The availability of information is changing the way people buy, and the most important change is in the evaluation stage. Instead of considering a few brands, comparing and selecting, people now scan a much broader horizon after they develop a purchase interest. If an iPhone sparks my interest, I won't just look at its direct competitors. Instead I will engage my contacts in conversation, observe how iPhones are being used, and search the web for mentions in any context. I may or may not ask Apple for information, but if I do, the quality of Apple's response will be crucial. Did they respond to me as an individual, or did they just dump product information?
Newcomers can jump into consideration more easily than ever just by providing an excellent customer experience. Why should you try to buy awareness with media dollars when you can jump into the conversation at the evaluation stage? If you're participating in the conversation, you have better quality feedback that you can use to constantly improve. Advertisements that don't work tell you very little.
Learn more about the decision-making process in the Harvard Business Review article, Branding in the Digital Age, 2010-Dec, by David C. Edelman:
In the June 2009 issue of McKinsey Quarterly, my colleague David Court and three coauthors introduced a more nuanced view of how consumers engage with brands: the “consumer decision journey” (CDJ). They developed their model from a study of the purchase decisions of nearly 20,000 consumers across five industries—automobiles, skin care, insurance, consumer electronics, and mobile telecom—and three continents. Their research revealed that far from systematically narrowing their choices, today’s consumers take a much more iterative and less reductive journey of four stages: consider, evaluate, buy, and enjoy, advocate, bond.