The customer’s path to purchase is a lot more complex than it used to be

Persuasive advertising theory a century ago had marketers trying to reach consumers with the same message three times - the first to make them aware of the product or service, the next to build their knowledge of it and then the third to drive that consumer’s intention to buy it. 

Take the marketing of wine in the first couple of decades of the 1900s. Penfolds is a great illustration. There are some terrific examples to be found in the various state library archives, all extolling the unequalled quality of the grapes and the wine itself. It was a single-minded message, delivered to the potential consumer along the various points of what was then a fairly simple path to purchase. Make the consumer aware of the wine via the print ad, remind them as they pass a billboard on the train on the way home, build their knowledge via reviewing the wine in the newspaper and sampling it at an expo, and then entice them to buy as they walk past a well-displayed store window.

Fast forward to the second decade of the 2000s, and the internet, technology and a 20-fold increase in media channels mean a consumer goes along a far more complicated path to buy a bottle of wine. Navigating all of this has become the holy grail for marketers - how to plan, articulate and adjust the role of each message within each channel in close to real time. And how best to use big data within CRM (customer relationship management), digital assets, activations, social media and advertising across a customer’s journey - from interest to discovery, to purchase, to usage, and sharing opinions afterwards.

So for a winemaker today, a customer’s path to buying its wine provides not only a great challenge for its marketers but also a great opportunity. Consider a typical 2014 journey. Customers who love wine often post on social media about which bottle they have just opened, and they subscribe to email and printed newsletters from some of their favourite wineries and their local bottle shop. They take note of the reviews from top wine critics in magazines, newspapers and online, and which wines are on special.

As they walk past a bottle shop on the way home from the station they are too time poor to stop despite having received a push message on their smartphone for $10 off any purchase. So in front of the TV that night, they Google the two wines they were thinking about, and then check out the prices at the wineries as well as two online sites and Dan Murphy’s. They look up at the TV and see Australia needs 20 runs in the last three overs to win, so they figure they can sort out the wine purchase tomorrow. The following day ads appear on from two of the sites they had searched the night before, as well as in their Twitter feed. They click on one and finally buy six bottles. They then go back online to search the best way to cellar them.

You get the picture: it’s complex. So where should marketers start? Mapping out consumers’ paths to purchase is critical, and involving agency planners, as well as retailers and major media players such as Google, is key, given the data and research they have at hand. Once the map is complete, it’s a matter of looking at each consumer’s touch point with the brand along that journey, and determining the best message and channel to use.

A recent study in the US saw 68 per cent of marketers put integrated marketing communications as the No 1 skill they were looking for from an agency and, given all of the above, it is no wonder. With a competitive advantage available to those brands that get to this marketing nirvana first, one can expect this to be a hot topic for the C Suite this year.