Here's a quick case study illustrating how I wound up buying $50 worth of protein bars I had never heard of before (Green's+) from a vendor I'd never used before (iHerb.com).
- Step 1: Word of Mouth/Lifestyle: Couple of years ago, friend and I have lifestyle conversation and discover we basically think the same: libertarian, socially progressive, prefer healing foods and natural supplements. I recommend Puritan's Pride; she tells me about iHerb.com. I don't do anything. The fact that a trusted friend who shares my values recommended this online vendor made me willing to buy there at some point in the future.
- Step 2: Impulse Buying/Timing/Appeal: This weekend I go out as usual and wind up at Trader Joe's in midday. They have everything tasty, ready-made, relatively natural. I'm hungry as I try not to eat in the morning. By the time I hit the checkout I am ravenous. There they sit: Green's whole food Protein Bars, $2.49 each, in a basket. I take one and tell her to charge me for it. They're good. I take 8. The fact that Trader Joe's had Green's+, and positioned them in an appealing way (a basket) at the right time (end of the buying process) made me buy them.
- Be The Default/Offer Value/Customer Service: I bring a Green's Protein Bar to work with me along with some ready-cut vegetables from Trader Joe's. I've discovered that given a choice, I'll choose the junk food at work; but if I pack healthier food in advance and it's sitting at my desk, I'm too lazy and cheap to buy the junk. The protein bar is so good I think that I want to buy a bunch online and try to get them cheaper. I visit Amazon.com which is my default, and find the bars are not all that cheap. I don't give up. The fact that Amazon.com is my trusted online vendor means that I head there first for everything. This is because of their outstanding customer service and the fact that I know I can compare multiple offers on one site.
- Be The Default/Search Engine Optimization/Offer Value: I head over to Google.com because that's where I search for everything and search for the protein bars. There it is, iHerb.com. Not especially expensive or cheap, but cheaper than Amazon.com and I've heard of it. The fact that iHerb.com had been sitting in my mind for years, and was still there when I looked for it, made it look reliable. And the fact that it was near the top of the search results made it look credible. The price motivated me too.
- Coupon Codes and Freebies: At iHerb.com I find the bars, and there is free shipping over $40, plus a big discount for first-time buyers, and there is a coupon code online. Plus they have trial sizes and freebies so I feel like I'm getting a lot of stuff for not that much. I imagine myself healthier and feel like a virtuous shopper. They seem to have good vitamins, but I don't buy - Puritan's Pride has a better deal on that (last time I bought 2 and got 3 free). People like to feel like they're getting a bargain. If you add something on top of the bargain to sweeten the deal you've created a happy customer.
The way I got here shows how marketers ought to reach the customer by thinking in a holistic, integrated way. People get from want to need to purchase on a complicated path. It involves not just one product or vendor but a family of trusted brands.
As in my experience, you don't have to actively partner with a complementary company to make this work - but imagine if you did!
Procter & Gamble is known for studying consumers in their natural habitats. But you have to go a step beyond and live their lives, if you really want to reach them.
The #1 rule of thumb in marketing: Always think from the customer's point of view, not yours.