Marketing Basics for Product Configurators

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A 3D product configurator is a great upgrade for an eCommerce platform, but to make sure it generates more customer conversions, there are some marketing questions that need to be addressed early. Here are a few tips to make sure your configurator is used in the optimal way.


The Two First "Moments of Truth":

In traditional marketing, the First Moment of Truth refers to the first few seconds after a shopper encounters a product, on a store shelf or in a WebShop. It is the moment when a company has the best chance to convert shoppers into buyers by appealing to their senses and values. Indeed, if you don't know enough about your customers, your best marketing argument is a flawless shopping experience. To some extent, this is true as well for eCommerce. Your product configurator should be the crown jewel of your eCommerce platform. However, while the buzz might generate attention to your brand and will certainly attract more people to play with the configurator, those visitors will not necessarily convert to paying customers.

In 2012, Google came up with a new relevant step along online buyers' journeys: the Zero Moment of Truth. It translates that by using all the online marketing tools available today, it has become not only possible but essential to reach out to customers earlier, when they are browsing for a product online. The ZMOT is the moment when a shopper makes the decision to buy and starts actively searching for a specific product online.

There are multiple ways for "winning" the Zero Moment of Truth, for any type of products. We focus here on ways to efficiently leverage a product configurator at this crucial moment.


Three Metrics for Customer Pre-segmentation

Different customers have different shopping behaviours, and different ways to formulate their needs. A person with advanced knowledge about the product is more likely to decide early they want to customize it. On the other hand, a first-time buyer of a complex product might not be knowledgeable, but still show significant involvement for the product. Finally, a buyer who makes a gift or looks at the product in a more functional way might find that many options and a complex configurator are an obstacle to purchasing a product she already has the intention to buy.

Those three persons will act differently at the zero moment of truth. Knowledge, involvement and intention are the three coarse metrics to monitor early on. They will be refined along the way, when you get to know your customers better, but they are a good place to start.


Knowledge: Complexity as a Marketing Tool

Who?

At its core, a product configurator is a way to display a complex product in an intuitive way, with potentially thousands of options. In practice, a small set of these options will generate most purchases, but the rest is for those customers who have enough knowledge about the product to fine-tune their choices.

Even though they might only represent a niche, they are early adopters of the product, and more importantly they will largely contribute to building trust around the brand. If you care about your product, they are always the place to start.

The strategy

The postponement of differentiation activities has been identified as one of the main benefits of product configurators [3]. It is indeed a key factor in reaching out to knowledgeable customers.

Personal computers are the first example of an industry that was profoundly changed by product configurators. Nowadays, it wouldn't be conceivable for hardware brands to not offer modular solutions to their customers.

Knowledgeable customers have specific needs that need to be met, but they are also the ones who take the most pleasure in the process of personalizing their purchase. In other words, choice isn't enough: the experience is key, and it constitutes the main marketing argument for these customers.

The plus

Building trust is a matter of patience and commitment. Get influencers in your field to review your product and give you referrals, or even produce content for you (blog articles and product reviews).


Involvement: The Case for Clustering

Who?

A customer can be committed to purchasing a high quality product for a specific goal, but lacking the knowledge to make a decision on her own. A friend of mine was craving downhill mountain biking and was invested in the purchase. She didn't know, however, which brakes, suspensions and fork were required. Without extensive knowledge of the product, a complete "build-your-own" approach is often intimidating and it can't be leveraged alone.

The strategy

Traditional customer studies have long been used for segmentation, but product configurators gather so much data about customer behaviors and preferences that a true mathematical clustering can reveal customer groups that would be hard to detect even with in-depth research. Even more so for fully parametric products that offer millions of possible configurations.

Once popular configurations have been identified and linked to a specific customer group, it becomes beneficial to push the "best-sellers" with custom marketing. The perfect configuration for a downhill mountain bike could have its own landing page and be enhanced through search engine optimization and marketing.

The plus

A straightforward way to retain all the complexity of the product while simplifying the buying experience is to offer a "Wizard" mode for the configurator. Present options one after the other, or within thematic groups, along with specific help messages and references for each step along the way.


Intention: Claiming Back the "First Moment of Truth"

Who?

The decision to buy often happens a long time before a customer gets online. Think about your last minute run to the grocery store when you're out of milk. Or a quick Amazon search to replace the ink cartridges of your printer. However much love and consideration your have for your product, there will always be customers who consider it a commodity, and not a lifestyle choice.

The strategy

These customers often won't know you before landing on your website. They don't care that you offer fine-tuning and thousands of configuration options. They won't come buy a piece of furniture because it can be customized, but because it caught their attention for more traditional reasons.

However, noticing that they can change the height of a bookshelf they are already considering might make them tip in its favor. For them, the customization will be a bonus reinforcing the outcome of the First Moment of Truth. Show them a product already pre-customized, and the ability to customize is an additional weight in the balance, like free shipping, fast delivery or customer rating.

The plus

Build in a social component to your configurator. Customers are proud of their custom-made products, even more so if the experience was unexpected and pleasant. Getting referrals from them on social media is the best way to reach a mainstream audience.


What is your customers' relationship with your product? How do they scale against the three metrics? Can you define an inbound strategy for them?


References:

[1] Google resources on the ZMOT

[2] The Zero Moment of Truth in mass customization

[3] The mass customization decade: An updated review of the literature


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