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The concept of the purchase funnel, the theoretical movement of a consumer from initial awareness of a brand or product through to a point of action or sale, has been around for a long time. First introduced in 1898, this linear model typically has four touch points –– awareness, interest, desire and action (AIDA) –– and has served brands and marketers well for nearly a century. However, with the growth of the internet, introduction of new digital channels and ubiquity of smart devices, this linear and truncated model is no longer applicable to today’s consumer.

AIDA Customer Journey Model

The AIDA purchase funnel model introduced by E. St. Elmo Lewis in the late 1800s.

Today, there are several more stages in any consumer’s path, and these stages can vary significantly depending on the brand, product and target audience. The path is no longer linear. Instead, consumers are jumping around from stage to stage and channel to channel. And traffic doesn’t neatly siphon into your website in a straight line. Instead, it permeates as if being put through a sieve, coming from myriad channels, at numerous points in their readiness to make a purchase.

So how can your brand account for this new purchase sieve? Use the four tips below to address today’s varying and uncertain customer journey.

1. Learn About Your Audience

Knowing who your audience is, their mindset and what they need at the various stages will help you reach and engage them at every touch point. Use analytics data and webmaster tools to understand how people find your site and what they do once there. Use social graph data and social listening tools to understand your audience’s interests, behaviors and perception of your brand and products. Use customer surveys to gather demographic and psychographic data, and ask specific questions about their needs, desires and behaviors. Talk with folks on the front lines of your business –– your sales and customer support teams –– to learn about common complaints, emotional triggers and brand perception.

You may find that you have several audience types and some that differ quite a bit. That’s OK. You can choose to focus on one specific audience that provides the best opportunity for return, or you can select a few audiences on which you’ll concentrate.

2. Determine Where to Reach Them and What to Say

Once you have a good understanding of who your audience is and what makes them tick, you need to identify the different channels they use at every step. From there, define the types of content needed for each channel. Finally, identify the most appropriate brand message for each audience, stage, channel and format.

It’s useful to create a framework for each audience member to better organize and plan for their journeys. Map the stages of their journey across the top of the framework. These will be specific to each unique audience persona, but you can start with the following five: interest, research, validation, decision, advocacy. Then map the following elements in the leftmost column: customer mindset, customer need, channels used, content needed and brand message. Use the following image as a guide.

Customer Journey Framework

3. Don’t Run Channels in Isolation

Customers don’t distinguish your website from your brick-and-mortar store or your mobile app from your Facebook page. They see them all as one brand environment, and so should you. Even if you have different teams managing these different channels, you need to ensure a consistent and seamless experience across all channels.

Be sure to take an integrated approach across owned, earned and paid media channels, both online and off. Utilize your customer journey framework to guide this cross-channel mix, and leverage marketing automation tools to remove the guesswork.

4. Get Comfortable with Change

The digital landscape is continually evolving, causing customer behavior and expectations to change. For years it was known that people used their smartphones for research only but didn’t make purchases. However, mobile sales exceeded desktop this past Black Friday, according to IBM.

Mobile Sales Overtake Desktop

Source: IBM 2015 Black Friday Infographic

To continue reaching modern consumers and sustain business growth, you need to embrace this changing landscape. Create an environment of innovation within your business, empowering employees to test new channels and try different approaches. Fortunately, there is a wealth of data to show what’s working and what’s not almost instantaneously, allowing you to be nimble and adaptive.

As technologies have advanced, new channels have emerged and consumer behavior has changed over the last few years, the venerable purchase funnel has become more of a purchase sieve. Being open to this change, and knowing who your audience is and how you can reach, engage and retain them will help your business remain current and successful in the evolving digital landscape.

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