Before making the commitment to purchase, consumers do extensive research to ensure their hard-earned money is being well spent. You might think such behaviour is reserved only for big-ticket purchases. As it turns out, no purchase is too insignificant — even the kind of toothpaste people use matters.

More often than not, consumers turn to search to assist in the purchase journey. Even then, they do not know exactly what they want. According to Google, 90% of consumers do not have a specific brand in mind when they start shopping.

Being actively involved in all stages of the sales funnel offers a greater opportunity for keeping products and services front of mind for potential customers.
Being actively involved in all stages of the sales funnel offers a greater opportunity for keeping products and services front of mind for potential customers.

But through search, consumers become aware of their options. It is also at this point that the sales funnel begins. This reliance on search engines for brand discovery has made them an integral part of the sales funnel. This has fuelled the growth of a billion-dollar industry, with marketers vying for the top spot in the search results.

The concept is simple: Be there when consumers start their search.

This very lucrative model has resulted in brand owners competing against each other, offering top dollar to retain their position in the search results. Unfortunately, there are no winners in this competition. Marketers have to continuously spend more to keep their brands on top of the search results.

For this to be sustainable, marketers have to take a step back and look at the entire sales funnel and figure out what needs to be done to ensure repeated conversions, such as customer experience or accessibility of purchase.

Moreover, as a brand owner, before you get caught up in the faux competition the search industry wants you to believe you are in, take a deep breath and consider this: What triggers search in the first place?

While search behaviour reflects consumers’ desires to find the product that fits best, such activity does not occur spontaneously. Most of the time it occurs because there is a need. This need can arise out of genuine necessity (something at home is damaged and needs replacing) or inspiration (this new product is so amazing, I need to have it).

It then makes sense for brand owners to target this need. While consumers may have everything they need, brands should be looking to trigger a desire in consumers to make the purchase.

This can be achieved through content. Consumers may have spotted a new product feature on a Web site, read a review in a magazine, or came across a beautiful item in a make-up tutorial video.

Being exposed to content inspires consumers to take action. More than 75% of consumers are inspired to make purchases through content. And content producers are well-placed to fulfill this niche for brand owners.

Is it possible to hack the sales funnel?

In a bid to inspire consumers, brand owners work with content producers to proliferate their brands, producing content in the form of advertorials, listicles, brand story pieces, and more.

However, besides helping brands create engaging content, content producers have gone one step further: helping brand owners smooth the journey from inspiration to action, effectively hacking the sales funnel.

Instead of just putting up content hoping it gets discovered and praying that a purchase is made when consumers finally see the content, content producers can now be directly involved in every step of the purchase journey.

For example, SPH Magazines has integrated visual search technology with e-commerce. Partnering with a visual search expert, SPH Magazines launched Snappar, a mobile app that allows consumers to take pictures of any object (in print or on a screen) with their mobile phone cameras. The app will be able to find the closest match to the product.

After that, at a single touch, consumers can then add the product into their cart from any of the partner e-retailers and proceed straight to checkout. This provides a seamless, instantly gratifying shopping experience for consumers and allows brands to stay with the consumer from the start to the end of the purchase journey.

The sales funnel typically starts with awareness, and we are currently experiencing for ourselves how the search industry plays this out. However, having brand owners compete endlessly to get their brand to surface for consumers is not sustainable. It is crucial for marketers to look beyond awareness and hack the sales funnel, utilising inspiration to kickstart action.

With a single product feature, content producers will be able to directly convert consumers. Working with content producers, brands will be able to offer consumers engaging content that will inspire them to make the purchase. This leaves them more bandwidth to consider how they should seal the deal.

Now, one image is all it takes.