Most marketers have come to understand the reality of a nuanced, unique and non-linear path to purchase for consumers. The new path is a result of access to information online that helps consumers make informed purchase decisions and the smartphone has made this information accessible anywhere.
The challenge marketers for brands and small businesses face is taking this understanding of unpredictable, online and offline behaviors and crafting sophisticated campaigns and strategies that are suited for a particular industry, product, service, location, advertiser, etc. The great thing is, there are so many touchpoints on the path to purchase that marketers have multiple opportunities to be noticed and at the very least considered.
In a recent blog post on Think with Google, the company shared samples of purchase paths for makeup, headphones, flights and candy. According to the post, the number of “touchpoints” Google identified for each journey ranged between 20+ (candy bar) and 500+ (flights). Here’s what the study said:
In the last six months, Google looked at thousands of users’ clickstream data as part of an opt-in panel. And we found that no two customer journeys are exactly alike. In fact, even within the same category, journeys take multiple shapes.
Based on Google’s research, here’s how the company classified each:
- Makeup: Researching the best brands — and beyond
- Headphones: Looking for the last brand standing
- Flights: Searching long after a purchase has been made
- Candy Bar: Verifying even the smallest details
While the examples listed didn’t touch on purchases for professional services, the information was directionally applicable. For instance, regardless of a product or service purchase, more expensive purchases will result in more consumer touchpoints as they explore options. On the other hand, a candy bar is a low-priced purchase and therefore results in a shorter path with fewer touchpoints.
This seems obvious, but there was one takeaway that I found very compelling, and that is the fact that consumers often broaden and narrow the competitive set multiple times along the journey. In other words, consumers might initially look at a competitive set, narrow it down and then open it back up to new competitors. This level of consideration means brands/businesses who weren’t considered first, still may be considered later as the process unfolds.
When looking into the examples provided, some of the queries were strictly informational, yet they present an opportunity for marketers. For instance, for the purchase of a flight, after the purchase there were a number of searches related to the luggage sizing restrictions for carryon items. So while the primary purchase is completed, there may be secondary opportunities to market a product or service. In this case, carryon luggage products that are sized for most airlines.
While the post didn’t reveal anything ground breaking, it brings some specificity to how many touchpoints a brand might have to win a customer over. But there are many variables at play. The product/service being purchased, the urgency of the purchase, the person’s willingness to do the research, the location of the various players, etc.
This is why effective digital marketing isn’t solely about “being there.” Everyone is competing for visibility and as the competitive landscape gets more and more digitally sophisticated being there becomes less of a competitive advantage. Instead, compelling and unique messaging and creative may be more effective in the long-run.