In "Landing Pages and the Decision-Making Process," I described the well-known AIDA conversion funnel and how it governs all Web conversions.
Check out alternative solutions or products to see how they stack up against the previously determined feature set. Once visitors have been educated about the desirable features of the product or service, they usually find more than one acceptable alternative.
The key must-have features have all been satisfied. So the decision to narrow their choice doesn't depend on these previously considered features.
They need additional "tie-breakers," although these may be secondary or even tertiary in their ultimate importance. But, in the absence of the primary selection criteria, they serve as differentiators.
Giving as much side-by-side detailed information during this step is critical. This is usually done in the form of a comparison matrix. Because comparison sites are specialized and focused on this step, they obviously play an important role and have a definite advantage in influencing the ultimate decision.
They fulfill one of the ultimate promises of the Internet: aggregating the full range of choices for a particular industry or product type and helping to guide consumers. Most comparison sites also cover the research and desire steps, and seamlessly hand off to the ultimate recommended e-retailer or service provider.
There are two ways that comparisons can be skewed: choice of features, and choice of competitors. We have all seen television car commercials and we know that the comparison features are hand-picked and skewed in favor of the advertiser's product (e.g., "Our car costs thousand less and has four more cup holders!").
Internet consumers are generally too sophisticated or cynical to fall for heavy-handed approaches like this. They're used to getting detailed objective information, and can find it in a variety of places.
To compete with comparison sites, single-brand or single-product sites must duplicate this deep and detailed content on their Web sites. Better yet, they can get the objective information from a trusted third party and feature the source prominently to lend extra credibility to their data.
Include a wide range of realistic competitors. If possible, allow the selection of more than one competitor in your matrix.
For many marketers, the comparison step represents an internal tug of war. The instinct to carve out a competitive advantage through information hoarding or biased slanting is strong.
Yet this is exactly the wrong impulse for the Internet and must be consciously resisted. Internet consumers are often more knowledgeable about products and services than the so-called experts who sell them.
Some online marketers also live on a steady diet of self-inflicted in-house brainwashing and propaganda. They actually believe that their products really are the "world-class leader" in their category.
Consumers don't labor under this delusion. They seek out objective data and reviews, as well as opinions of third-party experts and existing users of a particular product or service. Many online marketers would be shocked to find that their precious product claims are regularly savaged in online forums, discussion groups, and special interest communities.
Much of this criticism is well deserved and should be looked at as a source of ideas for improvement. Comparison information must be complete, objective, and easily digested by your target audience. The conclusion is unavoidable: if you don't provide support during the crucial comparison step, then your competitor or some other influencer will.
Make sure that you understand everything about the total experience with the chosen product or service. Once visitors select a product or service from a list of finalists, they want to make sure that they're making the right decision.
At this step, even more detailed information should be provided including:
- Detailed description
- Compatibilities, standards compliance, minimum requirements
- Configuration options, available service levels
- Photos, diagrams
- Accessories and suggested add-ons
- Third-party media reviews and endorsements
- User reviews and client testimonials
- Case studies or survey results
- Suggested alternative products
- Delivery and setup options (shipping, installation)
- Service plans and customer care levels
- Accurate costs and payment terms
- Availability and in-stock status
Niche product or service sites often provide extensive information on their product-detail pages. A perfect example is specialty e-tailer JoggingStroller.com. The product detail pages are full of information that will help visitors make a good decision: detailed staff-written reviews, pricing, shipping costs, specs, features, pictures of all available color choices, suggested upgrades, accessories, alternative competitive models, and extensive reviews from actual customers (with ratings of how helpful other visitors found each one).
It's important to provide complete and objective information, even if this means reporting something negative. Chances are if someone is going to do their homework about your product or service on the Web, they will run across the negative information anyway.
By presenting it yourself, you're seen as more trustworthy. You also have the opportunity to frame the concern on your own terms, and partially mitigate its impact.
User reviews are especially useful because they provide insights about real-world use in situations that a first-time buyer may not have considered. The reviews aren't always flattering, but unless they're clearly inappropriate or offensive, leave them on your site. Having negative reviews shows a well-rounded picture, and indicates that the information on the site is more or less unfiltered (and therefore more trustworthy).
When user reviews (or other forms of user-generated content) reach critical mass on these kinds of sites, they can serve as a defensible barrier to entry against other competitors (who may only feature stock descriptions or specs from the product manufacturer).
By configuring or personalizing a product or service to your particular needs or circumstances, you're mentally envisioning yourself enjoying its benefits, and may be nearing the action stage. Once visitors have decided on a particular product or service, they should be given the opportunity to customize it.
By personalizing the solution to their specific needs, they're vicariously "trying it on for size." This gets visitors involved in imagining exactly how they might use it in the future. Personalization and configuration put visitors in control and create momentum toward the action stage.
In my next column, we'll begin looking at the action stage.
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