The principle of decision stages

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The principle of decision stages is that every purchase involves four similar stages. 1. One considers different products or services. 2. One assesses one’s options. 3. A selection is made. 4.One reflects on the purchase. Knowing that almost all purchases follow this decision process can enable you to optimize your marketing strategy to boost your move-ins and strengthen your brand.

The four stages of purchasing decisions

What are the stages consumers take when making a purchase? Most go through the following four:

  1. Consider one’s options
  2. Assess the options
  3. Make the selection
  4. Reflect on the purchase

There’s some variation in this decision process, though. When buying a pack of gum, for instance, you may skip stages 1 and 2 or run through them in seconds. You may also skip stage 4.

Consider, though, a far more important decision—choosing a retirement community. In this case, the buyer will normally go through a far more involved and exhaustive process. Since prospects take this decision very seriously, they’ll invest far more time in each stage, especially stage 2.

  1. A daughter realizes her mother needs a retirement community. She looks at and considers some of her options.
  2. The daughter thinks about her options and does plenty of research. She reflects on her priorities, speaks to people, and does some online exploration. She arrives at the following verdict: her mother is best-suited to an assisted living retirement community.
  3. After weighing the pros and cons of these kinds of communities, she selects one.
  4. After a few months, she concludes her mother is doing much better. Though she’ll re-evaluate at the end of the year, she plans to leave her in this retirement community.

The four stages of the decision process

Source: David Court (Director, PSP Investment), Dave Elzinga (Partner, McKinsey Chicago), Susan Mulder (Board of Directors, The Kraft Heinz Company), and Ole Jørgen Vetvik (Senior Partner, McKinsey Bangkok)

The four stages of the decision process

What this implies for retirement community marketers

Almost every purchase decision goes through four stages: 1. Consider one’s options, 2. Assess them, 3. Make a selection, and 4. Reflect on the process. And within each stage certain buyers will engage in certain activities: i.e., stage 1 → awareness and recognition, stage 2 → research and analysis, stage 3 → choose, and stage 4 → reflection.

It’s critical that you have a clear understanding of these stages and the activities buyers go through during each of them. You’ll also need to think abou how much time and effort your target market invests in each stage. Though all stages can be an important part of choosing a retirement community, stage 2 seems especially vital. Most prospects spend the bulk of their time considering and assessing their options (the active research stage), and this has the biggest impact on their final decision.

Sometimes retirement community marketers forget this during their planning process, and this limits the potential for them to increase their move-ins and strengthen their brand . For instance, they might spend too much time on stage 1, initial consideration (awareness and recognition) and not enough time on stage 2, assessing one’s options (the active research stage).

To learn more, read our article on how research effort positively correlates with the decision value of a purchase.

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