Path to purchase: Understanding the real moments of influence.

Posted by Chris Bland on the 17th September, 2018

Where are the missed opportunities to convert more customers?
Understanding the path to purchase and pain points across the process is critical to any brands’ success. Done well, the friction points that inhibit sales dwindle, giving a brand the best chance of success. More often than not though, we see research focused on a top-down brand centric view of consumers, rather than exploring how the role of brand fits into a typical purchase journey. Only by understanding purchase journeys through a consumer lens of their typical journey can a business bring together and optimise of all the elements of the brand message, product, service and touch points. One of the big issues we face in research is that consumers don’t always do what they say they will do. Respondents might say in a survey they will go out and buy something but we know in reality lots of things can get in the way or change their mind – whether that is a change in need, or the general pressures of day to day life distracting from the task in hand.

This is where the role of customer journey research can unlock answers to some key questions;
– How important is it for your brand to be on the consideration set at the start of the process?
– To what extent do consumers change their mind on across the journey?
– What touch points and messages across the journey influenced decision making?
– Why do some consumer not buy?

Answering these questions gives the business the powerful insights that can optimise all brand touch points that will ultimately drive more sales.

Humans are forgetful. (And might try and fill in the blanks on questions they’re unsure of)
Let’s face it – most of us will have a good idea of what we did this morning, and maybe even last week. But the moment we’re asked about something we did a few weeks ago, the details start to get a bit hazy. We might remember key facts about what we bought and why we bought it (the need), but any wider detail around the price, the process and what influenced the decision process will be harder to recall. The longer we speak to respondents after a purchase event has occurred, the more unreliable their recall can be. Respondents will post-rationalise after the event often inflating the importance of price or simply forgetting some of the detail – particularly when we are asking them to think about their mindsets at purchase and probing on detail on things they might not have paid a lot of attention to.
Speaking to consumers who have recently gone through a purchase experience still provides valuable insights, but given the length of time customer journeys might take we take a risk that we won’t get the level of detail and insight needed around the key parts of the journey that can be disrupted. In our experience we suggest approaching this from a number of different angles to get as close as possible to the different stages of a purchase journey. The key part here is capturing behaviour without unduly influencing natural purchase behaviour, and without creating a monstrous and complex research process.

Journeys are non-linear, individual and complex.
Most customer journeys are fluid – starting with different triggers and taking different routes to gather research and make a decision where to buy (assuming they buy at all). How long this process takes also depends on the consumer mindset and need states – some journeys taking less than a day and others taking months. A lot will depend on the category – a product with a perceived high value and emotional investment (like buying a new car) will have very different journey and influences than someone renewing their insurance or switching energy provider. The success of a journey and opportunities for brands can often be determined at the start of the purchase process as consumers move from passive consideration to active consideration of a new product or service. The brands that feature on the consideration set at the start will have a key impact on the resultant journeys – and it’s the process of brand choice and elimination across the journey that is key to understand to increase the chances of your brand being picked. As a result of these factors there isn’t a clear one size fits all path to purchase model that consumers conform to. But this makes it more important than ever before to understand the common mindsets, triggers, and different touch point experiences where their is potential to influence the purchase journey within the category.

5 ways to truly understand and influence customer journeys;

1. Go on the journey with consumers;
Only by speaking to consumers who are active in the market can we understand what influences them at key points in their journey. This means conducting research as close as possible to each touch point and event experienced. We can’t rely on consumers to tell us detail on all the touch points they’ve encountered on a journey. Instead, we use longitudinal research techniques to follow respondents across their journey – this might be over a day, a week or even months. By using a mixture of online touch point diaries and qualitative interviews we can map all of the touch points used, the order visited, their influence and, crucially, how consumers change their mind as a result of these experiences. This way we get a more granular and cleaner read of the role and influence of each touch point whilst these experiences are fresh in the minds of consumers – therefore limiting any post-rationalisation.

2. Understand the mindsets and emotions;
Someone who knows what they want and is comfortable with their choice of brands will have a very different journey to someone who is open minded and unsure of what brands to pick. We’ve seen in the past that those who approach a journey with an open mind can end up going to more touch points and coming out of the process even more confused than when they started – particularly if they’ve read lots of conflicting reviews and recommendations. This is particularly true of new technology such as appliances where consumers are faced with a bewildering array of different names for technology that ultimately does very similar things. Mapping different mindsets and emotions across a journey can provide powerful insights and enable your business to build the right experiences that address the needs based on these mindsets. Using a mixture of qual and quant techniques here helps us to identify where consumers feel reassured, confused or frustrated at key points of a journey.

3. Map the conversion and non-purchase;
It can sometimes be too easy for businesses to focus on the new customers and products sold and why they bought your brand. But this only gives one side of the picture. At any given point there might be active consumers in the market where opportunities to convert them have been missed. And sometimes small changes to the process can lead to big rewards. There are 3 key groups it is important to size and understand to get a holistic view of a consumer journey:
– Those that considered your brand but bought a competitor – understanding where the brand lost out and where in the journey this happened.
– Those that weren’t considering your brand but ended up buying – to determine what messaging and touch points made the difference that can be dialled up.
– Those that intended to buy but didn’t – this might be that their need or situation has changed, or that day to day life simply got in the way. This group are of interest as if they can be re-activated with the right messaging to overcome the inertia, this could unlock significant sales volume in the market.

4. Overlay real world behaviour;
What consumers say and what they actually do can be a challenge to align. To truly understand how customer journeys link up then we need to combine claimed behaviour with measures of actual behaviour. This is where we bring in more advanced solutions such as our Reflected Life passive metering technology. Combining the passive information and the survey responses creates a highly detailed picture of not just what people do but why they do what they do. This passive data allows us to bring to life the customer journeys and identify the granular detail that otherwise would be almost impossible to answer with traditional research techniques alone. Whether this is identifying the exact website path someone goes down and search terms they use, or measuring the time spent on certain apps. Previous studies have seen us measuring everything from the retailers that get the most traffic around Black Friday, the YouTube videos consumers watch around household electrical appliances, to the online journey for taking out a bank loan. Of course, the digital environment is just one of many touch points. We are also able to capture real world behaviour and physiological reactions in different scenarios. By bringing in technology such as GPS tracking, eye tracking and GSR (Galvanic Skin Response) we are able to understand all aspects of the experience at specific touch points. For example, our work has seen us map the actual routes consumers take in different store environments, use eye tracking to determine what messaging within a store experience are actually noticed, and using GSR to understand the extent store environments stimulate and engage shoppers. We’ve even used this technology to explore the role of scent to enhance experiences. When this kind of behavioural data is overlaid with the wider picture of the customer journey we start to build a powerful understanding of the real touch points and types of experience that influence purchase decision making.

5. Track the customer journey.
If you’re already armed with all the insights into the customer journey in your category then the final challenge is to track the different journeys over time. This means going beyond a traditional brand tracker and voice of the customer programme. With consumer purchase journeys evolving each day from technological innovations (e.g. shopping via Alexa), and the pressure on traditional high streets retailers, any beliefs and assumptions we make about customer journeys need to be frequently challenged to ensure it is optimised. By capturing the customer journey in the ways identified this will provide a clear read of the strength and role of the brand in a complex world. This will ultimately provide your business with clear actions and understanding of how to drive sales in the market.

Meet the Author: Chris Bland
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