In December 2010, the Harvard Business Review published a special 20 page section entitled, “Spotlight on Social Media and the New Rules of Branding.” The slew of articles included began with a piece by David C. Edelman in which he offers a breakdown comparison of how consumers engaged with brands and made purchase decisions in the past vs. how they do so now. The old way, or The Funnel Metaphor, was based on the idea that consumers start with a large number of potential brands in mind, methodically narrowing down their choices until only one remains. In The Funnel Metaphor, “buy” is the last step in the process.
The way things work now, on the other hand, is what is known as The Consumer Decision Journey. This theory is based on the idea that today consumers begin their purchase decision process with a smaller “top-of-mind consideration set,” followed by the expansion of this set based on input from peers and review sites. Though “buy” is still the third step in The Consumer Decision Journey, it is hardly the last.
The Consumer Decision Journey recognizes a fourth stage that is a continuation of the purchase decision process, called Enjoy, Advocate, Bond. As the article states, “After purchase, a deeper connection begins as the consumer interacts with the product and with new online touch points…When consumers are pleased with a purchase, they’ll advocate for it by word of mouth, creating fodder for the evaluations of others and invigorating a brand’s potential. Of course, if a consumer is disappointed by the brand, she may sever ties with it – or worse.” It’s the “or worse” part that brands should be afraid of, and the “advocate” part that they should strive for.
There are many new and important points made about consumers and how they engage with brands in The Consumer Decision Journey, but one that really sticks out is the idea that post-purchase brand interaction becomes just as, if not more, important that pre-purchase interaction. This idea highlights the necessity for brands to form real relationships with their consumers, both for the purpose of instilling loyalty and the purpose of enlisting consumers to advocate on the brand’s behalf. This is why brand ambassador programs work.
When a brand creates an ambassador program for some or all of their consumers, they’re letting their customers know that the relationship is not severed after a purchase is made. Continuing to contribute to the consumer-brand relationship encourages consumers to share their experience with the brand. The more the relationship is nurtured, the more positive the shared experiences will be. And the more positive the shared experiences are, – and this is the part we really care about – the more likely it is that others who hear and read about these experiences will become consumers of the brand themselves.
Let your consumers do the work for you. Create a brand ambassador program that includes each and every touch point in The Consumer Decision Journey.