5 Questions You Need to Ask to Impact the Path to Purchase
Technology has created an omnichannel world that's bringing together physical and digital shopping experiences and offering a proliferation of touchpoints that influence consumers’ brand opinions and buying behaviors.
Marketers are scrambling with how to deal with this new reality, and often there's a lack of insight on how the paths to purchase are influencing sales and how they can be leveraged to drive business growth.
To help gain an understanding of today’s opportunities, marketers need to know which questions to ask to get a true understanding of the path to purchase consumers take in their category.
However, before diving into the nuances of the path to purchase for their specific category, marketers should recognize that there are four universal stages in every path to purchase:
- Stage 1: The path starts with a purchase trigger. At the time of the trigger, the consumer may already have brand preferences, which can be referred to as pre-trigger brand preferences.
- Stage 2: The consumer may (though not necessarily) actively start exploring and evaluating options. During this stage, brand preferences can change significantly.
- Stage 3: The consumer transforms into a "shopper" and makes his/her final choice at the point of sale. There are two choices which matter: choice for a retailer or channel, and choice for a product or brand.
- Stage 4: Purchase is followed by the actual product experience. This will impact mental networks that shape brand preferences for the next purchase.
Along these stages, the consumer is continuously exposed to touchpoints (e.g., TV advertising, social media, store displays, etc.) which reinforce and disrupt brand mental networks and thereby influence purchase decisions.
An important aspect of the path-to-purchase framework is that it distinguishes between consumers who are on an active path to purchase and those who are dormant. In any given market, at any point in time, the majority of consumers will be dormant. Most marketers don't take this difference between dormant and active consumers into account, and spend their marketing budgets in very inefficient ways. There's a need for a new approach that markets towards the path to purchase and optimizes the marketing budget as follows:
- target the right people;
- at the right touchpoint;
- with the right message;
- at the right time in the path; and
- with the optimal investment.
By addressing each of the points above, brands can truly market against the path to purchase. But how can marketers ensure they're optimizing their budget as outlined above?
There are five questions that every marketer should answer in order to understand the path to purchase for his or her specific category:
1. What are the dominant paths in the category?
The answer to this question helps marketers decide what proportion of budget should be deployed in terms of intervening along the path to purchase, as opposed to creating strong pre-trigger brand preferences. In many categories, consumers don’t necessarily go through an active exploration/evaluation stage, instead performing auto-pilot buying or impulse buying. In these cases, trigger and purchase occur simultaneously and investments need to be adjusted accordingly.
2. What's the reach and impact of different touchpoints in the path to purchase?
We encourage marketers to model and simulate the impact of different touchpoints as the results of such exercises can be invaluable in guiding deployment of resources across different touchpoints.
3. What's the role of touchpoints in the path to purchase?
Touchpoints have different roles to play in the path to purchase. For instance, some touchpoints simply reinforce memory saliency of a brand (i.e., the current mental network a brand has in a consumer’s mind or, in simplest terms, the extent to which a brand is thought of by a consumer), while other touchpoints are considered as sources of inspiration, guidance on how to use the product, etc. Understanding the role of touchpoints helps marketers decide on which content to deploy for different touchpoints.
4. What are the pain points in the path to purchase?
Pain points — we must face them! Identifying consumers’ pain points along their journey informs marketers on how they can introduce innovations in the path to purchase and further shape the path to purchase to their advantage.
5. How does your brand perform on the path to purchase relative to competition, in general and on specific touchpoints?
These are key performance metrics, allowing for a SWOT analysis, and providing further guidance to define brand-specific priorities.
While digitalization has dramatically altered the shopping experience, it has also opened the door to new opportunities for marketers to influence paths to purchase. By asking new questions, thinking beyond mass marketing and embracing touchpoint moments, marketers can capitalize on our new and disruptive retail environment and grow their brands.
Hans Raemdonck is the global head of product development at Ipsos Marketing, a company that specializes in addressing issues related to innovation, market understanding and path to purchase.
Related story: Using Analytics to Reimagine the ‘5 P's’ in Retail