company brandingHeads up: The age-old “sales funnel” metaphor—consumers begin their decision-making with a large number of options in mind and narrow their choices to an eventual sale—fails to capture the shifting nature of consumer engagement in the digital age, warns David C. Edelman in a recent article at the Harvard Business Review.

As a result, many companies could be wasting precious branding dollars, Edelman contends. “What has changed is when—at what touch points—[consumers] are most open to influence, and how you can interact with them at those points,” he explains.

He cites an article in the McKinsey Quarterly that redefines the sales process in terms of the “consumer decision journey” (CDJ). Briefly, these are the steps in that journey:

Unlike in the days of the sales funnel, today’s consumers often limit their considerations at this first stage, Edelman notes.

Evaluate. At this stage, consumers seek input from peers, reviewers, retailers—and the brand and its competitors. Be there to answer questions, he advises.

Buy. Increasingly, consumers put off a purchase decision until they’re actually in a store, Edelman says. “Thus, point of purchase … is an ever more powerful touch point.”

Enjoy, advocate, bond. This is perhaps the biggest change from the sales-funnel model, Edelman contends. Post-sale behavior has taken on vastly new importance as the consumer interacts with the product and with new online touch points after a purchase.

The shift to a CDJ-driven strategy takes three steps, according to Edelman:

  • Understand your consumers’ decision journey.
  • Determine which touch points are priorities and how to leverage them.
  • Allocate resources accordingly.

Put your money on interaction. To best serve today’s consumers, companies need to spruce up their Internet presence and encourage more consumer feedback (chats, testimonials, brand pages)—before and after a purchase.

Source: Harvard Business Review.