Understanding Path to Purchase: Art of Landing Consumers

Currently my wife and I are in-market for two very different high-involvement products – a video camera and a baby stroller. We started my exploration online through search and landed up on various review sites, social forums, shopping sites, and every once in a while on the landing pages of brand websites. Our search was done in English but in almost all cases we landed on Chinese pages of brand websites because the search originated from Hong Kong. Additionally, we struggled to find the English content link from these landing pages and finally left the sites utterly frustrated. Contrary to this, my experience on third-party non-branded sites was great. We got quite a lot of information on product attributes, quality, comparisons, price points, maintenance, etc. Simultaneously, we posted questions to our close friends on social platforms and they were kind enough to provide us information or opinion in no time. At the end of it we were thoroughly informed and could easily come up with a short list of brands that we wanted to consider.

As a next step, we decided to visit individual brand stores and multi-brand mega stores. Our first port of call was individual brand stores and we were quite excited before we stepped in. We were impressed with the store interiors and that led to high hopes only to be dashed in a matter of minutes. Information at the store level was quite different than what was available on the Internet. The sales people were inadequate to answer our questions regarding competitive advantages of their products, as they were blissfully unaware of what the competition was offering and almost all of them were quick to ridicule their competition. They kept telling us things we already knew or were not interested in knowing. In fact, none of them bothered to ask us whether we knew anything about their brands.

Needless to say our disappointment pushed us toward multi-brand stores and we encountered utter chaos as we stepped in. It took us some time before we could get a sales person to demonstrate various competitive products to us. While we could see multi-brand demonstrations, it left us even more confused as the sales people gave us contradictory information compared to what we read on the Internet or saw at the brand-stores. We had no other choice but to go back online and tap into our social circles to clear our confusion. We felt like a pendulum oscillating between two points and finally after a couple of swings from online to on-ground we reached a conclusion on what to buy.

It made me think about the way marketers manage consumer experience along the path to purchase. For many years, I have seen marketers visualising it in a linear manner – a simple journey from Point A(wareness) to Point P(urchase) with a few stations in between (engagement, consideration, intent, etc. ). It is safely assumed that in order to reach the destination (purchase) people must travel through all the stations and marketers largely use paid media to push people towards the final destination – point of purchase. In reality, path to purchase is no longer linear. It is networked and changes in real time based on new information. It is quite complex (and chaotic) with multiple entry and exit points – almost like a jumbled up Tube (train) system in any modern metropolis.

This change has created some significant challenges for brands in terms of where they land consumers. There are many reasons why consumers come to your site but there is a key reason why they leave you – mismatch of expectations. When it comes to digital, most marketers still focus on landing consumers to their own brand websites so that they can control things. Unfortunately, most brand sites alone are unable to deliver on all expectations. Also, marketers no longer exclusively own or control their brand content as it gets created and distributed by a wide range of stake holders – consumers, dealers, analysts, experts, competition, and even employees. In effect, consumers have more chances to land on externally created brand content. The social Web is making it even more interesting as you can get all the information streamed to you through your social circle. So, it is important for marketers to think about enhancing landing experiences, not only on their own websites but also across external Web spaces.

Most importantly, the concept of landing pages must extend to on-ground experiences, because in almost all high-involvement categories consumers want to touch/feel products before they can make the decision. In my observation, very rarely are digital and on-ground brand experiences well coordinated, as they are often handled by two different agencies or marketing teams. Needless to say, consumers suffer rough landings leading to high dissonance.

It inspires me to draw a parallel from aviation – take off, flying, and landing. Currently I see our industry largely focusing on ‘take-offs’ (awareness) and ‘flying’ (engagement). We need to move beyond and focus on mastering the ‘art of landing’ – online and on-ground – so that we can deliver a meaningful brand experience. Remember, you don’t get a pat on your back by flying the plane unless you know how to land it well.

(Originally published on Oct. 14, 2010 on ClickZ.Asia)