"Walk the walk" for a new path to purchase

It’s ironic that these days while mapping is as easy as a tap on a mobile device, marketers cannot easily follow the consumer’s path to purchase.

One thing is clear -- in the time of multiple screens and short attention spans, the same old tools for attribution aren’t going to work.

In 1898 (yes, you read that right, 1898), E. St. Elmo Lewis developed a model that, according to Wikipedia, mapped a theoretical customer journey from the moment a brand or product attracted consumer attention to the point of action or purchase.

The process included these stages:

Awareness – someone becomes aware of the existence of a product or service
Interest – a person actively expresses an interest in a product
Desire – someone aspires to a particular brand or product
Action – a person takes a next step towards purchasing the chosen product

Attribution, defined today by the Interactive Advertising Bureau as “the process of identifying a set of user actions ('events') across screens and touch points that contribute in some manner to a desired outcome, and then assigning value to each of these events,” started in the era of households and mass TV/radio/magazine advertising that led to first attempts at data.

It was originally driven by demographics and gave rise to AC Nielsen and IRI to try to explain brand affinity and how folks were influenced to buy those brands. They did this by sampling a small percentage of the consumer base and then extrapolating the answers to infer “shopper insights” across the entire population.

Then the world changed. Marketers were hit with waves of technology which, although developed separately, were never intended to stand alone – social media, smartphones, cloud, big data. Affinity is no longer derived by these dated practices but rather expressed by consumers openly in social media. In fact, U.S. consumers now spend over 260 minutes per day on mobile.

The impact of these technologies created an imbalance between consumers and brands. Consumer adoption of these technologies allowed for greater power and information over their shopping activities. Brands were slow to react and were handicapped trying to make sense of the new consumer behavior using antiquated tools and methods. We all watched as mass marketing rapidly faded away to make room for one-to-one marketing.

The IAB points out that “the most widely used methodology for single source attribution is the ‘last click’ or ‘last touch’ model, which is considered by many practitioners to represent an incomplete picture of advertising value. It nonetheless has been very widely used due to its simplicity of implementation and the perceived lack of legitimate measurement alternatives.”

In this modern era, it’s imperative that marketers resist falling for fancy algorithms designed to prop up faulty marketing tactics. Instead, attribution should happen organically as a product of a coordinated closed loop between marketing and point-of-sale.

How is this accomplished? By understanding the new consumer touchpoints, observing how they respond to triggers and learning to correctly predict their behaviors.

It is no longer good enough to have “shopper insights” when real-time purchase (and behavioral) data are available. Leading marketers measure everything and have gone to great lengths to aggregate or acquire data to define their assumed path to purchase. What we need to understand is that the new path to purchase is not a singular phenomenon but a path which is unique to every individual consumer.

For a brand to be successful today that brand must be present and delight each individual consumer by “walking the walk” with them on their path to purchase.

Jeffrey Sampson is a co-founder and CEO of Upside Commerce. Prior to Upside, he was co-founder and CEO of a marketing technology startup, a global director of product management at Microsoft and venture capitalist. He is also a data geek, brand ambassador, lacrosse statistician, youth football coach and foodie.