How to Gather and Leverage Consumer Path-to-Purchase Research

In your brand’s early development stages, you likely gave much thought to the idea of a buyer persona.

You researched who you expected to purchase your products, how they would interact with your brand, and which factors would influence them to choose your brand over a competitor’s. You painted a picture of what their needs are, what they do, and how their key motivators would align with your offerings. 

Now, it’s time to see that journey in action. 

The path to purchase describes the journey that your target buyers take from the moment they first discover your product or service until they ultimately decide to buy it. The better you understand this journey, the easier it is to connect with them at key milestones and decision points to convert them from awareness to consideration to purchase, and then to repeat purchases.

Today, we’re sharing how to conduct this research effectively and what to do with the results you uncover. 

Consumer Path to Purchase

What Is the Path to Purchase?

Put simply, the path to purchase encompasses all of the steps that your users take as they convert from a prospect into a paying customer. This can include multiple different channels, touchpoints, and platforms. 

While each person’s brand experience will be nuanced and unique, most leads take a few central steps as they travel along this journey. These include:

  • Becoming aware of the offering
  • Reviewing the offering and considering possible alternatives
  • Making a first purchase decision
  • Making a repeat purchase decision

Also known as a customer journey or buyer journey, the path to purchase can be a valuable part of your audience analysis. It allows you to climb inside the mind of your prospective buyers, and current buyers and understand why and how they’re engaging with your brand. 

Let’s break these stages down a little, explaining the important aspects to research and analyze. 

The Awareness Stage

The first step in the path to purchase is awareness. This is the moment that your prospective customers first learn about your brand, and it sets the tone and the stage for the rest of your interactions together. 

Years ago, mass marketing campaigns were more effective than they were today. Modern buyers want customization and personalization at every turn, and 80% are more likely to purchase from a brand that offers tailored experiences. This means that gone are the days when you could send out one e-mail blast or a generic postcard to your leads and expect them to convert. 

Now, the most effective ways to reach your target audience include: 

  • Online advertising
  • Social media advertising
  • E-mail advertising
  • Organic search results
  • Direct mail marketing
  • Word of mouth and customer referrals

Not only should these outreach measures be personalized, but they should also include a call-to-action (CTA) that encourages users to take that next step. Do you want them to check out your website, sign up for your e-newsletter, contact you to set up a consultation? Remember to make the CTA clear, actionable, and easy to follow.

How to Gather Research

Once you’ve initiated the path to purchase, you can track your marketing efforts, e.g., engagement and response rate, to understand how effective your chosen tactics were. For instance, with inbound marketing campaigns, most website analytics platforms, such as Google Analytics, or CRM systems, such as, HubSpot, allow you to easily monitor the traffic going to your website, the number of views each blog gets, or the success rate of your paid online ads.

Regularly review these numbers to understand which channels are the most successful. Then, fine-tune the most profitable ones and look for ways to eliminate or phase out the ones that aren’t as fruitful. 

For larger brands with national distribution, you can also conduct advertising and brand awareness tracking research to understand the percentage of consumers who are aware of your advertising and brand, pre vs. post the execution of your marketing campaign or in regular intervals such as, one or two times per year. 

Key questions to ask at this stage include:

  • How are target buyers becoming aware of your brand?
  • What channels are they using most frequently to learn about your brand
  • How long do they spend reviewing your advertising and outreach materials? 
  • What percentage of viewers respond to our CTA?

The Review and Consideration Stage

Piquing the interest of your target buyer is only the first part of the path to purchase. Next, the prospect will consider all of the features that your company or product offers, comparing them against others in your same space. They’re looking for differentiators that set your brand apart, such as price point, quality, speed of delivery, product features, and more. 

To perform this competitive analysis, they may perform the following steps:

  • Read online reviews
  • Ask for feedback on social media
  • Review product specification sheets
  • Check out peer referrals
  • Watch webinars and videos
  • Speak with different retailers, distributors and dealers

At the core of this step is the buyer’s need for information and insights. If you can provide this intelligence about your solution better than anyone else can, then you’re more likely to move them from this phase of the buyer journey to the next. 

How to Gather Research

In this step, you’ll need to research and manage your online presence and reputation. Do you know what your target buyers will see when they search for your brand name online?

There are reputation management tools that can help you uncover and respond to your company reviews. In addition to the reviews on your website or Google Business Profile, remember to also check common and industry-specific third-party review sites. 

Another area to research is how well you’ve explained and demonstrated your product or service. If a prospective customer wanted to learn more about how your solution works, are there online descriptions, manuals, sheets, videos, or in-store signage that make this step simple? The more transparent you can be, the easier it is to compare your solution against another. 

Key questions to ask at this stage include:

  • Where do our target buyers go to find and compare offerings? 
  • What information do we need to provide to stand out in our competitive market?
  • What are the critical deal-breakers for our buyers? 
  • How do our buyers weigh different pros and cons for each solution?
  • Is this stage a delightful experience or a pain point for buyers?

The Purchasing Stage

After a lead discovers and researches your brand, they may decide to take that next step and make a purchase. To help them get there, you’ll need to provide information that reveals why your company or offering is the best fit for their needs. 

Depending on the solution you offer, this could require the buyer to make a significant investment. They’ll want to review all of their options and compare top features to make sure they’re making a wise decision. 

How to Gather Research

This final stage of the path to purchase is all about sealing the deal. Research your company’s current methods for engaging prospects and moving them along the sales funnel. 

Some companies with “Business to Business” (B2B) offerings might use this time to perform presentations, pitches, and demos to share how their products work. Others with “Business to Consumer” (B2C) offerings might use advertising, on-package claims, third-party endorsements and in-store signage to demonstrate their benefits to prospective buyers. . The nature of your business and the type of audience you serve will dictate the exact strategy you deploy. 

Key questions to ask at this stage include:

  • What are the most important criteria in our buyers’ decision-making process?
  • Where do they make the purchase?
  • Who is involved in the buyer’s decision?
  • Do buyers need to test our products before they buy?
  • What questions will our buyers have about buying and implementing our offering?
  • How does the purchase make the buyer feel?

How to Gather Customer Insights Effectively

At each stage of the consumer path to purchase, you’ll have the opportunity to gather insights into buyer behaviors. As you do, it’s important to know what metrics to track, when to dive in, and who to involve. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of the data you obtain. 

Combine Qualitative and Quantitative Data

As brands seek to improve their buyers’ path to purchase experience, most are focused primarily on hard numbers, aka quantitative data, about the purchase, including volume, amount and frequency of sales, who and where purchased, percent of repeat purchases, etc. While this type of behavioral data is extremely important -, but don’t underestimate the value of qualitative insights about the buying journey. 

The ultimate goal of each phase is to understand the mindset of your buyers, and you can’t get there with quantitative measurements alone. You need to understand the emotions that your prospective buyers are feeling, as well as what’s behind their concerns, hesitancies, and excitement. 

A few of the ways you can capture qualitative feedback include:

  • In-Depth Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Mobile Missions
  • Observational studies, such as ethnography studies
  • Expert opinions

Not only are these insights helpful in directing your current and future campaigns, but they can also motivate your internal stakeholders. If you can share direct quotes and client feedback with your C-suite and marketing teams, it’s easier for them to understand the human side of their work, in addition to the technical and economical side. 

Consider All Parties Involved

For some B2C companies, there is a primary shopper involved in each brand interaction. However, most B2B transactions involve other, behind-the-scenes decision-makers and influencers. 

As such, resist the temptation to consider the path to purchase as strictly linear and one-dimensional in nature. In reality, it’s more multi-faceted and complex.

Try to learn about the key stakeholders involved in buying decisions, as well as their specific roles. It also helps to understand how they interact with one another, as well as when each one enters and leaves the buyer journey. While some will be involved from start to finish, others may join and leave at different times. 

Start Earlier Than Expected

To get the fullest view of your path to purchase, don’t start your research at the first time the buyer and seller interact. Instead, go back even further to the pre-shopping stage. Increasingly, this means analyzing how buyers live, work, and how they find and compare offerings to meet their needs. 

Today, most buyers are hopping online to discover new brands. In fact, in the B2B sphere, the average customer performs 12 different searches before deciding to engage with a specific brand. While it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly when a buyer first discovers your brand, spend time exploring different purchasing triggers to understand how to optimize these interactions. 

Your Source for Expert Customer Insights 

As you research and learn more about your customerpath to purchase, you can customize and fine-tune your offerings and marketing communications to appeal precisely to those who are interested in them the most. 

At SIVO, we’re dedicated to helping our clients understand their buyers’ needs, beliefs, and behaviors. We can help you gain visibility and address challenges by asking the right questions directly to your target audiences. Then, we’ll work with you to turn those insights into actionable steps that can drive conversions, improve engagement, and build brand reputation. Contact us at Contact@SIVOInsights.com or go to SIVOInsights.com today to schedule a discovery call and connect!

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