As the world becomes more connected and the pace of life accelerates, customers do not spend much time to consider and evaluate the brands. their attention span has dropped significantly and they find it difficult to focus. Customers are exposed to too much of product features and brand promises through multiple channels, both offline and online. Many of these advertising messages are too good to be true and therefore customers often disregard such messages and instead, they seek pieces of advice and opinions from their circle of friends and families also known as customer communities. Such communities are now considered a reliable source of advice.
“There is a huge need and a huge opportunity to get everyone in the world connected, to give everyone a voice and to help transform society for the future. The scale of the technology and infrastructure that must be built is unprecedented, and we believe this is the most important problem we can focus on”. – Mark Zuckerberg
Companies must realize that in order to stand out from the crowd and effectively connect with customers, their marketing techniques must be designed in a way which it can influence the customer communities and turn them into loyal supporters of the brand. To be able to achieve this, companies must have a clear picture of customer path to purchase, understand the critical touch points and intervene on such touchpoints.
In the pre-connectivity era, the customer buying behaviour typically followed the 4A’s framework which consists of awareness, attitude, act and acts again. In this straightforward process, company’s touchpoints have the major influence on the customer decision making. For example, different promotional activities at the awareness stage, a salesman at act phase and customer service at act again phase. All these are controllable by the company. However, in the connected era, the straightforward process of 4A’s must be evolved to be able to adapt to the changes created by connectivity.
In the connectivity era, customers tend to connect with their peers and ask their opinions, they are also influenced by the netizens who are considered as one of the most active connections in the consumer’s forums and communities. Besides that, customers who need to have more information would go online and read the reviews to see what other consumers have to say about the product or service. The amount of positive or negative opinions, reviews and recommendations will either strengthen or weaken the brand’s initial appeal. So the evolved customer path must take into account such connectivity among the customers.
The new customer path in the connectivity era has 5A’s: Aware, Appeal, Ask, Act and Advocate. Similar to the 4A’s Framework the aware phase which involves the customer getting to know the brand is created by various marketing communications, past experience and other’s advocacy. However, the appeal and ask phase are influenced by the forum surrounding the customers both online and offline. These are the phases where customers call friends and family for advice, search for the product online and read the available reviews.
Some customers may also reach out to sales agents to further ask about the brand. If customers are convinced by the information during that asking phase and their curiosity is triggered sufficiently in the appeal phase, they will proceed to the next phase which is to act. At the acting phase, this is where the customer buys the product and start consuming it. If customers are satisfied with the product and its after-sale services, their sense of loyalty might grow stronger and this would be reflected in repurchasing the product and ultimately recommend it to others. This is where advocate phase lies. The brand advocates are also divided into two categories: active bard advocates who recommend the brand without being asked and passive advocates who need to hear a negative advocacy or a question about the brand and only then they would feel the need to defend and recommend the brand they love.
The 5 A’s framework is not always straightforward and it might be sometimes winding. As customer’s attention span has decreased, customers might not go through every phase in 5 A’s and skip some phases in the customer path. For instance, a customer might not like the brand at first, but a recommendation from his or her friend makes the person to purchase the product. This means that the customer has skipped the appeal phase and has jumped straight away from aware to ask phase. Similarly, a customer might skip the asking phase and proceed to buy the product based on his or her initial awareness and appeal.
The 5A’s framework is not necessarily a fixed process but a flexible one and customers do not go through all the phases and therefore the path from awareness to advocate can be expanded or narrowed down according to the number of customers in each phase.
The 5A’s framework can sometimes be winding as well. a customer who already purchased a product but experiencing issues while using it might proceed to do more research about the product before deciding whether to keep using the product or to switch to a substitute.
The 5A’s framework is a flexible process which is applicable to all the industries. This framework draws a customer path that is closer to what customers go through. It also provides insightful information about the industry’s characteristics and company’s relationship with its customers in order to compare with its competitors.