The Flight of the Bumble Bee: Marketing in the Age of Micro-Moments

bee flying around flowers

Marketers have tried to conceptualize how consumers behave and how they search for information, shop, and make decisions. Academics have researched the behavior of consumers for decades and called it the consumer decision-making process or consumer purchase process.

In practice or in the real world, the dominant models have been the marketing funnel or brand funnel that models consumer behavior following a simple, linear and logical progression from awareness, consideration to purchase to loyalty or advocacy.

About seven years ago, McKinsey changed the funnel and suggested that consumer behavior should be viewed much more iterative and nuanced. The consultants saw consumers go through a series of loops, from initial consideration, active evaluation, moments of purchase and advocacy and called it the consumer decision journey or CDJ.

The CDJ was a good step forward in changing our perspectives of consumer behavior but it did not solve for some of the major flawed assumptions of the brand funnel to begin with. One is the assumption that all consumers are equal. Funnel or loops, they treat a consumer who buys a lot the same as a consumer who buys little or nothing but influences a lot of other people. Vivaldi research shows that there are five distinct types of Always-On consumers with very different patterns of digital and social behaviors.[i] Another assumption is that there is an infinite number of people who enter the top of the funnel or enter somewhere into one of the several McKinsey loops. This is just not the reality today. In a world, where attention from consumers has become the hottest commodity, marketers simply don’t have enough tools or the right tools to fill up funnels or loops.

Consumers in the Micro-Moment

Now Google has released a new study conducted with IPSOS called “Consumers in the Micro-moment,” that comes to the conclusion that there has been a fundamental behavior shift of how people find, consider and interact with brands.[ii] Google argues that mobile has fractured or fragmented forever consumer behavior into dozens or hundreds of short, fleeting, intent-driven moments. Digitally enabled by smartphones, consumers search for information, learn about brands, buy products anytime or anywhere, wherever they have a “micro-moment” of time, often while doing something else.

Consumers behave ever more spontaneously, with short attention spans, and short bursts of actions. They make decisions instinctively and focus on solving a specific need at particular time and place. They shop in spare moments, they search while on the go, they buy on a break by picking up primarily the mobile phone.

It is easy to believe in the Google study. Walk down the street or ride the subway and observe people, consumers are always on their phone, and ever more so at an alarming rate. A recent survey showed that total worldwide smart devices usage as measured by Flurry grew from 1.3 billion to 1.8 billion from Q2 2014 to Q2 2015.[iii]Users who use apps between once and 16 times daily grew from 784 million to 985 million, a 25% increase. Those who use apps between 16 and 60 times daily grew from 440 million to 590 million, a 34% increase. And mobile addicts who launch applications 60 times or more per day grew from 176 million to 280 million, or nearly 60%.[iv] Another study by Bank of America showed that 89% of consumers check their smartphone at least a few times a day, 36% say they check it constantly. 71% of respondents sleep with their mobile phones, and for 35%, the smartphone is the most important thing when waking up.[v] In 2014, a Vivaldi survey showed that 48% of Americans are always-on consumers. If we were to repeat the study today, we are convinced this number would exceed two-thirds of Americans.[vi]

Is this the end of consumer behavior as we know it? Is this the end of marketing funnels and consumer decision journeys. Possibly!  Surely, there will be plenty of categories and consumer contexts where these models or tools are well adequate. But for most situations, the behavior of consumers looks a lot more like the flight of the bumble bee, as a Gartner analyst remarked. That journey is far more unpredictable, erratic, far more elusive, and far more fluid.

Minding the Gap – Only 2% of Companies Can Execute Against Micro-Moments

The question is: can brands and companies deliver on consumers’ expectations in these “micro-moments?”

Google commissioned a study from Forrester Consulting to learn about it. The study of 234 executives was published last week and is called “Moments that Matter.” Google and Forrester wanted to know how prepared mobile marketers are to deliver on consumers in these “micro-moments.”

Forrester focused on three key areas: identifying key moments of intent, delivering on needs in the moment, and measuring all moments. The study’s main conclusion is that only 2% of organizations have all the necessary elements to deliver on these three key areas. 26% conduct some types of ethnographic studies and perform journey mapping, about the same amount of organizations invest in infrastructure and processes to deliver on moments, and less than 10% measure all moments. That is, there is a big gap that needs to be filled in order for companies and marketers to deliver on the fragmented behaviors of consumers in micro-moments.

Fellow marketers, mind the gap!



[ii] Google “Consumers in the Micro-moment” study, 2015 


[iv] Simon Khalaf, “Mobile Addicts Multiply Across the Globe,” Flurry Analytics.

[v] Bank of America, Trends in Consumer Mobility, 2015.