Understanding the consumer purchase journey: Connecting great marketing to great outcomes
Ask any great marketer for the source of her inspiration, and she’ll tell you that everything starts with the consumer. To communicate effectively, you must understand your customers and their needs, motivations, and hidden desires. Why do they behave the way they do today? And most importantly, what would it take to shift that behavior once, repeatedly, and forever? Increasingly, a great campaign is defined not only by its clever copywriting, breathtaking imagery, or heart-wrenching emotional response, but rather by its outcome—and its ultimate ability to drive purchases.
No more backseat drivers
The importance of the purchase outcome is obvious, but it’s often relegated to a measurement metric applied at the end of a campaign, rather than a driving force behind the campaign’s initial plan. Building outcome-based thinking into the strategic process requires discipline and a proven methodology. The first step is truly understanding your existing client base. Who buys your product today, and what motivates their purchases? Is this group homogenous, or is it comprised of distinct segments, each with their own values, motivators, and purchase occasions?
As we better understand these unique tribes, we can achieve clarity around key growth opportunities. Is it time to expand our product to different income segments (Hello, BMW)? How can we encourage our current consumers to buy more of the same product (Activia daily challenge, anyone)? What innovation can create sufficient value to drive increased price per purchase? Though not every strategy will drive growth, it’s important to take the time to explore options and determine the best opportunities for success.
What goes around
With our audience clearly segmented and our sources for growth identified, we can now decode the purchase journey itself. While we have embraced the notion of a sales funnel for over 120 years, today we find it more useful to think about the journey as cyclical and formed of four distinct parts:
Priming stage. This stage of the journey builds bias toward individual brands, often at a subconscious level. It’s an important phase within the purchase journey, as it increases brand-specific purchases by three to nine times when it’s executed well. The priming stage can last a short time, or it can last years. It ends when the consumer is motivated by a potential purchase.
Trigger. You want it, you need it, you’ve gotta have it. Here we seek to understand the drivers—physical, emotional, practical, and aspirational—that propel the consumer into the active stage.
Active stage. It’s now go time. The consumer is in market, researching and deciding on the brand of choice. For a car, this could take a couple of months. For a chocolate bar, it could take a few seconds. Regardless of the product, how can marketers impact a purchaser’s thinking at this crucial timing right before he or she makes a final decision?
Purchase. Apple Pay, plastic, or cold hard cash—the deal is done. You’ve converted your consumer (or missed an opportunity to do so). But the work isn’t over. They need to have a great experience with the product they’ve bought, which will start the priming phase of the purchase journey all over again.
This purchase journey segmentation is more than academic. It allows us to identify distinct states of mind; understand fractures in the path to purchase; and intercept the consumer with timely, relevant media and messaging. Let’s now layer in unique audience segments to identify how different groups may build bias, react to triggers, and research pre-purchase. These insights are essential to the development and delivery of the creative messaging most likely to resonate with each of our segments. While this understanding is crucial to paid advertising, the savviest of marketers will also connect it to their owned and earned touchpoints.
For a simple example, let’s look at the luxury auto market. If we understand that a premium automotive trigger is connected to reward, status, and self-image, we can craft a narrative in the priming stage to cultivate a readiness to embrace it. Likewise, if the active stage of a yogurt purchase is highly influenced by visibility on a shelf, we can select packaging that pops in the grocery store.
Full circle success
How do we map, manage, and measure our success? By investing in good purchase journey research and using it to diagnose your audiences and identify sources of growth. Decide on your most effective touchpoints and marry them with well-crafted creative, deployed with excellence. Then measure the results objectively, optimizing and iterating toward true sales data. Because a truly great campaign is only made great by its outcomes.