Worry less about what to call the purchase journey and more about new ways to unlock its power
As far back as I can recall, we, as marketers, have been searching for the right model to illustrate how consumers go through the process of making a purchase decision. The more we learn about shopping pathways and processes and define why consumers buy the things they do, the closer these ideas come to depicting reality.
Our traditional purchase “funnel” or “path to purchase” has long been dismissed as an incomplete and outdated notion. More recently, the idea of a path to purchase comprised of a series of non-linear steps has been replaced by the circuitous “journey”—a complex tapestry of discrete yet interwoven steps whose outward appearance has been likened to, among other things, a bowl of spaghetti.
The truth is, any attempt to map the average consumer’s path to purchase contains inherent limitations, because no two people shop in exactly the same way. Thus, while it is important that we continue to understand more about the inner workings of the customer’s journey, it is far more important that we develop compelling new ways to unlock its tremendous power. Namely, we must do a better job of determining precisely how, when and where to engage with customers at every step along the trail — not just to reach them with our message, but to tailor that message in a way that’s relevant and motivating to them in that moment.
First, we must all accept the reality that marketers can’t make people buy products. Marketers are enablers and facilitators; only the products themselves or a specific and timely consumer need can significantly alter behavior. Apple, for example, has transformed entire categories with its superior products and designs. Though its marketing continues to be better than most, it is not what motivates behavior.
What marketing can do is create favorable conditions along the journey that make a purchase more likely to occur. How? Like all good marketing, it starts with having absolute clarity on the customer and their needs. But the next step becomes understanding how they learn about and shop for brands in your category, and identifying the core touchpoints where your brand messaging must live, to provide the necessary tools or incentives for consumers to complete a desired transaction. This may sound like a simple formula, but it’s one in which most of us could stand to improve significantly in a few critical areas:
1. Knowing more about our customers. Brands need to dig deeper into all the available sources of transactional, demographic and behavioral data, and use that knowledge to get as close to the individual as possible. Where not cost efficient to do at the one-to-one level, the next best pathway is to build out multiple consumer “personas” of actual customers. These audience groups contain the most actionable intelligence and the biggest growth opportunity. The personas have names, media consumption habits, behavioral tendencies, motivating information factors, and goals that shape their experiences. They engage with others who impact their conversion, and those conversations are always changing.
2. Understand their journey. The most important user groups for your brand will tend to learn about and shop your brand – whether online or in-store – across some very discrete touchpoints such as a brand website, a retailer’s email, a Facebook feed, etc. You can guess which touchpoints are ideal, but many will surprise you. You’ve got to do your homework on the journey for your brand, and build the outreach tools and content to be there when the customers are.
3. Tailoring messages to a specific audience. Far too much marketing today is wasted—i.e., is not developed with any intent to focus on the right people. It is one thing to deliver online ads with contextual relevance or based on previous browsing behaviors, but it is quite another to develop a message specifically for the consumers based in thousands of potentially motivating data points. Imagine a seller of pasta, for example, tailoring messages to a mom with specific recipes for her family, tailored to the sauces they like versus those who are carbo-loading the night before a big race. Both exhibit different needs, behaviors and motivators, but within the same campaign and media spend.
4. Relying on metrics that count. In a land of tightening budgets and short-term performance requirements, gone are the days when a CMO could bank on brand awareness to ensure his or her success. Today’s marketers are judged on whether or not they can move the sales needle… and quickly! Thus, each and every one of our efforts must be measured in such a light. A complete picture of brand performance must include both the softer “engagement” metrics alongside the “hard” data related to actual purchases. We should be diligently tracking and applying what we’ve learned, generating creative programs/campaigns that not only drive equity, but also improve optimization techniques to drive that initial purchase and motivate continued future conversions.
In the end, everything we do must be built from the customer back, considering every step they make along the way, what obstacles they face, and what tools they are using to make their decisions. It’s not store back. It’s not brand down. It’s customer back or nothing.