A recent paper by McKinsey highlights how radically the consumer decision journey has changed under the onslaught of big data and the social web.

And it’s consumers who now run the show.

These changes start with the social web, because it’s there where this untrammelled control originates, with spontaneous comments and structured arguments alike changing the behaviour of companies selling products and services, overturning decades-old marketing mantras.

The social web also punches holes in the sales funnel. Consumers can now enter what was the funnel at any point, from initial research to instant purchase, and move rapidly through it. Those intentions and signals can now be tracked on the social web, wherever and whenever they occur on the new decision making journey.

And that’s the power of the social web: being data points, each of these signals can be tracked just as easily. Moreover, careful analysis of these comments, Likes, Follows and Favourites, and the individuals making them, provide context for the next step.

The social web speeds up the consumer decision journey, contracting the time taken to make a decision, but also changing the structure and nature of that journey. It’s no longer a predictable, linear sequence.

The more that businesses rely on data to make decisions (and we hope they do) the more data that technology will have to manage. But therein lies the gold: advanced social web analytics lead to insights, which in turn lead to actions – and all of these are the precursors to sales.

The original paper’s authors David Edelman and Marc Singer present four capabilities:

  • automation streamlines journey steps;
  • proactive personalization uses information about a customer to instantaneously customize the experience;
  • contextual interaction uses data to deliver the next set of interactions;
  • and journey innovation extends the interaction to new sources of value.

The social web, and specialist, advanced technology platforms that drive sense and insights from the social web, pump-prime all of these capabilities, in real time.

Being McKinsey, the paper focuses on the big end of town, where large corporations with large budgets have the resources to churn these data. But these capabilities, and the opportunities within the social web, should be accessible to companies of any size. They’re too valuable, and increasingly they can be afforded by all.

In any case, do you have any option? You must surely follow consumers on their journeys, wherever that takes them, if you want consumers to become your customers.

Source: The new consumer decision journey, by David Edelman and Marc Singer, McKinsey & Company, October 2015.