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Purchase Journeys in the Digital Age: Seven Insights Marketers Need to Act On

Every purchase involves a journey – and, in the last 10 years, the paths consumers follow from brand awareness to buying have become more complex. We recommend these seven insights to help you navigate today’s fast-changing purchase process.

#1. Today, every purchase journey has a digital component.

In almost all situations, today’s purchase paths now include digital touchpoints. Reading an online review, checking with the social network, asking a recommendation engine, searching for retailers, downloading coupons, checking out the manufacturer’s website – each can be part of a path to purchase.

This applies to pretty much any type of product, from simple, fast-moving consumer products to larger, more carefully considered purchases. For all intents and purposes, any marketing today is cross media and has a digital component – or at least should have. It’s critically important for marketers to keep this in mind.

#2: Not every purchase journey is the same.

Our research shows that the path to purchase is very different for different types of products. The purchase journey for yogurt is very different from that for a tablet PC. Marketers need to understand what the typical journey looks like for their products, so that they can optimize their marketing spend.

#3: You cannot be risk averse in digital.

Many of today’s digital touchpoints did not exist even a year or two ago. So there is no “traditional wisdom” about using social or mobile platforms for marketing and advertising.  And we don’t know if the metrics we get from those platforms necessarily are a good yardstick for what we want to measure. Interaction time, “likes” – how do they relate to a consumer’s relationship with the brand?

This means that the only way to learn is through experimentation. Those who accept more risk now are probably the ones who will figure out how to leverage these platforms for their benefit sooner. Don’t try to wait for a “safe” time to test the waters.

#4. Digital platforms and data are directly shaping the purchase process.

Services like Peapod, Amazon.com, newegg, and Netflix are not just selling products online, or offering a list of movies to rent; they are using the data they gather to guide consumers’ choices. This extends well beyond the retailer’s site, as they “follow” consumers with targeted offers, provide different prices to different potential customers (based on their perceived tolerance), and even change how they position products.

Whatever your role in the marketplace – manufacturer, retailer, or service provider – it’s essential to understand how your results may be shaped by this digital ecosystem, where data points are exchanged and acted upon in split seconds. And, it is incumbent on you to figure out how you can turn this process to your advantage. Otherwise, you may find your company left behind at the digital (or actual) cash register.

#5: Be careful about outsourcing your digital intelligence.

For some marketers, digital is the straw that breaks the camel’s back – the thing they can’t add to their “to Do” list. They may look outside for expertise, to specialized agencies and consultants. This can be a wise solution, but you need to temper your trust with a little knowledge. Ceding the topic of digital entirely to someone else leaves you with no grounds to evaluate your partner’s performance. The fact is that everything is digital, or will be soon … so you will have no choice but to be immersed. Force yourself to stay slightly ahead of the curve; know enough to be dangerous to your outsourcing agency.

#6: Digital is changing your org chart – and should.

Not only have these new technologies had an impact on how you put your product in the market, they also are changing your organizational makeup. You may need a chief data officer as well as a CTO, to figure out what to do with all of the digital information at your disposal. A creative marketing lead today is much closer to the computer side, with Flash and other platforms, than his or her counterpart just 10 years ago. These people come at a premium, and you need to groom them to get what you need.

#7: Your research company should help you break down your silos.

Your research company needs to have a holistic approach that goes all the way from product strategy to execution. Digital is now a part of all of almost all of those steps. You need a partner who can help you take a custom, campaign-related view of your marketing and brands. This is how your consumers are seeing your brand, and it’s how you should approach your insight gathering. Your research should connect the dots, for the sake of consistent messaging, and also of efficiency.

Florian Kahlert is Managing Director of Digital Market Intelligence for GfK. You can contact him at florian.kahlert@gfk.com.

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