Posted by Alan Nazarelli ● Mon, Nov 09, 2020 @ 06:29 PM

The Buyer's Journey Part 2: When There Is No "Buy"

In our last blog post, we introduced a new model for marketers to navigate the buyer’s journey. Briefly, we talked how the textbook AIDA (attention/interest/desire/action) model needs to be replaced by an updated and more intricate model that engenders "like" and "trust" early in the cycle in the digital and social realms. And we updated the paradigm of selling to enable informed buying.

But, what when there is no "buy"? I am referring here to products whose monetary costfreemium apps create a different customer journey to the use (though not necessarily their true cost) is free. Products and services such as browsers, apps, and free versions of "freemium" products. Does one just replace the word "buy" with "adopt" or is there a different dynamic at play here.

We found our answer to this question in the archives of our investigative research, especially our customer anthropology work around consumer decision processes particularly how they decide to try and adopt a product.

The "buy-less" journey is different from the buyer's journey in several ways. Since there is no monetary outlay, what do marketers of "free products" need to consider when framing the offer and the campaigns around it? What obstacle do they need to get the adopter around when there is no monetary outlay?

While concepts such as “like” and “trust” are still relevant, there are some of the additional critical success factors:

1. The wisdom and approval of the "tribe": We used the word "tribe" in my talk to the Industrial Society of America (ISDA) conference in San Jose earlier to refer to the affinity groups the user belongs to. Tribes are important influences and not only is tribal wisdom tapped into, but tribal approval sought. Understanding tribal affiliations is key to engineering marketing and user initiating use experiences.

2. Initiating experiences: The process of signing up need not only be frictionless but "digitally gratifying". Users get gratification from processes online they are able to execute successfully and elegantly. Those feelings of accomplishment need to be engendered through well designed and fun customer onboarding processes. 

3. Love at first click: The first few clicks are the most critical. Did they fall in love? Was it intuitive to use and comprehend? Was it "elegantly simple"? Was it "instruction-less"? If not, complicated were the instructions? I recently unpacked and installed a printer. The online instructions told me to print a test page BEFORE asking me to insert the ink cartridges! Steve Wozniak famously bought both his parents an iPad the day it first launched and despite them both not being computer savvy they mastered the device in a matter of minutes. Airbnb’s co-founders, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky were both designers had the goal of creating a user experiences whereby Moms could use Airbnb without their technically inclined kids and it paid off. The company is currently valued at $10 billion. Follow this link to their article in Inc. Magazine titled “How We Made Design A Competitive Edge”.

4. Infatuation: If you passed the first few clicks with flying colors, you are now in the infatuation or romance phase. This is no time to send that annoying survey, or review request! One, they will not follow through on the action and two, you will only have sullied their infatuation with your annoyances (yet so many products do this). Infatuation can be fleeting, and eye appeal and digital gratification are critical success factors here. This is also the phase were users are most motivated to tell their tribe.

5. Habituation: If you got past infatuation, you are not done yet. Here comes the most challenging part-often referred to as stickiness. I like to call it habituation. Thinking about stickiness makes you solve the problem of keeping them coming back, thinking in terms of habituation makes you solve the problem of deepening the engagement. In a study we did with mobile app users, despite having downloaded over 25 or more apps (mostly free) on average on their Android phones, only 3-5 were considered regularly used apps, as defined as used once a week or more. Which means if your app was not among the 3 to 5, your app did, at least somewhat, make it through some of the steps 1 to 4 above but did not make it to step 5, habituation. We will delve deeper into habituation in a future post, but let me describe briefly the important factors in updating your app or product:

  1. With each successive product app, the experience gets better and better and users look forward to your regular updates being more than just bug fixes.
  2. There are some major visible changes and things look better in the app while maintaining the overall ambience of the app environment that drew them to use it in the first place
  3. There are breakthrough innovation moments in the cycle that take the experience to a whole new level such the launch of Evernote context

Finally, a very important ingredient for successful product engineering and the five steps outlined above is user input, a critical element of the Lean Startup methodology espoused by Eric Reid and other proponents of the model.

Here are some pointers to help you set this up from my presentation on customer intelligent product design keynote. The triad consists of three critical elements:

  1. Big data (and also small data). Transactional and behavioral data that indicated where they went and what they did
  2. Social data-what they told others about where they want and what they did
  3. Primary research-where they tell you what they want to do and where they want to go next.

While the nice thing about free products from the user’s perspective is that they are indeed free, the downside is that it is easy to devalue or impute lower value to these items. I believe it was Freud who once said:" You don't get better if you don't pay".


Alan Nazarelli is President and CEO of Silicon Valley Research Group, a global market research and strategy development firm focused on the needs of technology companies.

Read Part III of this series.



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Topics: Customer Anthroplogy, Buyers Journey