We’re all aware that much has changed now that “social,” “mobile” and “local” have taken hold. However,
when considering the traditional path-to-purchase in light of these major technological disruptions, several questions remain.
For example, is there really a “preference” phase, or has technology allowed consumers to move from “consideration” to “buy” at a blinding pace? Where is social networking — specifically the act of sharing opinions about brands — reflected in the path? Is “loyalty” a consumer step, or an intended (hopefully) outcome? Is the path really linear? Does it just end after loyalty?
All of the above affect the path-to-purchase, which has proven to be an effective model to guide both planning cycles and the execution of marketing initiatives. It is a model that is focused, logical and linear — something that keeps us all on track and moving in the right direction. The logic remains solid. Awareness is created. Consideration takes place. Preference is established. Purchase occurs. Usage happens. And we have a loyal customer for life (hopefully).
However, we now know that the path isn’t quite as straight as it was before. The overwhelming use of digital to inform, decide, purchase and evaluate requires an evolution in the way we think about the process and how we apply tools along the way. Based on the realities of our digital world, we must shift our thinking from the path to purchase and focus instead on the path through purchase.
The traditional model must adapt to account for the fact that consumer engagement no longer occurs in a linear fashion. While the zero, first and second moments-of-truth are part of the accepted lexicon, we must evolve our approach to include a third moment-of-truth. This occurs when consumers share their experience with your product (good or bad), influencing other shoppers along their path through purchase.
The stats are well known: Seventy percent of shoppers look at product reviews before shopping, 79 percent use a smartphone while making purchase decisions, and 37 percent say that online social sources were influential in driving purchase decisions. But what about the shopper’s online behavior after the sale?
In today’s digital world, getting people to buy your product is not enough. As marketers, it is our job to make sure consumers have a good usage occasion, which simply means they’re using the product as intended.
Usage is a deliberate phase that we need to think about and plan for, but too often it gets short shrift. How do we help consumers pair wine with the best foods, use laundry detergent to best remove stains, use over-the-counter medications to ensure maximum efficacy? How do we make it simple for consumers to share their experience and create positive awareness for a much larger audience?
Like it or not, people will go online and share their experience with your product. They will go on Facebook and an average of 170 of their friends will learn all about the good (or bad) experience they had with your brand. They will jump onto a review site and give their opinion based on their usage experience. This is where we need to take greater notice. Usage influences sharing, and sharing has become a megaphone that drives awareness for a new group of potential consumers.
New apps, social networks, websites and technologies are coming online each day. As marketers, we face the daunting task of making sense out of it all and incorporating the right ideas into our marketing plans. With so many options and variables, it’s pretty easy to get it wrong.
The secret to understanding all of these moving parts is to look at our consumers and how they behave within the largest possible context. How have their lives changed? What are they doing differently? How have they embraced technology? From this perspective, we can model a construct that puts all of the digital chaos in order by giving full consideration to every step of the shopping experience — before, during and after.
If we don’t think in terms of path through purchase, we’re only doing half of our job!