The path to purchase has changed a lot in the past decade, but some things have stayed the same. People still go through the same process of awareness, consideration, conversion, and evaluation when making purchase decisions.
The typical purchase journey has changed into a more cycle based series of interactions, where potential customers consult reviews, ask for recommendations, read customer testimonials, and compare competitor brands.
As e-commerce and digital lifestyles become more common, the marketing landscape shifts. Marketing efforts need to be focused on optimising to align with the new path of purchase. This is more subtle than the standard conversion rate or customer journey.
What is the path to purchase?
The path to purchase can run across multiple channels and touchpoints, impacting how consumers decide on making their first purchase. These channels can vary and may include apps, search engines, social networking platforms, emails, loyalty programs, websites, forums, and review sites. Determining these channels will help brands provide the best quality of information throughout each stage of the purchase decision-making process.
How to Optimise the Path to Purchase
- Awareness–Awareness is a key factor in customer decision-making and purchasing behavior. If customers are not aware of a product or service, no sales can occur. Therefore, high brand awareness is essential for achieving sales and market success.
- Consideration–When consumers are looking to make a purchase, they will typically compile a mental list of their top 3-5 brands. The key for brands is to show their expertise, knowledge, and product superiority. By being the brand that cares and solves problems, you will increase the chance of being included on that 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. Prospective customers who are actively searching for a product or service to purchase will already have a good idea of the brands they want to evaluate. To be considered, brands need to make sure they have provided comprehensive sales materials that outline the benefits and technical specifications of their products.
- Conversion – Conversion is the finalisation and closure of the decision that a consumer takes. The customer decides during this stage where and when to complete the purchase. A seamless and simple sales journey is crucial at this stage for customers. A guided check-out process that accepts multiple payment types and has simple and intuitive web pages that are easy to navigate provides a great experience for customers.
- 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, we link it with repeat purchases, 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 a 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 purchasing a service or item. Within the customer journey, brands can track interaction, conversion rates and test different messages and layouts in order to improve conversion rates.
How can you adapt marketing to optimise the path to purchase?
In the past, there were various limitations on advertising channels. Today, there is an explosion of channels and information sources which consumers are using to ensure that it informed them about their purchases. Brands need to contemplate the implications of these alternative 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 because of 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).
How to locate where your target customers are day to day
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:
- 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
It is essential for brands to have accurate and up-to-date information online, as well as keeping their consumers engaged. Brands should refresh creative ads to avoid shoppers becoming “banner blind” (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 apply to their browsing behaviour and previous purchases.
Provide more information
With more considered purchases that have a longer sales cycle, consumers need more information before they purchase. Include more information and 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. Entice customers with a visual delight by showing high-impact visuals of the product. Video has eight times more engagement than text based content, so making sure that video is in the content strategy is vital.
How can you influence the 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 harm sales performance (especially in highly considered markets such as auto). 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. Consider these questions:
- 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 at 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 action along every touchpoint? For 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 engaged across each touchpoint. Optimising content to meet the target customer’s needs at different stages of the journey will improve marketing return on investment.