Marketers Can Map the Consumer’s Journey To Purchase

map and compass

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The explosion of digital channels, the always-on media ecosystem, and the increasingly mobile consumer challenge even the savviest of digital marketers with the simple question: how can I reach the right consumer, at the right time, in the right place, and with the right message to influence his or her purchase decision? There is a way, and this time, it’s the marketers (not the consumers) making the crucial decisions along the consumer path to purchase.

Not long ago, our industry collectively concluded that the traditional purchase funnel is dead. McKinsey even responded with a non-linear approach – the “Consumer Decision Journey.” Their research showed that consumers tended to journey in circles (battlegrounds) where marketers could win or lose.
McKinley Consumer Decision Journey

The circularity of the McKinsey model tells us that during their journey, consumers are all over the place. It only takes a click to embark on a journey away from the brand – but it also only takes a single click to come back.  Consumers can come 99% of the way towards the conversion, but then regress back to researching, simply because it’s easy to do.

McKinsey’s model is indeed a good metaphor for what is happening in the field – it’s just not actionable. So what’s a digital marketer to do?

There’s data out there and lots of it, but we need to consider data reduction techniques that condense information into manageable insights so that we can use them in the decision making process. Dive into the data and start allocating resources and strategies against consumer behavior.


  • Start from the lowest common denominator – an individual consumer’s path to purchase – and build from the bottom up. Each individual path is different, but the combinations are not infinite. A deep, hard look into the data trail consumers leave behind and a meaningful summarization can and should be attempted by any company interested in how their consumers really arrive at the purchase decision.
  • Cluster around behavioral variables. Ad exposure, search queries, visits to the brand website, visits to competitors, repeat visits, reading reviews, visits to aggregator stores, and purchase reviews are all typical touch points that consumers encounter on the way to purchase.
  • Extract the commonalities found in individual paths and identify a manageable number of distinct behavioral patterns. Every brand is different, but in our experience three to seven paths are sufficient to describe consumers in their progress towards the conversion and easy enough for a marketer to craft separate messaging strategies. This helps to engage consumers with the right message and impact the decision process at the right time. Keep a close eye on marketing costs and isolate the digital paths that are driving the most ROI for the business – then steer consumers towards them.

This data mining approach allows marketers to extract prevailing path characteristics of their consumers and brands, and by revising their marketing strategies, influence consumers’ actual journeys toward the purchase.

About Yaakov Kimelfeld:
Yaakov Kimelfeld, Ph.D., is Chief Research Officer at Compete. He is an industry expert in media research and analytics and is responsible for the establishment of best-in-class processes for refining and expanding Compete's data, analytic, and research products. Connect with him on Twitter @YaakovKimelfeld.