A 17 year old girl (let’s call her Anu) sits peering at a computer in New Delhi. She is evaluating universities across the world to identify the ones that would fit her needs for education overseas. Anu has Googled her area of interest and it has thrown up some universities. She switches to forums of Indian students planning to study overseas to see what they are saying and jumps in with some of her comments or questions.
The subsequent day Anu visits the ‘Overseas University fair’ with her mother to meet several of the universities and their representatives face to face. At the fair she lists her name and email address as one of the visitors.
The next morning she receives an invite to join one of the universities (let’s call it university X) Facebook group linking all hopeful Indian applicants to the university. The Facebook group plans to meet that week at a café to get to know each other. About 15 of them meet up over coffee to talk about their future plans, the upcoming central board exams, the different universities they are considering, the ones they like/do not like and why. Parents also arrive at the café to drop off their kids and end up sharing their experiences with each other over a cup of coffee.
Finally the exam results are declared and Anu can complete her application process. She writes her essays and sends them to an uncle who lives overseas for his advice. She calls him on Skype and they go through the essay. Based on her uncle’s feedback Anu makes some changes and finally puts in her applications. Now Anu has to wait for the universities admissions board to make their decisions. In the meantime, she continues to talk to her University X Facebook friends. Some of them have been accepted in other universities and decide to take this up. They continue to be friends on Facebook and begin talking about what needs to be done to prepare for travel overseas.
Anu waits anxiously to hear from the universities she has applied to. Fortunately having done well, her application is accepted by a few different universities. She picks university X based on different factors and after talking to her mom and dad.
The family begins preparations for Anu’s departure and overseas trip. This is the first time she will be away from home and her parents will accompany her for the first 2 weeks of her term to ensure she ‘settles in’.
Anu’s mom goes on Google to look for affordable accommodation overseas. She stumbles across AirBnB and finds what she is looking for. To her surprize the entire process is seamless and she now has all the practical aspects of the trip sorted.
Meantime, Anu and University X Facebook friends have now migrated to What’s App. They chat late into the night sharing their excitement as well as fear of the upcoming change. In parallel Anu has been on University X website to understand what courses she will be taking for the first year, orientation events, teachers etc. She has been in touch with her uncle overseas who has linked her with his friend in another country so she can get advice on what electives she can consider. There is still 1 month before Anu and her family leave for the university but they are well prepared.
Sounds familiar and natural right? The consumer experience above has some interesting insights on consumer decision making in the digital world.
1) Consumer decision making is not linear and separated into the traditional 5 stages (awareness, familiarity, consideration, purchase, loyalty). It happens in a synchronous manner and decision making criteria are ever evolving through this process. A brand cannot just target entry at the awareness or consideration stage but needs to be integrated into all the different stages.
2) Trust is being established across boundaries in many different ways. There is an expansion of influencers and conversations that cut across global boundaries, channels and time. In Anu’s case besides University X’s Facebook community, it also included her uncle overseas, his friend etc. For a brand it is important to understand how trust gets established in the digital age.
3) Even in critical decision making, the role of parents is shifting to become digitally integrated. While Anu’s parents were a part of the university selection process, most of the information search, selection was done by Anu. Moreover, Anu’s influence enabled her parents to become digitally integrated with the entire process. Brands need to see where these digital integrations are taking place and how children are bringing parents in as potential customer segments (e.g. AirBnB in the above example).
4) Potentially there is less reason for post purchase dissonance with consumers being so well prepared prior to product interaction. Brands need to listen carefully if there is post purchase dissonance as this would reveal need gaps in the system and provide new opportunity for the brand.