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Figure 2.23 A summary of how the Internet can impact on the buying process for a new purchaser

It is worthwhile reviewing each of the stages in the buying process referred to in Figure 2.23 in order to highlight how effective the Internet can be when used at different stages to support the marketing communications objectives. Of course, the exact stage of the buying decision varies for different products and different types of customers, so an alternative approach is to develop channel chains (Figure 2.10) which reflect these differences. In general, digital media support the consumer buying process as follows.

1 Consumer: unaware. Company: generates awareness (of need, product or service)

Generating awareness of need is conventionally achieved principally through the mass media used in offline advertising. The Internet is relatively ineffective at this since it tends to have a more limited impact and reach than television, radio or print media. However, display advertising or paid search marketing can be used to supplement offline awareness-building as explained in Chapter 8. Some companies such as Zopa (see Case Study 2 below) have effectively developed brand awareness by means of PR and media mentions concerning their success on the Internet, with the result that even if a customer does not have a current need for a product, that customer may be aware of the source when the need develops. Examples of e-businesses that have developed a well-known brand include Amazon for books, Dell for computers, CDWOW for music, Microsoft Expedia for Holidays and AutoByTel for cars. In more specialised business-to-business sectors it may also be possible for a company to establish a reputation as a preferred web site as a source of expertise in its sector (for example, www.siebel.com for CRM and www.tektronix.com for test and measurement).

2 Consumer: aware of need, develops specification. Company: position features, benefits and brand

Once a consumer is aware of a need and is considering what features and benefits he or she requires from a product, then they may turn straight to the web to start identifying the range of features available from a particular type of product through using a generic search. Online, search engines such as Google, MSN and Yahoo! are important at this stage and effectively increase comparison at an early stage in the buying processes. Specification development effectively happens at the same time as supplier search and more suppliers can be evaluated in greater depth than traditionally. For example, Figure 2.24 shows e-retailers available in paid search for an initial product search on fridges. Retailers such as Comet are displayed in the natural listings (see Chapter 8) while others such as Tesco are displayed in the sponsored links.

Intermediaries well known within a sector are very important in supplier search and can also help in evaluation. For example, Shopgenie (www.shopgenie.co.uk) in the example in Figure 2.24 or CNET (www.computers.com) provides detailed information and reviews on computers to help consumers make the choice. The prospect will likely also click through to destination sites to find out about, for example, features available in a digital television or characteristics of a place to go on holiday. If a company is fortunate enough to achieve interest at this point, then it has an early opportunity to enter a dialogue with a customer and build the product's brand and generate a lead.

3 Consumer: supplier search. Company: generate leads (engage and capture interest)

Once customers are actively searching for products (the directed information-seeker of Lewis and Lewis, 1997), the web provides an excellent medium to help them do this. It also provides a good opportunity for companies to describe the benefits of their web sites and obtain qualified leads. The Internet marketer must consider the methods that a

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Figure 2.24 Initial product search showing e-retailers available customer will choose for searching and then ensure that the company or its product is featured prominently.

4 Consumer: evaluate and select. Supplier: assist purchase decision

One of the most powerful features of web sites is their facility to carry a large amount of content at relatively low cost. This can be turned to advantage when customers are looking to identify the best product. By providing relevant information in a form that is easy to find and digest, a company can use its web site to help in persuading the customer. For example, the Comet site (Figure 2.25) enables customers to readily compare product features side-by-side, so the customer can decide on the best products for them. Thanks to the web, this stage can now overlap with earlier stages. Brand issues are important here, as proved by research in the branding section of Chapter 5, since a new buyer naturally prefers to buy from a familiar supplier with a good reputation - it will be difficult for a company to portray itself in this way if it has a slow, poorly designed or shoddy web site.

5 Consumer: purchase. Company: facilitate purchase

Once a customer has decided to purchase, then the company will not want to lose the custom at this stage! The web site should enable standard credit-card payment mechanisms with the option to place the order by phone or mail. Online retailers pay great attention to identifying factors that encourage customers to convert once they have added a product to their 'shopping basket'. Security guarantees, delivery choices and free delivery offers, for example, can help increase conversion rates.

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Destroying Adwords

Destroying Adwords

Adwords or Pay Per Click advertising is essentially the 21st century equivalent of direct marketing, allowing advertisers to test ideas in hours rather than months. Learn more about Google Adwords and PPC advertising.

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