efforts on increasing awareness—typically through advertising and branding campaigns—companies could then concentrate resources on narrowing the options. Under this paradigm, search engine optimization is a powerful tool for filling the funnel and testing and optimization is important for “plugging holes”—decreasing the likelihood consumers will exit the funnel before making a purchase.

But as the number of marketing channels has increased, the linear nature of this model has become less common. Add to this an explosion of competition in the marketplace, more discerning consumers, and a purchase process that includes dozens of touch points and it becomes clear such a simple model can no longer represent the entirety of consumer behavior.

Research conducted by McKinsey & Company revealed that many of the fundamental assumptions of the purchase funnel model are incorrect. Investment in awareness, for example, was long considered essential to secure a position in the decision-making process. However, extensive qualitative and quantitative research has revealed that while the initial consideration set includes only a few commonly recognized brands, consumers have a tendency to expand the number of companies and products as they move into the next stage, more accurately called the “active evaluation” period. These findings led McKinsey & Company to create a new model—the consumer decision journey—that has more relevance to marketers struggling to compete in a crowded digital marketplace.

consumer decision journey illustration photoA home appliances company, for example, noticed that customers jumped quickly from the consideration phase to the evaluation phase using retailer websites. They reallocated a portion of their marketing budget—which had been heavily focused on expensive awareness-building advertising—to develop content for its retail sites. The move generated a 21 percent lift in ecommerce sales.

As more consumers begin using mobile devices as part of the decision making process—in addition to desktop and in-store shopping—it has become increasingly important for brands to offer appropriate experiences across channels. And while engineering techniques like responsive design can offer technical solutions to the multi-channel problem, mobile experiences must include tailored messaging to realize full conversion potential.

Of course, creating these tailored messages is not easy. But by carefully testing different strategic approaches for mobile and desktop, marketers can determine which messages are most effective within each channel—and these three guidelines can help:

1. Facilitate the Consumer Decision Journey

The case of the home appliances company mentioned above illustrates how important aligning messaging to the appropriate stage of the consumer decision journey is. And testing is the best method for determining which strategy best suits mobile, tablet, and desktop users.

Visitors on the desktop, for example, may be closer to the moment of purchase—and as a result, would respond to urgency messages emphasizing price reductions, limited offers, or other such deals. Mobile visitors, on the other hand, may be firmly in the active evaluation phase. These consumers would respond to comparison grids, product reviews, and other information essential to making a purchase decision.

By testing messaging associated with the various stages, marketers can estimate the general mentality and stage of the journey—leading to more appropriate experiences, tailored to each channel.

2. Understand the Mobile Path to Purchase

According to data collected by Google and Nielsen, the mobile path to purchase is both short and active. Consumers conduct research throughout the process, with 59 percent visiting a business’s website six times before making a purchase. At the same time, 83 percent of consumers completed the purchase process within one day—and 55 percent completed the process within one hour.

This data suggests that while many consumers are using mobile devices during the active evaluation phase—collecting information that will eventually lead to a moment of purchase on the desktop or in a physical store—those planning to make a purchase via mobile channels hope to do so quickly.

Testing can reveal the right balance of detailed information appropriate for consumers in the active evaluation phase and rapid checkout paths tailored to consumers intent on completing a purchase quickly.

3. Recognize Contexts and Relevance

Research conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group has found users expect experiences that “incorporate helpful and usable context-specific elements.” Creating such relevant experiences is critical for functional mobile design but the concept also applies to channel-specific messaging.

There is an extensive body of research that has found contextually and personally relevant content increases motivation and the persuasiveness of strong messages. In the context of ecommerce, these messages could be a product description page or even a purchase CTA. Increasing personal relevance can be tested through the use of geo-location, messaging and imagery that references mobile users, or the presentation of mobile-relevant products in feature areas.

Mobile devices represent a significant challenge and a huge opportunity for marketers—and the stakes will only increase as nascent technologies like the Internet of things and wearable devices become commonplace. But by orienting testing around the consumer decision journey and developing a clear understanding of how each channel contributes to this nuanced purchase process, marketers can increase the value of each device and prepare for the exciting world of ubiquitous connectivity.