June 4, 2012
For a bafflingly long time, the marketing industry has utilized the four-stage purchase journey (awareness, interest, desire, action—AIDA) of 1898. The four discrete stages a marketer was to engineer into a narrowing one-way street have maintained vestigial influence over everything from content strategy to touchpoint planning, even in the age of technological and media convergence.
Only recently have analysts from McKinsey & Company and Forrester Research along with marketers from agencies, including my own, begun to identify attributes of today’s consumer journey that reflect dramatic changes in how and why people buy—from digitally-amplified social influence to growing impulsiveness, from the appetite for discovery in lieu of search to creative engagement with a brand’s or retailer’s non-product, hedonic, or utilitarian experiences (see figure, at right).
One such inconstant but frequent attribute of the new consumer journey is extreme brevity, which, if you think about it, turns the whole notion of a journey upside down. The purchase journey today can require mere seconds and only one touchpoint (such as an iPad app) for which awareness, interest, desire, and action occur almost simultaneously.
The ratio of these warp speed journeys to more prolonged multichannel ones varies from brand to brand, category to category, consumer to consumer. But the introduction of compressed experiences—for example, the white labeling of flash sales by department stores or alternative payment methods accepted in mobile commerce—are driving much of the innovation and volatility in retailing today.
The travel industry, historically a high-consideration category, for instance, has benefited from purchase journey brevity on collective buying sites such as LivingSocial and Groupon, which are on track to move into the top 1% of U.S. travel agencies.
Today’s marketer should aspire to make all journeys short and sweet while still offering consumers a cohesive, personally satisfying experience with their brand across multiple devices and channels such as the web, social, mobile, kiosk, local, print, and billboard. Whether consumers are at home or work, near-store or in-store—indeed, anywhere they find themselves with a few minutes to fill digitally—the brand should be there with the right mix of features, functions, and appeals to support consumers’ specific purchase interval needs and desires. (For some insight on how to do this on your website, look at Monetate's infographic, The Ultimate Customer Experience, that appears below.)
The concept of a “triple threat” touchpoint can be very useful in designing consumer journeys at both ends of the duration spectrum. A triple threat touchpoint is:
• Shareable: It enables and encourages high- and low-involvement sharing of consumer actions in order to harness network effects and social influence for the brand.
• Shoppable: It is ecommerce-enabled or contains pre- or post-commerce calls to action that eliminate unnecessary actions, basic barriers, or further shopping intervals—anything that could be characterized as “friction.”
• Triggered: It is hyperaware of a consumer’s needs/desires; preferences, past purchases, and other digital behaviors; device usage; and immediate context. And it uses this information for delivering maximum impact of a marketing event, even one as simple as a sale reminder.
Wherever the triple threat touchpoint fits in your consumer segment’s purchase journey, it exploits the full potential of convergence. The old church/state separation between brand marketing and direct marketing no longer makes sense and can be the source of enormous waste in marketing expenditures. Content should be paired with commerce, inspiration stimulus with purchase satisfaction.
Marketers at a minimum should submit every touchpoint to the triple threat test: Should I make it shareable, shoppable and triggered? Can I add at least one dimension not inherent to the touchpoint?
Take the lowly print circular, a billion-dollar market currently enjoying a digital renaissance by featuring, in the case of MyTargetWeekly, an inherently shoppable experience that is also a triggered one through a fully customizable view of the ad as well as the option to set up customizable mobile deal alerts. Searslocalad.com and kmartlocalad.com are shoppable and shareable, as they enable users to email shopping lists to others.
Compressed purchase journeys arguably lead to more of them. Powering these new journeys are triple threat touchpoints that, when judiciously deployed, do more than leverage convergence to maximize the value of each and every one of the brand’s touchpoints. They also have a self-generative nature, wherein sharing leads to shopping that leads to individualized engagement with a brand, and on and on in a virtuous cycle. Their multidimensionality, moreover, mirrors the consumer’s own increasingly converged experiential modes of socializing, shopping, assimilating brands into personal identity, and creative self-expression.
Sometimes in marketing, as in life, more is more.
Dr. Nita Rollins is the Futurist at Resource Interactive, the nation’s fourth-ranked marketing agency. With offices in Columbus, San Francisco, Chicago, and Cincinnati, the firm leads Fortune 500 companies and helps them capitalize on today's digital economy, creating consumer experiences that drive sales for reputable brands.