Whether it’s a few hours, a day, a week, two months, or ten years, purchase cycles exist for every product.
The length of the cycle usually reflects the magnitude of the purchase, with smaller items such as cups of coffee having a typically short purchase cycle and more significant transactions such as cars or fitted kitchens tending towards far longer cycles.
Each purchase is a valuable opportunity for retailers to engage with a customer, increasing the connection they feel with your brand, preventing them from straying to a competitor and building their lifetime customer value.
All of this presents something of a problem for, say, a kitchen showroom whose customers only purchase once every five to ten years.
So how should brands keep customers engaged between purchase cycles to retain their custom?
One clear no-no is focusing only on products and prices in your marketing and communications to customers. If you’ve just bought a car, it doesn’t matter how great the price is on that model now.
In fact, it might even annoy you if it’s a better deal than the one you got two months ago. So the key is to deliver content which adds value to customers.
What sort of content is interesting to someone who has just bought a certain product? Well, anything which helps customers to get the best out of their recent purchases works.
That may be an email about trousers which would look great with your new jacket, or a guide to looking after your new bathroom and keeping it looking as good as new.
In truth, most industries have been slow to catch on to these opportunities. One notable exception is travel because here there’s a defined ‘golden selling window’ triggered by certain customer behaviour, such as making a website search for tickets.
The window closes when a customer comes back from their trip and between these two points all behaviour (or lack thereof) should inform the way the brand communicates with that customer to influence a purchase.
The most important element is to inspire customers because this can influence them to travel when they weren’t planning on taking a trip at all. At the moment most travel brands seem to be using price offers to try to inspire customers, and few seem to be hitting the nail on the head as a result.
The rules are the same in other industries, even though the behaviour is more prevalent and less significant, which makes it less actionable. Take a fashion retailer like Net-A-Porter as an example.
An average customer may only buy from the site once a year, but the brand has succeeded in becoming a destination for checking out the latest styles, viewing look-books and reading articles. Net-A-Porter isn’t a publisher in the traditional sense, yet the brand has achieved industry recognition as a content portal because it has found unique angles which engage customers and therefore encourage future purchases.
Similarly, New Look has created “NL Daily” – a newsletter of the latest competitions, celebrity outfits and fashion blogs. Engaging customers in this way means that subscribers are just that: people who expect and enjoy content from the brand, rather than infrequent customers who receive an email from time to time.
Finally, online communities such as B&Q’s Social Hub enable customers to engage with the brand but also with other customers, sharing knowledge and curating content in the process. Some topics such as motherhood, DIY or gardening lend themselves to these types of community destinations, which are all suitably branded to keep the brand front-of-mind ahead of the next purchase.
But these should not be undertaken lightly: it can be tricky to get critical mass unless you’re a major brand and leveraging the community and its content effectively requires investment and planning.
So there are a number of options to keep brands front of mind throughout the purchase cycle, and brands need to think carefully about what is right for them.
One thing is for sure: communicating solely on the basis of product or price is a risky place to be.