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The ‘path to purchase’ has become almost unrecognisable in the past decade but, throughout the digital revolution, one core factor which remains the same is the process and stages that people go through to make purchase decisions: the awareness, consideration, conversion and evaluation stages are still very much the same, even in 2019.
The entire ‘journey’ has been transformed by digital but, the psychology that drives the purchase decision has remained the same. We’re human after all!
Instead of the typical linear path to purchase, the purchase consideration journey has now evolved to become more of a cycle or a web of interactions where potential customers are looking at reviews, asking for recommendations, reading up on customer testimonials and evaluating competitor brands. Consumers are now much more influenced by different online and offline factors in making their decision and it is significantly more complex than it used to be.
With the rise of e-commerce and our digital lifestyle, the marketing landscape has completely changed and it is crucial for brands to focus on optimising their marketing initiatives for the path to purchase – which is more subtle and nuanced than the standard ‘conversion rate’ or ‘customer journey’ that many brands focus on.
What is the path to purchase?
The path to purchase can run across multiple channels and touchpoints, influencing how consumers decide on and commit to making their first purchase. These channels can vary greatly and may include apps, search engines, social networking platforms, emails, loyalty programs, websites, forums and review sites. Determining these channels will help brands to ensure that they are providing the best quality of information throughout each stage of the purchase decision making process. The following outlines these stages and, what brands need to consider in optimising their path to purchase:
- Awareness – Awareness may be one of the most commonly used terms in marketing, but it still plays a major role in how customers evaluate and consider making a purchase. If they are not aware of a product or service, no sales can happen! With high brand awareness, it is almost guaranteed that a brand will attain higher market share but this is far from being sufficient in and of itself.
- Consideration – Consumers create a mental consideration list which is usually composed of 3-5 brands before they complete their final purchase. If a brand is not on the customer’s consideration list, the brand simply won’t get the sale. The key thing that brands need to do to get on the consideration list is to demonstrate their expertise, knowledge and product superiority. By being the brand that cares, solves problems and demonstrates empathy with their target customers, they stand a much higher chance of getting onto the consideration list. A good example is when purchasing a car. Most car owners buy a new vehicle every three years and, it’s unlikely that they will respond to any offer during this period. They will, however, most likely be building their consideration list based on the information that they have collected about the car market in the lead up to the time that they want to make a purchase. Once they are actively in the market to make the purchase, these prospective customers will already know the brands that they want to evaluate. When being considered, brands need to ensure that they have provided the most comprehensive sales material possible, outlining product benefits, technical specifications and key differentiators. Brands who put a particular emphasis on creating a delightful experience (sampling the product in an immersive fun way) can give brands that are in the consideration set an edge over the competition to help them win the sale.
- Conversion – Conversion is the finalisation and closure of the decision that a consumer takes. It is during this stage that the customer decides where and when to complete the purchase. It is crucial at this stage that the sales journey is seamless and simple for customers. Providing a guided check-out process, accepting multiple payment types and, having simple and intuitive web pages that are fast loading are all tactics that brands can use to maximise sales conversion rates.
- Evaluation – Positive customer experience is critical in improving loyalty and repeat purchases. Whilst the evaluation phase is the least important in the path of purchase, it is inextricably linked with repeat purchase, customer referrals and advocacy which can affect brand perception , sales and long term profitability.
Path to purchase versus the customer journey, what is the difference?
Brands often confuse the path to purchase with the customer journey. Path to purchase is an all-encompassing process which customers go through (often in channels that brands do not directly control).
The customer journey is the experience that consumers have within the brand’s owned (or controlled) channels whilst in the process of purchasing a service or item. Within the customer journey, brands can track interaction, conversion rates and test different messages and layouts in order to maximise conversion rates.
Adapting your marketing to optimise the path to purchase
In the past, advertising channels were limited, fixed and interactive but, today, there is an explosion of channels and information sources which consumers are using to ensure that they are informed about their purchases. Brands need to carefully consider the implications of these new information sources and build an effective strategy to optimise the path to purchase across forums, influencers, review sites, PR, search engines and traditional advertising channels.
Finally, consumers are also more sceptical than ever due to the growth of fake news (and the new ‘deep fake’ trend). The number of options of goods for purchase have increased exponentially and, since customers are often purchasing directly online, they cannot inspect quality firsthand (this is obviously less of a concern if the business is providing a service).
Where do your target customers hang out? Advertise there!
Since there are so many channels and platforms that customers can browse, brands must target the locations that have the biggest impact on their purchase decision making process and where they are spending the most time. Consider the following:
- Email campaigns
- TV ads
- Social media ads, communities and content
- Print ads
- Content marketing (video content, blogs, newsletters and more)
- Native advertising
- SEO content and website
- Refresh creative ads frequently
- Consumer driven review sites
- Media reviews
- Social media influencers
With the sheer volume of content online, brands must ensure that information is accurate, up to date and keeps their consumers engaged. Creative ads should ideally be refreshed frequently to avoid shoppers getting “banner blindness” (where the creative is familiar and just blends into the background).
Website personalisation is an excellent way for brands to track previous visitors’ behaviour. Personalisation ensures that customers see content and product recommendations that are relevant to their browsing behaviour and previous purchases.
Provide more information
With more considered purchases that have a longer sales cycle (cars, holidays, mortgages etc), consumers need more information before they commit to purchase. Include more information and in-depth data about products and services to give potential buyers a complete picture of what they are considering purchasing.
Include visual content
Visual content plays a major role along the path to purchase. Customers want to experience a visual delight and are persuaded by high impact visuals of the product. Video has eight times more engagement than text based content so, making sure that video is included in the content strategy is vital. When customers are seeing fresh and engaging brand imagery and video content, it will stand out against the competitors.
Leverage path to purchase for growth
Leading brands are working hard to optimise their marketing around their prospective customer’s path to purchase. Brands often lack insight around their customer’s path to purchase which can greatly impede sales performance (especially in highly considered markets such as auto). To optimise the path to purchase for growth, it is important that brands ask relevant questions and connect with digital consumers in new ways. Consider thinking beyond mass marketing and embrace various touchpoint opportunities.
An audit of how, when and where consumers encounter and engage with a brand is a good way to see how the path to purchase is performing. Some of the questions that should be considered are:
- Where did consumers first encounter the brand? What were the consumers first impressions?
- What role do forums, social media (Facebook) groups and consumer review sites play in the path to purchase?
- How much impact do bloggers, media reviews and social media influencers have along the path to purchase?
- What information influences customers along their path to purchase the most?
- Does the design of the product interest or repel consumers, how does product design compare to the competition?
- Does the packaging provide a better on-shelf experience, as well as, “opening experience”?
- Is the personality and voice of the brand consistent and enchanting?
- Does the brand personality consistently show in every touchpoint?
- Is the brand creating experiences for consumers to engage more with the products?
- Where are people going once they encounter the brand online? Is the website optimised?
- Is purchasing on the website easy and seamless?
- Does the brand have enough call to actions along every touchpoint, example, are customers invited to buy or trial or is it simply broadcasting a pushy sales message?
The key to successfully optimising marketing programmes to align with the path to purchase. To do this, brands need to build a clear picture of how buyers are influenced across each of touchpoint. Developing content that can better accommodate the prospective customer’s informational requirements throughout the purchase consideration journey is a surefire way to improve marketing return on investment.