If you’ve ever seen an episode of Mad Men, you know that during the 1950’s and 1960s, advertising reigned supreme when it came to influence over consumer purchasing choices. In those days, messages flowed one-way only, direct from advertiser to consumer (defined by textbooks as the classic encode-decode model). The advertisers provided information via ads
and consumers followed a very linear path that started with exposure and led through to the purchase of goods and services. And although this model is still largely referred to and taught in many business programs, it no longer reflects the consumer world of today, which has evolved dramatically with technology.

As we know, the traditional consumer buying process lays out six steps that a consumer psychologically goes through:

1. Problem Identification
2. Information Search
3. Evaluation of Alternatives
4. Purchase Decision
5. Purchase
6. Post-Purchase Decisions

This customer decision journey is linear and doesn’t take into account potential noise that could interfere with or influence the journey. This framework was suitable in earlier days, considering that TV, radio and outdoor media are all one-way streams of information.

By 2005, a new framework was developed to further describe the customer purchasing process.

The model categorizes the process into three stages:

1. Buying a Product
2. Experiencing a Product
3. Becoming Loyal to the Brand

This model recognized that by then, there were many more products available to choose from, which means that a consumer could be more selective about the way they experienced a product. It was no longer just about finding a product that met a need — but the way in which that product met that need also began to play a role.

And, the internet changed things even more for brands. The very first model to recognize this shift is known as The Zero Moment of Truth. It takes into account the evolved communication between consumers and companies by noting the significance of social media and digital communications. It was coined by Google in 2011, as they understood that the internet was re-
shaping communication and that the ultimate power and influence advertisers once had, had minimized. Suddenly, the consumers held the power. Although a one-way continuum of communication still exists and plays a large role in brand communication, what is really impacting brand direction and company decision-making is the consumer voice being channeled
online and the abundance of information available.

With information about hundreds of thousands of products and services easily accessible via smartphones, consumers have gained more decision-making power. The linear model is now obsolete and has been replaced by a more digitized experience. This abundance of information and constant stimulation has also caused the consumer attention span to decrease dramatically, and this too has had a significant effect on the way that brands market their
products.

The shift from TV and outdoor media to YouTube and search engines or Facebook ads gives consumers information in a much different format that can be much more personalized and delivered in real-time — and this is hugely beneficial. But, it also provides consumers with the opportunity to engage for the first time in a very public, two-way dialogue with brands and
provides feedback where the world can see. This feedback process holds brands accountable like never before. A negative review that is handled poorly by a brand can be detrimental to a company. Customer service extends far beyond the pool of customers who have already purchased, but now extends to those at all points in the buying process.

The challenge to brands is staying on top of what consumers are doing. Brands are now tasked with collecting data on the target market, understanding the competition and using this information to figure out how to best reach the consumer and provide them with the right information.

One of the ways to earn the consumer’s trust is by creating and distributing valuable or educational information as a value add. This thought leadership approach helps to position the brand as a leader by making them the go-to source of information. Instead of just talking about company products and services, the brand is truly providing additional value by creating content
about topics that those customers are interested in.

The shift from a linear retail-focused model to a digital, two-way model means that brands must align with the new consumer decision journey. Engaging in two-way communication and providing valuable information in real-time are two major ways companies can use these tools to
their advantage.