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The Decision-Making Funnel, Stage 4: Action, Part 2

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In "Landing Pages and the Decision-Making Process," I described the well-known AIDA conversion funnel and how it governs all Web conversions.

The key AIDA stages are:

Last time, we began discussing the Action stage. Let's finish by describing the most important factors that lead to action.

Brand Strength

Brands are very powerful. Well-known marketers Al Ries and Jack Trout correctly point out in their classic book, "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk!" that brands serve as a shortcut to decision making in our busy lives.

Each product or service category only has room for a tiny number of established leaders, and they capture disproportionate value in their respective market categories. When a brand is firmly established in the mind of a person as a market leader, it becomes almost impossible to dislodge.

The halo provided by the brand's promise means that a person can devote much less attention to evaluating items related to the brand. The same presumption is not accorded to lesser-known or unknown competitors.

Although their products or services may be objectively just as good, they require additional attention to evaluate. Because of this, they may be disqualified from consideration simply because people won't choose to spend the required time investigating them.

Brands take enormous amounts of time and money to build. Take a hard look at your brand. Most likely, it isn't that strong.

Even if your company is one of the online leaders in a category, that doesn't mean your brand awareness has spread to most people in your industry (or to the public at large, for consumer products and services). The relative weakness of many online brands is the primary reason that their offline competitors often win the battle for the customer's mindshare. Because there's no short-term way to impact the strength of your brand, it's essentially outside of your control.

Previous Resource Investment

My approach to finding something on the Internet is representative of many people's. I poke around in my favorite search engine, briefly visit promising sites, focus on one or two key sources of information, get educated, make a decision, and live with it.

Have I found the optimum answer? Clearly not. But I'm tired of looking, and there are endless additional choices to explore. Usually the solutions or products that I find are acceptable -- although not always the best.

Economist Herbert A. Simon coined a term for this phenomenon: "satisficing" (a combination of the words "satisfy" and "suffice"). Most people don't want to invest additional time without a strong sense that they will find a better answer.

As soon as they find a solution that is good enough, they often stop looking. The more effort they have previously invested, the more likely they are to just accept the best solution they have found up to that point.

The Total Solution

Although I tried to neatly decouple the product or service from its provider, the separation isn't always this clean. Often the two are enmeshed.

For example, the product or service may be available from only one provider. In such "proprietary" cases, the provider, warts and all, must be considered as part of the solution.

More commonly, the provider offers a number of value-added services or options that aren't always available from others or that can't be easily compared. Your visitor is thinking in terms of the total solution and is deciding based on that.

A total solution may involve the following elements:

  • The base price.
  • The properly configured "out the door" price.
  • Additional costs such as shipping or installation.
  • Exchange and return policies.
  • Ease of setup and learning curve required.
  • Availability status and delivery date guarantees.
  • Service plans and options.
  • Ongoing costs to operate and maintain.
  • Convenient company physical locations.
  • Performance or level-of-service guarantees.

Risk Reducers

Risk reducers are anything that lowers a visitor's anxiety. They help reassure the visitor that bad things are unlikely to happen:

  • Guarantees: If I don't like it, I can get my money back.
  • Policies: They have a no-hassle return policy.
  • Alternative transaction mechanisms: I can also complete my transaction on the phone, by mail, or in person.
  • Trials and introductory offers: If I don't like it, I can cancel before they charge my credit card.
  • Safe shopping symbols: My personal information won't be stolen.
  • Privacy symbols: I won't be spammed by this company, and my e-mail won't be sold to spammers.

Validation and Credibility

Risk-reducers lower your customers' anxiety levels. It's also possible to raise their affinity level with validation and credibility indicators. These increase affinity for the Web site or product.

In effect, risk-reducers make people feel "less worse," while evidence of validation makes them feel "more better." Both are based on transferring good will from other people or companies to yours.

No one wants to be the fool who fell for a ruse and had to deal with the consequences. Validation tells people that others have previously done something similar and had a good outcome. In effect, they create social proof to back up your company's claims.

Examples of validation include:

  • Industry or media awards (editor's choice, fastest-growing company).
  • Media coverage (mentions in mainstream press, Web sites, or blogs).
  • Inclusion in industry analyst reports.
  • Endorsements from individuals and associations.
  • Partnerships with other respected companies.
  • Studies and surveys (market share, customer satisfaction).
  • Client lists and logos.
  • Case studies.
  • User testimonials and reviews.

This wraps our series on the AIDA conversion model. Thoughts on the series? Ideas for future columns? Leave a comment below.


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