- Brand names and brand perceptions are becoming less powerful, and they are playing a reduced role in the customer decision-making process.
- Customer loyalty is declining. A customer's past experiences with a brand are having less and less impact on the customer's future buying decisions.
- Product positioning is less effective than it used to be, and marketers' attempts to shape people's preferences with traditional "persuasive" marketing techniques are becoming pointless in many markets.
Simonson and Rosen argue that an abundance of high-quality information about products and services is driving a fundamental shift in how consumers make buying decisions. When potential buyers can easily access credible information (such as expert opinions, customer reviews, and price comparison sites), they rely less on general brand perceptions and their past experiences with a brand's products and services, and they are less influenced by traditional marketing techniques and messages.
This wealth of "objective" information makes it easier for potential buyers to judge the absolute value of products or services and make more "rational" buying decisions.
For obvious reasons, Absolute Value has created quite a stir in the marketing community. I'll provide my view on the brand, loyalty, and positioning topics in future posts. In this post, I want to discuss another concept in the book that has significant implications for B2B marketers.
Simonson and Rosen identified three "new" consumer decision-making patterns that are assuming greater importance in today's information-rich environment. They called one of these patterns couch tracking. The basic idea of couch tracking is that because information is now so easily accessible, potential buyers are constantly consuming information about products or product categories that interest them.
In the book, Simonson and Rosen used couch tracking to describe the behavior of consumers, but the idea also applies to business buyers. In B2B, couch tracking means that business buyers are "always" accessing information about business issues and products or services that attract their interest.
The problem is, this consumption of information does not necessarily mean that the potential buyers are actively considering a potential purchase, but it's easy to misread the signals. Most of the traditional models of the B2B buying process focus on what happens after a potential buyer becomes aware of a need or a business issue that should be addressed. In the traditional models, this awareness triggers an active buying process that usually starts with information gathering.
Simonson and Rosen contend that couch tracking can turn the traditional buying process on its head because potential buyers are gathering and consuming information long before they are ready to seriously consider buying something.
Couch tracking has several important implications for the practice of B2B demand generation. Most importantly, it elevates the importance of developing and publishing high-quality marketing content. Couch trackers will form a powerful first impression of a company based on the content they consume, even when they aren't actually considering a purchase and have no immediate plans to begin a buying process. The important point is, if and when a potential buyer begins an active buying process, that first impression plays an important role in determining which potential vendors are given serious consideration.
Compelling, high-quality content has the potential to create what psychologists call a halo effect. A halo effect can be defined as a cognitive bias in which we "transfer" our perceptions regarding one quality of a person or an organization to other qualities or attributes of that person or organization. In other words, if we perceive that a company is good at "A," we will tend to perceive that the company is also good at "B" and "C."
A halo effect significantly increases the "weight" we give to first impressions. Therefore, if a potential buyer is favorably impressed by the content you publish, he or she will transfer that favorable impression to other attributes of your company and your products or services, even before he or she has "hard" evidence to support a judgement.
The potential for creating halo effects with couch trackers is just one more reason why compelling content is so critical to effective B2B demand generation.