Back to Basics – Digital Media and the Path to Purchase

Connected TV. Streaming audio. Social media.

Odds are good you’ve heard at least one of these words in the last year, doubly so if you spoke to anyone in marketing. It’s what all the cool kids are talking about and if you’ve heard about “the next big thing” in media, you can bet it’s something digital.

While it can be fun to focus on all the new toys (over half of Ad Age’s 2018  Industry Predictions included something related to digital media, after all), we’d like to instead focus on the biggest benefit of the digital era: real-time insight on the “path to purchase”.

For those of you who aren’t familiar or who may have heard it described another way (“the purchase funnel”, “the user experience”, etc.), the “path to purchase” is a list of all the steps a consumer takes from problem recognition to conversion. It has gone in and out of favor as marketers have struggled to reconcile the often haphazard way consumers reach a decision by creating a nice, neat pathway that looks great on a one-sheeter.

The benefits of a clear map from start to finish are simple enough. If you know all the steps a user takes to do the thing you want, you just need to get the right message in front of them at key points to make a sale.

But since tracking all the steps on that path is difficult or expensive, a path to purchase is usually either reserved for giant brands with vast research budgets or for trying to coax anecdotes from your local salesperson who asked a customer “What brought you here today?”.

However, as more and more media dive into the world of connected devices, the edges of the map are getting filled in. Suddenly, we can get a clearer picture on the different ways your audience consumes media.

Rather than spending time on teams of researchers building surveys to be used months later, you can learn from your audience now. Your audience is sharing what they’re watching, posting about what they’re eating and even letting you know exactly where they are, in real-time.

In fact, this data is so readily available for you to use, entire services exist solely to extract data from their userbase to then either sell to advertisers or feed into Google’s vast online data machine. (We’ll leave the ethical quagmire of personal data being shared so freely to the philosophers and instead focus on what this means for you and your brand.)

That brings us back to the “path to purchase”. Now, rather than asking your audience all the steps that led them to buying that candy bar a month ago, you can use the constantly updated algorithms from services like Facebook, Google or your friendly neighborhood marketing agency to track when sales of your candy bar spike and when they lull.

You can start experimenting with messaging at different times of day, in different locations and watch as your product sales ebb and flow based on what’s in the marketplace. If you want to work on a compelling message, you can use that qualitative data you got from that research team months ago as a baseline for your audience’s path to purchase and then adjust it in real-time using a responsive message map.

The instantaneous nature of online media means you can alter and adjust creative based on how the consumer reacts (or doesn’t react) to your ads and target more touchpoints on the “path to purchase” than ever before. Technology is there to respond to changes in the marketplace faster than ever and the possibilities are now limited more by your product and your imagination than a true lack of data.

Of course, having the data and understanding it are two different things. But understanding just how much insight you can glean from your audience in the era of big data is the first step on the road to digital media success.

So next time you’re looking at your marketing plan wondering where to start, crack open your Google Analytics page or Facebook business manager and see what your audience is telling you about their “path to purchase”.



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