Today’s Path To Purchase: A Tricky, Meandering Road

rachaelhadawayddt"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Rachael Hadaway, vice president of client solutions at dunnhumbyUSA.

Not long ago, the customer journey was straightforward and predictable. If we needed things, we’d leave our homes and head to stores.

With the rapid advancements of technology, digital touch points have outgrown physical ones. The Internet allowed us to shop from the comfort of our living rooms. With the advent of mobile, there are really no boundaries. Consumers may have endless options, but this new reality is tricky for marketers and retailers alike.

The good news: The relationship with consumers is no longer restricted to a limited number of tactical transactions. It is now defined by a comprehensive “experience” along a potentially meandering path. Where marketers and retailers have fallen short in the past is around the assumption that they need to deliver the same experience across all media and buying touch points.

Consumers are pushing back on conformity and actively curating their own journeys to produce sometimes dramatically different experiences. They expect brands to use all data at their disposal to personalize every interaction. Delivering the right message at the right time is more important – and difficult – than ever before.

Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You

Creating brand awareness was historically a one-way conversation between brands and consumers. Brands created generic content, distributed that singular message across different channels and then waited.

Today’s consumers don’t want to be simply informed, they want to be inspired and are taking control by seeking channels that enable such discoveries. They bring experiences from a broad spectrum of interests into every interaction. The blurring of seemingly distinct areas, such as fashion and sporting goods, for example, are becoming more common every day.

An important trend inspired by this desire for discovery is the subscription box. These are home-delivered packages that provide a sampling of products from a specific genre, such as beauty products through Birchbox. In the US, there are 600 different types of product subscriptions available and that number grows every day. This platform combines the elements of awareness, surprise and inspiration all at once.

User-Generated Content Only Matters If It Matters

The evaluation of products and services is arguably the step along the path that has undergone the most dramatic change in the past decade. Intensive product research was previously reserved for occasional, high-ticket items like automobile and vacation purchases. Technology now allows us to crowdsource purchasing decisions to a widely distributed network of people. We can compare features and prices, view videos of the product and hear how other people use it.

Product reviews have risen in importance over the last five years, even for low-ticket items traditionally purchased offline. But expectations are shifting once again. Gone are the days where the sheer number of reviews is enough. Beyond the brief reviews on an ecommerce website, consumers seek genuine testimonials, filled with rich content from real people. Any user-driven content that feels like paid advertising is discounted and ultimately erodes brand trust.

Be Brief, Be Brilliant, Be Gone 

While convenience has always been a key driver of choice, it has never mattered more. Consumers are spoiled by the number of options available to procure goods and services. Consumers decide where they will devote time and energy.

The fragmentation and the “always-on” nature of retail has created a new breed of fickle consumer that routinely starts, stops and aborts their shopping mission. To combat distraction, barriers to completing a transaction must be eliminated. The race is on to reduce the number of seconds between intent and purchase. Innovation in online and offline buying will produce significant new channels.

Like the revolution started by Amazon, emerging concepts, such as web-enabled TVs, gaming stations, virtual stores and even Apple Pay, will only serve to accelerate the blurring of advertisers, publishers and retailers.

Experience: A Group Activity

People no longer enjoy their purchases quietly in the comfort of their own homes. From a simple cup of coffee to a new outfit, today’s consumers share their experiences with their entire network with friends, colleagues and even complete strangers.

Brands cannot control everything said about their products and services, and in fact, they control very little. Brands can position a product, talk about how wonderful it is and promote it, but when every consumer has a platform to say what they think about a product, brands need to ensure their message and value proposition align. What would once be considered a failed new item has the potential to become a PR nightmare for an organization.

What’s Next

On the surface, the extreme fragmentation of the path to purchase seems overwhelming and complicated to manage. But these new touch points create new opportunities to engage consumers, be relevant and earn loyalty. Consumers seek inspiration, not awareness. Successful brands encourage the elevation of an experience vs. trying to control the message.

Keep in mind that nothing is more powerful than a genuine dialogue between people. Nothing is more detrimental than blurring paid advertising with user-driven content.

Traditional and emerging channels that remove barriers and allow people to engage in buying on their own timetable will become increasingly successful. But the job is not done when the purchase makes its way home. When a brand message and product don’t align, the impact of a potential consumer backlash can now be much worse than a failed new item.

Follow dunnhumby (@dunnhumby) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

 

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