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From Attention to Action: How I Started Listening to Serial, A Marketer’s Approach

As a marketer, I’m always fascinated about what makes someone commit to purchasing a product or using a service. My thoughts are not so much about the standard practice of analyzing the marketing funnel and taking a potential customer through the attention, interest, desire, and action phases of the purchase cycle even though the funnel is an essential part of any marketing strategy.

My thoughts are more simple. I’m considering the potential unaccounted for factors that influence the purchasing decision. There is endless research on social triggers and behaviors as it relates to marketing such as studies on the effects of word of mouth, or social media postings, reading reviews, etc. but what I’m referring to is more ambiguous.

My question is more at what specific point does someone go from desire to action? What does it take for the switch to go from off to on when considering a purchase? How many friends must he hear from about the product before committing to buying or even begin to consider buying? At what point do reviews and word of mouth intersect and how many yes or no reviews does it take to shift the scale to one side or the other? Is an impulse buy ever really an impulse buy? And for all these questions how does it differ from one person to the next?

These questions may not have definite answers and as marketers we’re trained to get our target audience “in the funnel,” but in the continuing evolution of consumer behaviors and external factors, marketers need to start thinking more broadly in their approach. With current technology, there’s not a single point of conversion from one phase of the funnel to the next but multiple entry and exit points, by which a potential customer can go through multiple times before committing.

As I write this post and think about the processes of going from one phase to another, I think about myself and how I began listening to the cultural phenomenon that is the radio show/podcast Serial. (Side note: if you haven’t started listening, you’re missing out.) I started thinking at what point I actually went from hearing about it to subscribing on Stitcher and listening.

I listen to NPR on my way to and from work and at lunch which is where I first heard about Serial. NPR was running a promo for the show and in the promo it was mentioned that Serial was created from producers of This American Life. I listened to This American Life with Ira Glass many times and love it’s format of storytelling. I think I said to myself “hmmm that could be interesting if it’s made by those guys.”

Observation 1: My attention was first grabbed by a wide spread advertisement. I made a connection to a similar product which I considered to be high quality.

I started listening to Serial after it’s 10th episode aired so I was already 10 weeks behind everyone else. I heard those promotions many many times over the course of those 10 weeks but I had yet to tune in. The second encounter that influenced my decision was a coworker mentioning it after a meeting. We were casually chatting and she asked me if I listened to Serial because she knew I listened to podcasts and NPR. The conversation wasn’t something that really made me immediately go and begin listening but it definitely peaked my interest a little more.

Observation 2: Word of mouth from someone who’s tastes aligned with mine peaked my interest further.

I finally started listening to Serial after reading an article discussing how our society goes through different cultural phenomena that sweep our society. It talked about how how millions watched the Dallas episode to find out Who Killed J.R.? and how The Wire became even more popular as the show was nearing it’s final season. It also talked about Serial and the millions listening and how even a subreddit was created. (I tried but failed to find the article) I’m an active Redditor and I strongly believe that Reddit is truly the front page of the Internet. If it’s not going viral on Reddit, then it’s not going viral anywhere. I went to the subreddit, making sure I would not read any discussions or headlines because I was thinking about listening to the show. I went to the subreddit only to see how many subscribers it had. It was a little over 19K subscribers at the time (almost 27K now). I thought 19K people on Reddit and millions listening everywhere else couldn’t be wrong. At that moment I made the decision to start listening. I’m not someone that usually joins in fads and watches or listens to something because people are doing it but this was different. It was a story podcast from This American Life and on NPR. Two things of which I was already a fan.

Observation 3: I was easily swept by the wave with the rest of the masses because I didn’t need further validation. 

To simplify and bring together my three observations, three factors combined to take me from attention to interest to desire to action as it relates to Serial: I was exposed to the product from multiple sources, it had wide ranging appeal, and it was a quality product. For a marketer to succeed, their plan must account for all three factors in a combined trifecta. The product must be exposed across every medium possible and as many times as possible whether it’s social media, word of mouth, radio advertising, or news articles. The product must appeal to a wide range of people even if it’s a niche product. The target audience and user persona assessments need to account for people that weren’t initially considered, and are on the far-reaching fringes because you never really know who could be interested in the product. Finally, if the product sucks then it doesn’t matter anyway regardless of who buys and where it gets blasted.

Marketing is no longer a road map for customers to go from point A to point B, from seeing an ad and deciding to purchase. Its not about casting a wide net and hoping to catch as many fish as possible. Customers are smarter than that. Marketing is now about creating a world for your product to exist with as many roads as possible leading to it but letting customers find your product on their own terms using the route they choose.

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