Monday, April 8, 2013

Marketing 101: Post-Purchase Behavior

So far I've examined four of the five stages of the Buyer Decision Process: Need Recognition, Information Search, Evaluation of Alternatives, and the actual Purchase Decision.  We've discovered that each stage is complicated, and that marketers will need to understand their customer's journey as they construct meaningful campaigns and messaging.  These statements are even more important to reckon with in the last stage of the Buyer Decision Process: Post-Purchase Behavior.

What is Post-Purchase Behavior?
Simply defined, Post-Purchase Behavior is the stage of the Buyer Decision Process when a consumer will take additional action, based purely on their satisfaction or dissatisfaction.  The consumer's level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction is directly related to the varying relationship between their initial expectations of the product (pre-purchase), and their perception of the actual performance of the product (post-purchase) in their hands.

If after the purchase the consumer perceives the product's performance as matching their expectations, or even exceeding them, they will be "satisfied".  If their perception of the product's performance is less than their expectations, then the consumer will feel "dissatisfied".  The larger the gap between their expectations and the product's performance, the more dissatisfaction.  This dissatisfaction leads to Cognitive Dissonance.

Cognitive Dissonance is buyer discomfort caused by post-purchase conflict resulting from dissatisfaction.  The reality is that all purchases, big and small, will result in some degree of Cognitive Dissonance.  This is always the case, because every purchase a consumer makes involves some sort of compromise, however small or minute.  Since consumers form beliefs and attitudes early in the Buyer Decision Process, at some point they will be concerned about having a negative experience with the product they may chose, or potentially missing the perceived benefits of other competing brands.

The issue of Cognitive Dissonance raises an important question: Why is it so important to satisfy the consumer?  It all comes back to our basic definition of marketing: Managing profitable customer relationships.  The goal is to attract new customers through superior value, and to keep growing customers by delivering customer satisfaction.  If we are doing these things, then we will be able to capture value from customers to create profits and build customer equity.  So, if our customers are satisfied they will begin to develop brand loyalty.  This brand loyalty will help us develop profitable relationships.  Our satisfied customers will buy from us again. They will become influencers in their cultural and social groups.  They will pay less attention to competitors, and buy more of our products. 

Dissatisfaction breeds the opposite.  Consumers that perceive poor product performance will not create profits and will erode customer equity.  They will not be loyal, and they will become negative influencers in their cultural and social groups, leading others away from our brands.  What should we do with dissatisfied customers?  We should pursue them.  Even if they do not want to buy our products, we can still target them with dedicated messaging.  We can directly reach out to them, and we can figure out ways to repair the relationship.  These consumers can provide us with a wealth of primary data that can be used to improve our offerings and create focused marketing campaigns.  Dissatisfied consumers are just as valuable as satisfied ones.

The conclusion is clear: Our job is not done once the consumer buys our product.  Once a consumer buys a product they will enter some degree of post-purchase behavior.  These behaviors, based on their satisfaction or dissatisfaction, will either build customer equity and brand loyalty, or lead to eroding sales and brand image issues.  This all is related to their relationship between their expectations and the perceivced performance of the products in their hands.  As marketers, we must have messaging ready for this specific part of the Buyer Decision Process.  It is our job to encourage happy consumers to share their experiences and dive deeper into brand offerings.  It is also our job to be brand advocates by reaching out to dissatisfied consumers and transforming their experience into one that leads to a profitable relationship.


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