Understanding the Decision Process
The author falls back to the old AIDA model of consumer behavior (which turns out to be older than I thought - he cites Elias Lewis in 1898), and suggests that it still applies, though on the Web in particular, the cycle is much shorter than in traditional marketing.
He also briefly mentions the two additional letters that are sometimes tacked onto the end - "S" for satisfaction (which is an evaluation made after the fact, not part of the behavior) and "R" for repetition (which is actually not accurate, as the user goes through the first four steps each time) - so he sticks to the basic AIDA model.
Awareness is the goal of advertising and promotion: it is getting the customer to pay attention for a moment, and learn taht your company and product exist.
Advertisements on the Web create awareness: a banner ad on a site informs the customer you exist, whether or not they actually click through immediately. The problem is that users don't even notice banners.
He speaks a bit about pop-ups, but that trick is so egregious and annoying that most people don't do it anymore, so I'll skip what he has to say (just another voice in the choir).
Putting the show on the other foot, the author has a dim view of including banners, even "house ads" on your own site. You are (or should be) directing the user toward a desired action, and a banner ad may distract them from the path.
The author also takes a quick look at a few "typical" web sites, particularly their home pages, in which there are dozens of things clamoring for the user's attention - so much so that users' attention isn't fixed on anything at all.
This is true of the typical Web site home page, which generally makes them a bad place to send a potentially interested visitor, which reinforces his earlier preference for a purpose-built page that caters to the interest you know (or presume) that the user has and wipes away all the clutter.
"Interest" is too often discussed as something that is done to the user - that shoving something under there noses will make them take interest in it. An "in your face" approach makes the user aware of something, but awareness does not create interest - though it may detract from it.
In actuality, interest is not generated - it is fed. The user clicked the banner because they are interested in what they saw, and your task is now to feed that interest and build upon it.
Conversely, if you show the user something other that what drew his interest, or make him hunt for the item they are interested in among a lot of visual clutter, the user will lose interest.
The reason moist Web sites end up with visual clutter is that they are attempting to present the user with a large number of options so that the user may select what interests them.
A better approach is to think of your content not as a collection of topics, but a collection of resources that fill certain needs (preferably, a number of needs that you can fulfill), and to present the top five or six needs prominently.
For advertising campaigns, there is often a very specific thrust, and you should direct the user to a purpose-built page that capitalizes on that exact notion, without distraction.
Desire, again, is not something that can be forced upon the user. The information you provide can pique their interest, and engender in them a desire - but more accurately, it can help the user to decide, for himself, that he desires to take a given course of action.
While the hard-sell may be effective in an automobile showroom, where the user feels "trapped" in an environment that the company controls, it doesn't' work on the Web, where the user can easily click away if they feel they are being manipulated. In this environment, the user is in control.
Also, when it comes to motivation, the Web is impersonal and remote - you cannot count on an emotional appeal, overwhelming the user's senses, or playing on their desire to be complaisant - to motivate them. It's generally a medium of cold logic: you must present the user with information to help them make their decision.
Some of the ways in which this information is presented is:
- Web content - text, images, and video
- Whitepapers - Longer informational articles taht educates prospects about complex topics
- Buying guides - Illustrating the differences among similar products to select the best option
- Wizards - tools that help the user, through a question-and-answer process to identify a product that suits their needs
- Demonstrations - Media showcases that demonstrate a product
Action is the end of the process, and the goal of the marketer: the user reaches a point where they wish to take action (generally, to purchase an item). A big, red button would seem to be all you need - but the author presents a handful of things to consider:
The Prospect Buys ... From Someone Else
In some instances, you may succeed at "selling" the user on the product, but the user may wander away all the same, with the full intention of making a purchase from someone else.
The author doesn't seem to have much in the way of helpful advice here - except to note that a customer who doesn't buy today may not be truly "lost": they may return and buy later, or they may buy through another channel (a common use of the internet is to research products that the user intends to buy offline).
The author also speaks a bit about strength of brand - if the user associates a brand with a product or a need, it can be difficult to drag them away. It's worth mentioning because if you're competing against a strong brand, you can easily lose the prospect to them, even after you've "got them interested in buying a product.
Resource investment is another area in which a customer may be hard to "win" from another provider. The frequent example is computer hardware - you'll have a hard time selling someone on a new platform, because all their files and software "work" with the competitor's model.
Winning the Business / Keeping the Business
An important concept in winning/keeping customers is the concept of the total solution - there are a number of elements:
- The product itself
- The "fully configured" price (including all extras)
- Shipping/installation costs
- Support after the sale
- Ease of setup and learning curve to use
- Service plans and options
- Maintenance and operating costs
- Convenience of company locations
- Performance and level-of-service
Establishing credibility is key, especially if your company is not a household name:
- Industry or media awards
- Media coverage
- Inclusion in consumer reports
- Endorsements from individuals and associations
- Partnerships or clients who are respected companies
- Studies and surveys
- Case studies
- User testimonials and reviews
Also, consider "risk reducers" to overcome the lat-minute anxiety that could queer the deal:
- A guarantee - If the customer doesn't like it, they can get a refund
- Policies - Getting a refund, service, or anything else is not going to be difficult
- Alternative channels - Ability to complete a transaction by phone, mail, or in person
- Trail period - the ability to try before you actually pay
- Security - Reassurance that ordering online is safe
- Privacy - Reassurance that ordering one thing won't get me on a spam list
Get Out of the Way
Sometimes, efforts to close the deal get in the way of a customer who is ready to buy immediately, and you can lose a conversion. Some examples of bad practices include:
- Making the user click through a forced march of screens to get to an order form (because you overestimate their reluctance)
- Making the user perform extra tasks (registering before placing an order)
- Distracting the user with promotions for other products (can make a confident person unsure)
- Attempting to up-sell or sell complementary products in a way that obstructs their ability to get what they want
- Requesting unnecessary information in the ordering process
- A confusing ordering process or an intimidating order form
- A nasty surprise - such as an unexpectedly high price
- Unusual or rigid requirements (such as terms of payment)