Turbocharging Your Purchase Journey Studies

August 14, 2023
By Joe Beier, Principal, JFB Growth Partners

A detailed understanding of how your shoppers navigate their journeys to the moment of purchasing your products is a bedrock insight buttressing any claim of being “customer centric.” Most branded players understand this reality. Despite their “mission critical” status, many purchase journey studies are underdelivering on their full potential, offering interesting glimpses of the journey, but failing to lay out a complete and actionable picture of the holistic journey process. Some simple tactical adjustments to your planning and execution of purchase journey work can make the difference between findings that are merely “interesting” and those that can be truly transformational to the business.

Figure 1: A 360-degree view of a purchase journey

Begin at the end

In my 20+ years of running these journey studies, I have found one of the most powerful questions to ask  my clients at the outset of a study is, “What will you do differently when you have these insights in hand vs. today?” Navigating this question puts the business (as opposed to the research) at the center of the discussion. Perhaps a “challenger brand” has recently taken a big bite of share and we need to stop the bleeding. Maybe we have a great digital brand presence and a desire to leverage that more fully for growth. These scenarios would drive some differences in study focus and outputs.

Key to this approach is enrolling the brand stakeholders. What are their KPIs? Do they have pet hypotheses about what happens on the journey that the study should be sure to explore? Not only will this enrollment ensure key issues are addressed, but it will also greatly boost the level to which the findings are embraced and actioned, as brand stakeholders also now have study “ownership.”

Harness the power of a multi-methodology learning plan

Most comprehensive purchase journey studies are anchored on a quantitative online survey methodology. This methodology has proven utility in enabling a holistic and in-depth view of a shopper’s journey. But depending on learning objectives, additional methodologies may provide vital enhancements to the insights delivered. For example, what is the state of existing purchase journey knowledge? Are we updating a similar study from four years ago, or do we not know what we don’t know? If the latter, appending some front-end exploratory qualitative is likely a good investment and can ensure the quant study is covering the right ground, and querying shoppers in their vernacular. Alternatively, if we know that online research is a vital touchpoint, we might do well to consider a “drill down” behavioral study to identify specific online behaviors — search terms, sites consulted, navigational patterns, dwell times, etc. While the core online study can identify “online” touchpoints as “influential” in decisions, respondents cannot reasonably be asked to recall these granular online behaviors.

Embrace “Not all shoppers are created equal”

Journey insights are most powerful if derived from, and focused on, the shopper segments which are the priority targets for the brand. If a segmentation exists, the typing tool should be incorporated into the journey study questionnaire and reporting should focus on those priority segments. If there is no existing segmentation, the journey study can be expanded to enable the statistical derivation of a segmentation structure. This would likely be a “shopper” segmentation (i.e., modeled based on shopping behaviors) vs. a classical “consumer” segmentation (typically modeled on consumption and attitudinal dimensions). This segment-focused approach can help to manage one of the inherent challenges of journey studies: the heterogeneity of journeys across the range of shoppers within a given category. An added benefit of this approach is that it better enables dimensionalizing journeys across both rational (i.e., “What I did and why”) and emotional characteristics (i.e., “How did I feel about that part of the journey”) which opens many more opportunities to impact the journey in favor of your brand.

Activate like you mean it!

Journey studies need to be viewed as a means not an end. The study is not “done” once findings have been shared and the deck binder sits on the deck of the research lead. This is not an end, as much as what I like to call the start of the fun stuff! Now we get to consider vital questions such as:

  • What do these findings imply for what we can/should be doing in the market?
  • How do we channel these insights into winning in-market programs that can juice the business?

To stop short of addressing these questions is a major miss in extracting max value from your study. To execute, start with an “Activation Workshop” – a half-or full-day session in which trained moderators lead ideation breakouts with your cross-functional teams that touch the brand in some way. These should yield a long list of seed ideas/concepts for actual in-market programs that are rooted in the journey insights and can be prioritized and developed for launch.

Figure 2: Example of a journey map

Also boosting activation is the development of “Journey Maps” which visually depict the stages of the journey in a highly digestible way to enable the socialization of the insights throughout the organization. Think of this as the one-pager you can pull out and present to a senior manager in the lunchroom in ten minutes. Ultimately, some organizations go so far as to make study findings available in real time on internal portals or dashboards which can greatly boost the degree to which findings permeate the organization.

Start implementing these best practice guidelines on your next purchase journey study — and start your own journey to “next level” insights!