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The Digital Path to Purchase Punches Holes in the Marketing Funnel

October 20, 2015


“You’re more likely to survive a plane crash than you are to click a banner ad,” writes Jason Goldberg (@retailgeek), Senior Vice President of Commerce & Content at Razorfish.[1] And if that news isn’t bad enough for marketers, Accenture analysts Pete Choo and Irenie Poitras add, “Consumers today are less loyal to brands than ever before.”[2] Those facts underscore the challenges marketers face when trying to convert a prospect into a buyer while they are on their digital path to purchase. As Goldberg points out, “You can research and buy virtually any product, at any time, from any touch point.” For over a hundred years, the accepted assumption was that once you convinced a potential buyer to enter the marketing funnel they would inevitably emerge as a consumer out the bottom of the funnel. Goldberg elaborates:

“St. Elmo Lewis imagined the marketing funnel in 1898. He postulated that people take particular steps in the purchase journey (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action) in a prescribed order. By predicting the most important touch point at each step, marketers could build a perfect experience for each phase in the funnel. Because it starts with awareness, the funnel puts a priority on one-to-many advertising. Make the most people possible aware of your brand, and a subset will progress to the Interest phase. So TV and banner ads have predominated marketers’ media plans.”

The rise of e-commerce and the digital path to purchase have poked so many holes in the traditional marketing funnel that it leaks consumers like a sieve. In order to reach consumers in today’s business environment, marketing must become more personal and more mobile. “Personal technology is shaping shopper expectations to an unprecedented degree,” reports Pan Demetrakakes, “and retailers must adapt if they want to take advantage, according to a new survey by Cognizant, a global IT services and consulting firm.”[3] The survey highlights the fact that shoppers are increasingly using their mobile devices when making purchases and that consumers expect to be rewarded for sharing data with retailers when they participate in loyalty programs. Demetrakakes continues:

“The Shopper Experience Study, a survey of more than 5,000 North American shoppers, centered on certain consumer desires and concerns as they relate to technology, including:

• 64 percent of consumers said they buy online at least once a month, and 13 percent make weekly purchases.

• 80 percent of shoppers are members of at least one retailer loyalty program, and 32 percent of shoppers consider loyalty one of the top three reasons for not making a purchase from the lowest-priced retailer.

• 55 percent of shoppers reported using their smartphones to comparison shop, and 25 percent of shoppers say they use their mobile devices to compare prices ‘most of the time’ while shopping.

Comparison shopping may be more prevalent for big-ticket items like electronics and appliances, but it’s increasingly taking hold for groceries and other consumable goods, says Cognizant senior vice president Steven Skinner.”

Skinner also stated, “Food and other CPG retailers can enhance convenience through [the] judicious offering of apps.” Goldberg insists that comparison shopping isn’t the only thing influencing today’s shopper. Social media is also having an impact. “The problem is,” he writes, “people don’t follow a linear purchase path anymore. They’re continuously getting information that influences their preferences, even when they are not ‘shopping.’ Their preferences are far more likely to be shaped by a friend’s social media post, or by ratings and reviews, than they are by the reputation of a particular brand. And when they decide they want to buy something, they expect to be able to do so in that moment, wherever they happen to be.” Goldberg calls this new business environment the Ubiquitous Commerce era. Tom Furphy (@tomfurphy), chairman of IdeoClick, told Bill Bishop (@BrickMeetsClick) that we shouldn’t be surprised by this change in the landscape. “The digital path to purchase is the next logical step in the path to purchase evolution,” he stated. “Segmentation and broad messages were necessary when we didn’t have the tools and technology to enable individual consumer connections. Now we’re beginning see the technology that will drive these connections and better measurement, too. … With the digital path to purchase (DP2P), success is measurable down to the most granular level. DP2P is an ‘always on’ connection between brands, retailers and shoppers that’s enabled by a range of digital touch points.”[4] Whether you want to call it “ubiquitous” or “always on,” the concept is identical. The challenge for retailers and marketers is to find a way to attract consumers in a more personal way. Goldberg likes a framework developed by Google’s Avinash Kaushik (@avinash) called the See-Think-Do-Love framework. Goldberg explains:

“See-Think-Do-Love refers to audience intent clusters that marketers need to address at every touch point. See is the largest addressable qualified audience that might want to buy our product. Think is people who have already shown some purchase intent. Do is people looking to make a purchase. And Love is loyal customers who have purchased from us at least twice before. Commerce media dictates that we create unique content and messaging for all four intent clusters, and that we devise separate success criteria for each.”

In the Ubiquitous Commerce era, Goldberg believes that the best bang for your buck can be found in the “Do” segment (i.e., people looking to make a purchase). As a result, he believes that marketing and sales cannot operate as organizational silos but must work as a team that leverages what he calls commerce media. “Whereas the standard media model overloads resources on See,” he writes, “commerce media starts budget allocation with prospective customers in the market now (Do), then casts a wider net by funding engagement campaigns for Think, Love and See customers. By messaging according to intent rather than demographics, marketing gets much more relevant.” As president and CEO of a cognitive computing company, I would be remiss if I didn’t make a pitch for the benefits that cognitive computing systems can bring to the commerce media approach. Cognitive computing can handle all of the variables that need to be analyzed and can provide actionable insights that can help foster a team approach to commerce media.


Choo and Poitras have a slightly different view about what companies should do to attract customers on the digital path to purchase. “The change in shopper behavior is being driven by a combination of two major trends in CPG,” they write. “‘Liquid expectations’ and the data-capture enabled by the internet of things are converging to make the CPG market considerably more competitive.” So they ask, “How can CPG companies ensure they are creating the most outstanding services and experiences? How can they stay one step ahead of their rivals in delighting — and retaining — their core customers?”

According to Choo and Poitras, the only way to react to changes in customer behavior is to change along with them. “The most forward-looking CPG companies are developing services that focus on giving each consumer exactly what he or she cares about most,” they write. “These companies are sympathetic to their consumers’ needs, concerns and preferences to an unprecedented level of detail. Perhaps the most striking aspect of these new services is that they do not stay still. They morph and evolve to reflect changes in the consumer’s lifestyle and habits. Truly, they are ‘living services’.” Cognitive computing capabilities are necessary to keep track of these changes so that living services can transform in near-real-time to meet emerging consumer tastes.


[1] Jason Goldberg, “It’s Time For A Commerce Approach To Media,” MediaPost, 29 September 2015.
[2] Pete Choo and Irenie Poitras, “Bringing Services To Life: Introducing The Emerging World Of Living Services,” MediaPost, 23 September 2015.
[3] Pan Demetrakakes, “Personal Tech Shapes Shopping,” Retail Leader, 22 September 2015.
[4] Bill Bishop, “Exploring the digital path to purchase with Tom Furphy,” Brick Meets Click, 16 March 2015.

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