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Path to Purchase

Has Your Customers’ Path to Purchase Changed?

Posted On  June 22, 2021

Obvious fact #1: The pandemic changed many shopper journeys, mostly in the direction of online and e-commerce. This has been well documented by…just about everyone.

Obvious fact #2: There is no shortage of advice from companies, agencies, consultancies, you-name-it, on what brands should do about these changes.

I wanted to offer some first-hand advice drawn from doing real-life studies with clients. Material helps a lot of companies optimize their interactions with customers along the shopper journey (also known as Path to Purchase) through in-depth research that uncovers what the journeys look like, which interactions are most important, and how to make each touch point count.

Should you revisit your Path to Purchase research?

Many of our clients are asking us if they should do this research now that the pandemic in many markets feels “over”. I would argue that you need to revisit your path to purchase research now, no matter what the state of the virus in the markets you serve, for 3 main reasons:

  • While many markets are faring well with vaccination efforts and economic re-openings, many others are not.  And we can’t be sure that a dangerous variant or Fall surge will not pull us back into voluntary or mandated shut-down mode.   As you study the post-lockdown journey, you should also capture some learnings about the mid-lockdown journey, so you’re prepared for anything.
  • Having impacted people’s lives in many markets for many months, you can assume that many of the “new” or “changed” habits will now stick. We have written about measuring changes in product usage habits, but this is also true for more habitual shopper journeys.
  • For many businesses (e.g. grocery, apparel, retail, telemedicine, to name a few), the pandemic has simply accelerated changes that were already in the making. So if you were ahead of the curve before, that’s great! But keep in mind that your competitors have been forced to catch up. The future came early and it’s not going anywhere.

So then the next question is what should the research look like? The answer is a lot less obvious, since each organization’s needs vary wildly, and there are wildly varying approaches to journey research.

The stakes are high, because picking the wrong methodology can be at best useless and at worst damaging.

How to determine what journey map or Path to Purchase research you need

There are a few things to consider as you think about what kind of Path to Purchase research you need.

Successful journey mapping projects start with clear operational objectives. If your organization’s needs are specific and tactical, then the research should be designed to provide competitively differentiating depth and nuance within a broader context.

If your organization is not sure where to focus yet, you need something more foundational that will identify what drives the outcomes you care about. But that foundational research should still be designed to not just map your customer’s journey but also provide a competitively differentiating strategy.

  • Specific vs. Broad

Why are you mapping the journey? Do you already know that you’re trying to build long-term brand relationships (in which case you may want to take a qualitative approach), drive short-term store visits (consider a targeted drivers analysis), or improve the customer experience through employee engagement (customer experience mapping)? Or are you practically starting from scratch, and you need the full picture of the journeys that exist and where the organization needs to optimize? Our proprietary quantitative journey mapping technique adapts principles from DNA sequencing to map the most common types of paths customers take and identify the most impactful touchpoints.

  • Category

For some categories, like facial care, optimizing the online journey on social media is critical to any modern brand’s success. In that case, you’ll want to do a qualitative deep dive on critical social touchpoints. For others, like ice coolers, much of the decision-making process still happens at shelf or at the moment just before purchase, and you’ll want to create a consumer decision tree. When timing or resources are tight, you can rely on your foundational understanding of what motivates decision-making in your category to hone in on the touchpoints or part of the journey that matter most and conduct strategic but tightly designed research to understand what has changed.

  • Habits

If the pandemic has disrupted your consumer’s journey (and let’s be honest, that includes something like 90% of us), then understanding how their habits have changed, and predicting which of those changes require short-term vs. long-term investment is critical. This is probably the most important thing to consider when thinking about researching journey maps right now. New habits are formed not just by repeated action, but by an emotional outcome that reinforces the habit. We bring that framework for thinking about habits into our journey research to help brands understand what is important in the short term and the long term.

Which is all to say, that doing journey mapping research right is like doing any kind of research right. It starts with having a solid strategy and deeply knowing what your business needs are, especially what kinds of questions you need the journey mapping to answer.

From this foundation, the right partner can work with you to figure out what kind of journey research will help you understand what the new journey looks like. Most importantly, it will help you determine which touch points are most critical for your brand’s success, and how to optimize your customer’s experiences on those touch points so that you can thrive and win.



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