Global sporting events represent a big opportunity for brands to reach their target consumers and to capitalise on the galvanizing potential for new purchases. However, the disruption of digital is undermining long held beliefs about how people make purchase decisions.
In the fast evolving digital world of apps, social media and algorithms, where consumers are ever connected and becoming mobile-first, purchase decisions can be made with the mere tap of a smartphone. Yet, the process can also be protracted, mired in an overload of decisions. People now visit stores but then buy online (known as ‘showrooming’); they use comparison websites to search for deals online and barter on price (leading to commodification and brand erosion); and they appear to switch channels opportunistically, charting a circuitous path that deviates from the simple linear model suggested by the purchase funnel. Amidst this complexity, how should marketers go about reaching and influencing people?
Some now claim the purchase funnel to be dead. With that provocative assertion in mind we set up an experiment. For several months we convened a qualitative research community of people who were in the market for a new television or other media device in order to trace their paths to purchase. We wanted to learn about the steps they took, their decisions and actions, and the emotions of their journeys wherever they occurred.
So, here are the top half a dozen consumer insights on the path to purchase:
It became clear from our research that the path to purchase is no longer linear (if indeed it ever was). It can vary by interest and experience in a category, and by time availability (or pressure), and it can be hit by unexpected curve balls. We witnessed a stark contrast between a category novice who anxiously tried to educate herself, but felt dazed by technical information while buffeted by opinions from well meaning friends and family, and an aficionado for whom technology was a passion and decision-making came easily. A surfeit of information can prove overwhelming and stymie decision-making. Brands (including retailer brands) that position themselves as helping hands along the journey stand to gain.
In between these polar opposites, we found one effective consumer strategy was to stick to a known and trusted brand, which promised a familiar user interface and compatibility with other devices. The stature of a brand also avoids any post-purchase regret because it stands as a mark of a good decision to everyone. Brands capitalise on this trust to short-cut decision making.
The research process is not just about factual information gathering but also allows people to imagine experiencing the product and to test out ‘what if’ scenarios. This emotional orientation is invaluable in unfamiliar categories, allowing knowledge and confidence to build, and reduces the risk of a poor decision. In-store, people can touch and test the product, while online they can go back and forth between online tools, trading off features and using shopping baskets as wish lists to help make comparisons. Brands need to make it easy for consumers to envisage life with the brand regardless of channel; they should be channel agnostic.
The journey does not simply end with the purchase: it continues beyond. Experience of the product, as well as the learning from the purchase process, frames future purchases and can spawn word of mouth advocacy. This loyalty loop can shortcut a decision journey, drawing on previous experience and brand expectations. Brands should harness the power of advocacy, especially in social media.
Shop till you drop
We observed some people are always on a purchase journey, immersed in the loop. Shopping can be a leisure activity, and it is a way that people stay up-to-date in a category of interest. This means that when a purchase journey is triggered they are already knowledgeable and able to glide through the funnel, even if it is a distress purchase (e.g. replacing a broken tablet or a stolen smartphone). Brands need to stay top-of-mind and relevant, ready for opportunity to strike.
Unfamiliar and technical categories can feel difficult, but events (such as birthdays, Christmas, the World Cup and the Olympics) provide deadlines that force people into making decisions, propelling them from information gathering to purchase. Not every purchase is thoroughly researched – ‘good enough’ can be better than the risk of indecision when faced with a deadline. The ubiquity of big brands in media keeps them top-of-mind, ready for the serendipity of events to trigger purchase decisions.
As technology continues to evolve, the purchase process is becoming more complex. The need for a holistic understanding of peoples’ motivations and behaviour, across all channels, is becoming correspondingly urgent. Marketers need to stay close to their target consumers if they are to win on the path to purchase.