McKinsey Uncovers New Buyer Journey; Inbound Marketing Now Essential

Posted by admin on October 26

Elite consulting firm, McKinsey and Company has updated their analysis of the ‘Decision Journey’ and their discoveries, published in the Harvard Business Review, identify more significant changes to buyer behavior than previously seen.

Now, for the first time in the history of commerce, buyers in both B2B and B2C truly ‘call the shots’ – so expert in their research and navigating their ‘Decision Journey’ that businesses must react immediately to stay in the game.

Whereas businesses have historically been ‘reactive’ to customer inquiries, interest, concerns, pre, during and post-sale, a proactive approach is now essential.  Marketers must update their process to deliver information as a ‘product’, enriching the customer’s decision journey with valuable content from the moment they first interact with the brand.  Such a proactive approach is only possible with automation.  Without data analysis, segmentation and automated marketing triggers based on a prospect or customer’s engagement online, the proactive approach is impossible.  With proactive marketing as a product, ‘Inbound Marketing’ tools are no longer a luxury, they are now essential for survival in competitive industries.

What Drives What?

Key to McKinsey’s theory regarding a new buyer-led journey, is their belief that the journey itself has fundamentally shortened. Whereas in previous decades, buyers went through a methodical cycle of ‘Consider, Evaluate, Buy, Experience, Advocate’, today’s buyers are more quickly moving through the pre-purchase phases and extending loyalty and advocacy phases for much longer, so long as their experience, positive or negative, is polarizing enough for sentiment. According to McKinsey, the more sophisticated firms are already successfully implementing such proactive marketing, whereas trailing firms remain reactive.  This begs the question:  are industry leaders setting new expectations for customer experience, thus evolving buyer behavior? Or have buyers evolved independently given the wealth of information the web enables for the Decision Journey?

Key Ingredients

The groundbreaking report goes on to describe the following processes as requisite to a proper proactive marketing approach given the updated Decision Journey:

  • Automation
  • Proactive Personalization
  • Contextual Interaction
  • Journey Innovation

Fortunately, given today’s Inbound Marketing tools, like Hubspot, or other marketing automation platforms such as Pardot, marketers can cost effectively react to the changing decision journey with existing tools.  Each of the four ingredients can be impacted with ready-to-go, turnkey tools via all-in-one platforms.  Never before has a shift in buyer behavior been so fundamentally solvable; cloud-based tools make that possible.


Mckinsey describes the required ‘Automation’ as ‘the digitization and streamlining of steps in the journey that were formerly done manually’. With proactive marketing as a ‘product’ this means closing the loop during the decision journey and delivering a meaningful experience based on real-life interaction between the buyer and the brand. Automation is the intersection of data and function, deploying content and/or experiences that meet a need or interest.  Hubspot’s automation feature-set does this better than any other platform in the world, acquiring opt-in customer data and applying it to automated outreach via email, social and web, enabling marketers to add significant value.  With automation, customers can enjoy engagement with the brand and gain value from the Decision Journey itself – something fundamental to Mckinsey’s new findings.


Personalization presents the greatest intersection of ‘Inbound’ and the demands of today’s buyers.  Hubspot’s ‘Smart Content’ feature-set, driven by its Content Optimization System, enables marketers to completely personalize the web, content and email experiences of Buyers based on many different known attributes.  Smart content can personalize based on static characteristics of the buyer, like the size of their company, or more dynamic 'known' facts such as their phase in the Decision Journey.

 personalization-exampleThis graphic depicts the personalization Hubspot can deploy with a simple example. Whereas a traditional experience is generic, personalization like this can increase engagement by 42%.

Contextual Interaction

Inbound Marketing is built on contextual interaction because its very premise is that prospects journey through fixed ‘phases’ during their experience. Slightly more granular than Mckinsey’s Decision Journey, Hubspot identifies the context of a buyer as an identity, ranging from ‘Stranger’ to ‘Visitor’ to ‘Lead’, ‘Customer’ and finally, ‘Promoter’. Hubspot educates marketers on how to author and distribute valuable content in each of these phases. For example, in marketing to 'Strangers' who are unaware of a brand’s specific offering, marketers should be more generic, adding pure subject matter value.  As the buyer progresses, the contextual interaction becomes shaped by the prospect’s phase.  In brick and mortar businesses, McKinsey describes ‘location’ as a driving factor in this ingredient towards better marketing.  In digital, physical location is secondary to the online interaction a buyer is engaging in with a brand.

Journey Innovation

Inbound Marketing is tailor-made for A/B testing and analytics for optimization and 'Journey Innovation', the final ingredient for better marketing requires all of the above. With Hubspot, a marketer can identify anonymous and authenticated data regarding the site visitor, including referring websites, keywords and more.  Furthermore, Hubspot and other complementary platforms such as Optimizely can A/B test different website layouts in real-time, determining data as granular as the preferred colors for Calls-to-Action (CTA) buttons on a site.  Hubspot has long executed Journey Innovation through it’s marketing platform, and with further progress into turnkey web tools, and philosophies such as ‘Growth-Driven-Design’ (GDD), their Inbound approach is becoming known for its iterative nature. With Inbound Marketing guiding your marketing philosophy, starting quickly and failing forward are the preferred methods to static, upfront design.  As McKinsey points out, businesses who can adaptively innovate in real-time will thrive; primarily marketers deploying Inbound Marketing tools will feasibly be able to do so.

McKinsey’s report on the Decision Journey reveals a true paradigm shift in buyer behavior.  And fundamental to this theory is the belief that the journey experience a brand lends is a product in itself – a source of value for the customer. As McKinsey points out: 

Today, winning brands owe their success not just to the quality and value of what they sell, but to the superiority of the journeys they create”

If winning brands must proactively improve their customers’ Decision Journey, the only cost-effective way to do so at scale is to deploy the groundbreaking Inbound Marketing tools already leading the way.  Hubspot in particular is engineered with the foresight and vision to incorporate features and functionality to address each facet of the decision journey as ‘standard’ for the marketer. Harvard Business Review and McKinsey have authored plenty of premium, strategic content, paid and subscription-based, for decades.  And many of the multi-million dollar ERP and other infrastructure-type implementations the business world has seen over the years have been executed on their guidance – for good reason.  But today’s recommendations are often met with cloud-based solutions, feasible for marketers on any budget.  Fortunately today’s report applies; existing Inbound Marketing tools are the perfect match for an updated, proactive marketing strategy to McKinsey’s specifications, attainable for any marketer.

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