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[A version of this post originally appeared in MediaVillage.]

With the rise of digital media, advertisers seem to focus less on communicating to potential buyers during the middle stages of their journey – the education and consideration stages – and more on the awareness and purchase stages.

That hasn’t always been the case.  More advertising used to be focused on showcasing product attributes and differentiation, such as taking on “the other leading brand.”  This classic Volkswagen ad, for instance, notes that the Beetle got 25 miles per gallon, “a lot more than the average domestic car.”  Ads for Thomas’ English Muffins used to go on about its “nooks and crannies” and the fact that they were “fork-split” (whatever that meant).

These days, social media and ubiquitous internet access mean prospects can now research whatever they’re thinking of buying at a time of their choosing.  While most in-market shoppers conduct online research before making a purchase, the majority of that research is not produced by the brand.

Enter TV advertising as an education and consideration tool.  Because people pay more attention to TV ads than any other type of advertising, running TV ads in the awareness stage is crucial in setting up the criteria for the buyer and connecting at an emotional level.  That emotional statement is especially important because it weeds out people who aren’t philosophically aligned with your brand.

What Consumers are Looking For

For the consumer, the preference stage is about doing homework, setting criteria and finding the product or service.  Think about the mindset of a consumer in the consideration phase.  By this time, he or she has already recognized a need or desire.  (“Time for new running shoes.”)  The thought process then leads to a search for information about shoes in a certain price range that is recommended for the person’s needs.  That leads them to make a list of options in the market.

The evaluation process isn’t as linear and logical as you might think.  Someone may research a certain brand of shoe and home in on a particular model, then loop back to researching brands.

Affinity plays a big role in the preference stage of the journey; that’s why TV advertising can be very effective at this stage.  By reaching an interested consumer in an immersive way with high quality messaging, advertisers can help create an emotional connection between a buyer and a brand that augments (and in some cases, supersedes) the features checklist they’ve made.

One reason for this is that consumers pay more attention to alternatives when they’re searching for alternatives.  This is a variation on the “observational selection bias” in which we buy a new car and suddenly notice that the same car is everywhere.  In hunting and gathering mode, we are more aware of alternatives.

But isn’t finding consumers in-market for your product only something digital media can do?  Not anymore.  Advanced TV, particularly household addressable, now can use the same datasets as digital media, enabling advertisers to reach consumers on the big screen in their home as they research and set their buying criteria.

When that targeting capability is combined with first- and third-party datasets, advertisers can layer on relevant data to personalize their campaigns by showing ads only to segments where specific, preference-forming messages will resonate.  Set-top-box data paired with behavioral, purchase and demographic data helps marketers target highly specific household audience segments.

The other reason TV is effective in the consideration stage is that TV advertising creates a trigger effect.  Sixty-eight percent of Millennials use a smartphone or laptop while they watch TV, according to eMarketer.  Google’s research shows two-thirds of smartphone owners use their phones to learn more about something they saw in a TV commercial.  If you’re thinking of buying new running shoes, then an ad for running shoes will get your attention, but one that focuses on a specific need (like your level of pronation) will really get your attention.

How This Looks in the Real World

Ideally, TV and digital messaging coalesce in this phase to move the consumer through the purchase journey.  If a consumer is searching for a new winter jacket, the advertiser could run banner ads for the jackets, then use addressable TV to target specific audience segments such as adventure seekers to show those households a spot demonstrating how the jacket performs best in an active lifestyle.  The sight, sound and motion of television, combined with smart messaging, would provide the consumer with the emotional statement and information to choose that brand over a competitor.

The upshot is that TV advertising is more adaptable than in the past.  Now, advertisers can find those consumers in-market for a product or service and reach them during the consideration phase.  That will move them to the ultimate goal, taking action.

See the intro to our customer journey series and our post on the awareness stage.