Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Muddled Funnel: Greenberg on the new purchase pathway

The columns in Adweek often sound like well-articulated statements of the obvious. Recent topics include the importance of understanding your consumer and how clear differentiation helps to build a strong brand. No kidding? Bob Greenberg is often the exception, challenging the old chestnuts with new experience and evidence. This week, he uses a recent Forrester report on Engagement as a platform to discuss a number of issues challenging contemporary agencies:

Greenberg's fundamental point is that the traditional marketing funnel is obsolete. Consumers no longer follow a path from awareness to consideration to purchase to loyalty. Greenberg quotes Forrester:
"Rather than a clean, linear path, the real process looks more like a complex network of detours, back alleys, alternate entry and exit points, external influences and alternative resources."
In other words, consumers now draw on a rich array of resources; returning, checking, comparing before they make a purchase, and are likely to go through the same process again the next time they buy a similar product.

I've been ranting about this point since I left my last job. It's one of those facts that should be obvious to everyone. After all, we all know we don't shop at one store or site anymore. We just like to pretend that other consumers do because it's easier than coming to terms with the complexity of the real purchase process. Whenever some process monkey puts up one of those brand funnel charts, listing the steps of the traditional purchase pathway, I always want to ask him or her how many web sites they checked when they last booked a trip online?

As Greenberg also rightly points out, an ad can still trigger the awareness and interest but consideration and choice often happen online, and when we are evaluating product choices online we tend to be more influenced by rational than emotional appeals. In other words, we tend to favor brand sties that provide the best user experiences and prices, not necessarily brands with the best taglines. Does amazon even have a tagline?

Finally, Greenberg reminds us that if we want to motivate consumers through these new complex pathways we need to create different kinds of teams, including
"information architects, data analysts and an army of technologists of various stripes." I couldn't agree more. It's why I've posted below on why all planners should learn at the least basics of IA and why our strategy group includes specialists in information architecture, user experience and analytics.

Of course, you still need get them to work together, which, like mapping a purchase pathway, is harder than it looks.

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