Following the Breadcrumbs to Guide People Through the Path-to-Purchase

Following the Breadcrumbs to Guide People Through the Path-to-Purchase

Move aside purchase funnel and make room for the path-to-purchase. You hear the headlines – “marketing is changing,” “marketing is becoming a data science,” “the CIOs now report to the CMOs (or should),” “mobile advertising is more effective than desktop advertising,” “it is about being mobile first,” “it is about offering an ‘integrated’ marketing plan,” “all herald the quantified self,” “consumer behavior has changed, everything, forever,” and the list goes on. All these headlines and countless more are speaking and referring to an inalienable truth. What is the truth you ask? Well, it is quite simple, our social norms and people’s behavior is changing, and as a consequence so is the practice of marketing.

Marketing is about service, it is about helping your company identify and fulfill the needs, wants and desires of people. Throughout most of marketing history, the majority of marketing has focused on the needs of the marketer and the marketer’s company. We’ve been shareholder-centric, company-centric, product-centric. We’ve organized our companies to be engineering driven, sales driven or marketing driven. In other words, we have been self-absorbed and focused on our needs, our offerings and what we want to accomplish.This inward focus must change. 

In order to execute effectively, we most certainly need to maintain an inward focus on all the activities above as well as create and hone our capabilities; that is, train our people, invest in technology and develop processes to achieve our goals. In a world where people have gone mobile; that is, in a world where people spend the majority of time in or are influenced by mobile and mobile-enhanced media and they’ve begun to expect one-to-one personalized treatment, it is imperative that marketers turn their primary focus away from themselves and towards people (another word  rarely used to define the consumer). Marketers must take their focus away from shuttling the “consumer” down the proverbial purchase funnel cattle shoot and direct it to guiding and helping people along their individualized path-to-purchase.  

Above is a side-by-side illustration of the purchase funnel, resting on the base of loyalty and advocacy, and path-to-purchase.

The stages and steps through and along the purchase funnel and path-to-purchase are similar, but subtle differences exist. The purchase funnel is a linear approach and view of the world through the marketer’s eyes and the marketer’s goals, while the path-to-purchase is a non-linear view, with many branches. It views the world through a person’s senses and how they go throughout the day, the week, the year, their lives, satisfying their immediate, short-term, mid-term and long-term needs, wants and desires.

These two views of the world, the purchase funnel and the path-to-purchase, are not at odds with each other. They are simply a view of the world through different lenses. To be clear, the path-to-purchase is not the purchase funnel laid on its side as it is often portrayed. People don’t care about “brand awareness,” marketers do. People care about expressing their needs or responding to conscious and unconscious exposure. Marketers need to understand that value is created between the customers’ view and their own. 

For marketers to be successful today and in the future, in the age of the the mobile-led digital economy, it is important for them develop the skills to look at the world through both lenses, the purchase funnel and the path-to-purchase. They need to be able to step out of their own shoes and put their feet into the shoes of the people they serve (their customers) and will service (their prospects). 

Putting yourself in people’s shoes is not easy or comfortable, but it must be done. The first step is to build empathy and understanding. A helpful way to do this is to understand behavior, ideally by talking with and listening to your customers directly, as explained by Jonathan Stephen from JetBlue in a  webinar I held with him. Another way to do this is to conduct primary and review secondary research. To help you to understand the behavior of people along the path-to-purchase I encourage you to read through the xAd Mobile Path To Purchase research. In 2012 and 2013, xAd conducted studies in the U.S. and the UK to evaluate mobile’s role along the path-to-purchase for the travel, auto, restaurant, retail, gas & convenience, banking & finance and insurance industries. What the studies show, not surprisingly, is that mobile has an impact, but its impact varies and its use differs along each step of a person’s journey along the path-to-purchase. Again, the insights from the xAd studies and related industry efforts are valuable breadcrumbs to understanding people today, their behavior (especially when it comes to mobile) and for putting mobile at the heart of modern-day marketing strategies.

I know it is hard, change is not easy, but as marketers we must continually re-learn our trade and adapt to the changing conditions of the marketplace.

Managing Partner at | Website

Michael Becker is an intentionally recognized identity & personal information management solutions strategic advisor, speaker, entrepreneur, and academic. He advises companies on personal information economy business strategy, product development, business development, and sales & marketing strategies. He also represents them at leading trade groups, including the Mobile Ecosystem Forum. Michael is an advisor to Assurant, Predii, Privowny, and Phoji. He is the co-author of Mobile Marketing for Dummies and a number of other books and articles related to mobile marketing, identity, and personal information management. He is on the faculty of marketing of the Association of National Advertisers and National University. A serial entrepreneur, Michael founded Identity Praxis, co-founded mCordis and The Connected Marketer Institute, was a founding member of the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), and was on the MMA board of directors for ten years and was MMA’s North American Managing Director for three years. In 2004, Michael co-founded iLoop Mobile, a leading messaging solutions provider. In 2014, Michael was awarded the 2014 Marketing EDGE Edward Mayer Education Leadership Award for his commitment to marketing education.


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