Search is the beginning, middle & end of every buying journey

More than a decade ago, when I started my digital marketing career, concepts like consumer buying journey were non-existent in the agency parlance. In fact, no marketer was even asking this question to their agency. Perhaps digital was not considered strategic enough.

But travel e-commerce players (like MMT, Yatra etc.) changed it all forever, when they showcased the true power of the digital world to all marketing folks. From that point, it truly opened a perennial chapter of gold rush in the advertising business.

Arguably, if there was one company who was in the middle of this (never ending) gold rush, it was Google. Google’s success in the online business compelled a lot of people to try their hand at creating disruptive online products, but most of them ended up failing miserably.

Today, optimising customer buying journey is the most critical aspect of any digital strategy. Search continues to dominate every buying journey across categories.

Buying Journey – The Beginning

Over the years, humans appetite for information search has touched gigantic proportions. Mobile only added more fuel to this insane pace of growth. (see below image)

mobile vs desktop internet users - last 5 years

mobile vs desktop internet users

The journey which took desktop 20 years, mobile not just covered it in just 7 years but outpaced desktop in no time at all. And the result was quite apparent from there onwards. It triggered a never seen before surge in human appetite for information “search”. So much so that it became the penultimate lifeline in online discovery.

 

eCommerce buying journey in mobile

By 2013, more than 48% of online audience were discovering products through search only in the automobile (42%), home and garden (41%), apparel & beauty (38%).  Mobile only accelerated this phenomenon further.

Over the years, Mobile (or rather Mobility) has not just amplified the overall searches across categories but also altered user’s path to discover new products & services.

consumer journey by devices

Source : Forbes

Over 75% of product discovery starts on a smartphone or tablets, whereas only 25% is happening on PCs. This phenomenon has forced the brand teams to re-look at their entire marketing funnel and create a mobile first strategic approach.

Buying Journey – The Middle

Usually, the discovery cycle for any product category is longer, take for example the automobile category.

Source : Google Insights

In automobile, any purchase consideration cycle can go up to 120+ days. And the reason is quite obvious, there are multiple layers to any purchase consideration and it can get extremely complex if the category is highly competitive:

  • Type of vehicle to purchase ( Sedan vs Hatchback vs Crossover vs SUV etc.)
  • Variant A vs Variant B (Petrol vs Diesel vs CNG )
  • Brands A vs Brand B ( Honda vs Hyundai )
  • Car Dealer A vs Car Dealer B ( Outskirts vs Suburb )
  • Color Preference ( Metallic vs Non Metallic )
  • Finance Company A vs Finance Company B

When beginning a new purchase journey, most consumers consider an average of 3 to 4 brands, if they are not already loyal to one in particular. During this stage it becomes vitally important for marketers to increase their brand visibility while consumers are developing their considerations sets.

The search allows the consumer to deep dive into various parameters that can assist them in decision making by comparing multiple complex options at ease.

Buying Journey – The End

Customer Care Search Trends on Google

10 Years Customer Care Search Trends on Google ( Source : Google Trends)

Last 10 years Google search trends shows how customer care related queries have sky rocketed.

This shows that search does not stop at purchase, in fact it is a great tool for brands to engage with customers on ongoing basis by helping them find solutions to their problems. A lot of brands miss out on this opportunity to connect with their customers in the post sales phase.

 

Mobile has changed the in-market car buying journey

It used to be that when people needed to buy a car they would go to the dealer, walk down the rows of brightly coloured models and listen to a salesperson talk about the latest and greatest makes and features. Today’s auto intender can bypass the car lot altogether and gather information from sites, apps, friends, family members and even experts, all at the touch of a button or scroll of the thumb.

Today, in-market audience is visiting lesser number of dealer locations  as they are spending a lot of time discovering through their Mobile for their dream vehicle. Most of the time in-market customer has already made the decision before setting their foot inside the dealer location as they have the answers to most of their queries.

From a media standpoint, Mobile has captured maximum share of voice & share of mind across owned, earned & paid media, i.e. Brand’s Website, Organic & Paid Search, Social Media & Auto Reviews Portals, that influence & shapes audience decision making process for automobile purchase.

Current share of mobile queries across both organic & paid search is consistently touching 60% (the trend is common for all automakers as mentioned by Google in their auto insight report last year) which has further impacted all other connected channels like auto content portals & social media.

When it comes to social media, majority of the audience is engaging with the brand through their mobile devices. According to Facebook, almost 90% of the active audience in India in the age group of 25-45 are Mobile First. This trend is reflected in the audience data for auto portals as well, where most of them are seeing up to 50% and more entry referral traffic coming through Mobile (App & Wap) only.

Mobile truly cuts across the entire audience consideration funnel i.e (Awareness or Discovery > Consideration > Evaluation > Purchase), and further intercepts audience car buying journey at regular intervals with high degree of share of mind.