Help, I Need a New Lawn Mower – The New Consumer Path to Purchase.

In my families recent moved from Arkansas to Raleigh, we left our trusty Toro push mower behind. It had given us 10 years of lawn maintenance greatness at our Raleigh home (¼ acre of manicured grass) and at our Arkansas home (1+ acres of “needs lots of help”). Our new home in Raleigh has a nice postage stamp of grass that needs some regular attention. Having a lawn service handle this for us would be $30 -$50 so investing in a mower would not take long to pay for itself.

Since it’s been over 10 years since I purchased a mower, I wanted to educate myself on mowers, features, pricing etc. I began my purchase journey the way MOST consumers would today; I Googled “Lawn Mowers”. My search resulted in a multitude of ads for mowing retailers and I of course ignored all of those and clicked on the first organic result; a link from Home Depot to gas and electric lawn mowers. The page has great organic results with integrated product and content marketing. So far, I’m following the path to purchase of many consumers for considered purchases.

Given the size of our lawn, we don’t need a very large mower and I was immediately intrigued with battery-powered electric mowers. 10 years ago, no self-respecting homeowner would have had an electric mower (especially with a cord which has always seemed to me a certainty of electrocution factor to it) but now, having a cordless electric is like having a Tesla in my backyard. Decision tree branch reached, I was getting an electric push-mower (actually, I’m several nodes in on the tree by now).

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Figure 1: Kelly Mooney – The Open Brand, The Open Brand via Aspirational Brand Revisited

Kelly Mooney, the author of The Open Brand, illustrated years ago that the path to purchase involved much more variability than the traditional purchase funnel that we all learned as marketers in the traditional media environment (this was the very first book I read when I began working in social media in 2007 and still probably the best). Then, like many consumers do when researching considered purchases, I crowd-sourced mower content on social media. A simple search of “Electric Mower Review” gave me several options to see electric mowers in everyday action.

Again, I ignored paid review placement and clicked a wonderfully illustrative piece from The Reluctant Entertainer.  Why would I read an entertaining blog post about mowers? Because, just like people buy drills because they need holes in things, they buy mowers because they want beautiful lawns for entertaining. Sandy’s story walked me through her experience with the mower in a very engaging story about preparing her lawn for summer guests.

Sandy did a great job of explaining the features of the product in a way that was relevant to her audience, not just feeds and speeds. She explained the battery life, weight of the mower and quality of the cut all through the lens of her passion point; entertaining. I found the content very helpful and having decided a battery-powered mower was right for me, I began to look for a retailer. As Jim Tobin (disclosure: my boss) points out in his book Earn it, Don’t Buy it, social content becomes an important part of the consumer’s path.

Once again, my search became my shopping basket. Lowe’s and Home Depot both had offerings with the latter carrying the Ryobi product. I considered my options including free shipping from Lowe’s on purchases over $250 and had decided to go with that option even though I would have to select another brand.  However, my wife had other ideas. Her parents were coming in for a visit the next day and she wanted the grass in entertainment shape. Off to the store we went. Now, my existing relationships have weight. We have a Lowe’s credit card because like Target, we get 5% off of all purchases. Notice how far price was down my purchase hierarchy but it is an important factor.

Upon visiting Lowes, we only found one of their two selections in stock. Having spent 1/3 of my life in the shopper marketing field, I am well aware of how critical store execution is to great marketing and yet often, it’s the deciding factor between a sale and a missed opportunity for a brand AND a retailer. Still wanting to achieve as low of acquisition cost as possible, we checked for deals at Home Depot and found a $50 credit for opening a credit card which would be a better deal than our Lowe’s credit card discount. Off we went. Here’s the real value, we purchased another $150 of what I’ll assume are higher margin basket items like plants, grass seed and outdoor accessories.

I am pleased to say I am very happy with my new Ryobi mower, it’s getting the job done and all my friends want to have a test mow (Tom Sawyer in action). I am now part of the marketing process for both the brand and the retail experience. My experience is very typical of the current consumer journey. The key is to be able to participate in all parts of the conversation, no matter where they take place. This path could just as easily start on Pinterest or Instagram and help influence consideration for next years’ mower purchase by another shopper.

Stop by if you get a chance and we’ll share a cup of coffee and talk about how this is going to change the nature of retail at its core. One last note, I’m still getting retargeted ads a month later for mowers, marketers would be better off targeting me with fertilizer, weed control or even BBQ content. The ZMOT is gone.

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