The Consumer’s Buying Cycle For Media Planning And Buying

Here’s a great tool to help you understand long-term media planning and buying. Follow a typical consumer’s decision making process for a purchase:


This is the part of the process where the idea is sparked. The need or want is created.

For instance, as a consumer, you realize you want a new car. Perhaps there are mechanical problems with your car, the lease term is nearing it’s end, or you’ve seen a new model on the road has caught your eye.

As an advertiser, you have a chance here to create the demand or spark a need where it didn’t exist before. Let’s face it, most of us don’t “need” most of the things we buy. We just want them. Make consumers aware of your product or service at this phase so they’ll want it.


The need or want is being mulled over and compared to other needs or wants. The consumer has a heightened awareness of any information related to the desired item and it continues to build. This also is the stage where other needs and wants are being weighed, and might compete with each other.

The consumer starts to notice all the cars on the road and becomes more observant of car ads, vehicles that are driven in movies and on TV shows. They talk to friends and co-workers about the cars they drive. They picture themselves behind the wheel of these cars, but at the same time were planning that European vacation. Can they afford both? Will one have to wait?

It’s your job as an advertiser to keep that nagging desire for your product or service building. Turn the want into a need. Use emotion to sell: fear, love, vanity, social status, etc.


The consumer starts looking for logical reasons to buy to justify their emotional reasons to buy. The consumer is on the lookout for where to buy the product or service, or at least where to shop for it so they can compare features and pricing.

For example, they begin to pay attention to the car ads on TV and the radio. Some of the features get their attention, like the remote keyless entry and parking assist. The new safety features make them think they should invest in a new car for the sake of your kid’s safety. And the extra storage space would be great for all the soccer gear. They narrow it down to two or three models and do some research on the internet.

It’s crucial, at this point, that you as the advertiser establish VALUE, not necessarily price. The consumer is looking for rational reasons to justify a purchase that may not be completely rational, but emotional. They’ll be willing to pay more for a product if they understand why it’s worth more. If your product or service requires a lot of explanation of these features, you can use your radio and TV advertising to draw them in and send them to your website to help them with their research.

Shop and Buy

The customer has made a decision to buy. Some of the factors they may be considering at this stage are: price, service, location, selection, convenience and reputation.

They’ve decided to go for it and buy the new car. They may look in the newspaper to see if there are any sales this weekend. They decide to shop at a dealership they can trust to give a good deal. They go armed with pricing information they’ve downloaded off the internet and some newspaper ads.

No advertiser can or should promise everything to everybody: price, service, selection, convenience, location. Some of these positions are more important to some consumers and irrelevant to others. Some consumers will drive out of their way to save a few hundred dollars on a $20,000 purchase, and for others it’s all about great service. Choose what you want to be remembered for, and convey that in your advertising. Decide what really differentiates you from the competition and highlight it in your advertising.

If you want to speed up the cycle and get your customer to shop and buy from you sooner than later, it’s important to include a sense of urgency in your advertising. It doesn’t always have to be a sale or a discount offer. Why should that customer see you now? It could be the last chance to buy a specific model or color. How about a deadline such as tax season, Christmas or Mother’s Day, if that applies to your business? Or you could donate proceeds to a charity for a specified time period, so your customers will feel good about buying from you.


From awareness to purchase, this cycle can take quite a bit of time for some purchases. It can take months to years for large purchases such as cars, furniture and homes. Or hours to weeks for movies or restaurants.

Do you see why it’s important to advertise on a long-term basis throughout the year? If you run a short schedule and expect to get the customers in the Shop and Buy stage, it may be too late to establish your value.

Your competitors may have hooked them at much earlier stages. Competitors don’t necessarily have to sell the same product or service you sell. It could be anything that competes for your customer’s budget. Instead of buying a car, a customer can choose instead to do some home remodeling, go on a vacation or invest in some mutual funds.

By advertising in a variety of mediums throughout the year, you can be assured of reaching the consumer in all phases of the buying cycle.