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How to Choose the Best Approach for Modeling Your Customers’ Path to Purchase

Posted On  June 4, 2019

In today’s omni-channel environment, where there are so many ways a customer can learn about products, there are just about as many journeys as there are customers.

When everybody is doing something different, how does a company build a comprehensive marketing strategy that reaches customers at critical points in their journey? Do different paths to purchase each require unique marketing strategies? In an ideal world, the answer would be yes, so that the right message can more often reach the right person at the right moment.

But in the real world, marketers face constraints around resources, data, and especially analytic methods that separate them from a nuanced understanding of their customers’ journeys.

The Resource-Constrained Method of Modeling the Path to Purchase

To work around these constraints, we need to build models and maps, both of which require simplification. The goal is to avoid over-simplification that masks key differences between customer groups.

In an ideal world, the model we build would integrate that kind of qualitative understanding of customers’ emotional states and motivations with a quantitative analysis of individual touchpoints and the resulting journeys. That blend of nuance and hard data allows marketers to capitalize on “moments of truth” to create opportunities for customer engagement and growth.

Resource-constrained teams may opt to utilize only internal stakeholders to build a customer journey map. Though definitely better than nothing, there’s no substitute for hearing from actual customers about the steps they take and the emotions they feel as they make an informed purchase.

Qualitative Approaches to Customer Journey Mapping

Qualitative approaches generally transform a small set of interviews around purchase practices into a flowchart – a journey map – that summarizes the sequence of actions that compose the “typical” customer journey in the marketplace.

What journey maps do so well is illustrate an individual customer’s needs, the series of interactions that are necessary to fulfill those needs, and the resulting emotional states a customer experiences throughout the process. Maps help tell a story with compelling visuals, highlighting information around the timing of actions. They reveal a narrative of how customers navigate a marketplace. These maps are useful to marketers who want to strategically place marketing material along the paths traversed by customers.

However, a journey map that emerges from qualitative research is also somewhat misleading, as it usually is taken to be “representative” of a market, concealing the variety of journeys across a sample, and so population.  It also can mask key differences between shoppers that would be useful for marketers to know.

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Our Snakes and Ladders approach, for example, endeavors to have individual customers describe their experiences leading up to purchase. Rather than providing a standard questionnaire, this methodology uses interviewing to create a neural engram, enabling the customer to relive their nuanced pre- and post- purchase experiences. This kind of research provides a great jumping-off point for follow-up quantitative studies, particularly touchpoint analysis.

Quantitative Approaches to Modeling the Path to Purchase

Quantitative approaches tend to probe a large sample of respondents to measure the prevalence of certain “touchpoints.” And while a simplified quantitative approach provides a market level read on touchpoints, it may only probe into pieces of journeys, not into how those pieces come together to form different journey types.

Another quant-driven approach – one that provides a better perspective on how journeys differ – borrows from the field of genetics. In a method called sequencing, we can segment groups of customers who differ on the composition, frequency, and ordering of their journey points, offering key insights into how customers engage in a marketplace to learn about a product. Sequencing groups people who have similar patterns of behavior and separates them from others to whom they are dissimilar in this way.

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Once we have groups, we can size the groups to estimate market composition and assess the opportunity that comes along with winning over that group to help prioritize resources. Rich profiling on these groups will help tune communications. And, crucially, the visualization of each journey – the mapping of the temporal unfolding of a journey – can place our messaging along key points in their path to purchase, to help customers make a better purchase decision.

Path to Purchase

Combining Approaches to Get the Best Understanding of Your Customers’ Purchase Journey

To be clear, any of these approaches on its own will bring you a better, more nuanced understanding of your customers’ purchase journey. But combining a strong qualitative approach with one rooted in advanced analytics will provide the art and the science you need to best meet your customers’ needs.

Customers can openly express their motivations and emotions when going through their purchase journey through qualitative approaches, and you’ll get insight into the diversity of customer journeys through the quantitative techniques. This combination provides insights and marketing teams the best set of information with which to not only prioritize marketing resources but also to appropriately tune your messaging to strike just the right notes.

Written by Hrag Balian
Hrag Balian joined LRW in 2013 where he provides technical consulting on quantitative research projects. He is the co-creator of LRW’s proprietary database scoring approach which employs a variety of optimization techniques to considerably boost predictive accuracy, enabling more successful direct marketing efforts. He is particularly interested in working with granular data to better understand individual-level decision making. In a prior life, he wrote a dissertation showing how large-scale civil conflict has very similar micro-dynamics to chickens establishing dominance in coops.

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