Pathway to Purchase | Our Services | Ruby Cha Cha

Pathway to Purchase


The aim of every marketer is to reach consumers at the time which most influences their decision making on the pathway to purchase. This is when the consumer is open to influence and will welcome brand and product information.

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Traditional thought is that there is a ‘funnel approach’ when making a purchase decision. We start with a number of brands / products we’re aware of and through a series of stages the number of options are systematically reduced. Think of those classic models from any Marketing 101 course such as the AIDA model of: Awareness to Interest to Desire to Action.

This type of purchase journey may well be true for a number of purchase situations but that’s not to say it’s a linear process of elimination for every need-state, for every category or for every individual.

As researchers we are looking to understand the particular traits of different purchase cycles across categories. As a starting point, there are some common elements which can help guide us in shaping these different paths to purchase. These are:

Something worth highlighting is that at the pre-contemplation stage a number of touchpoints are continually influencing us, even before we enter active consideration. These include:

  • Word of mouth
  • Social media
  • The internet
  • Past purchases
  • Advertising

There’s a number of criteria to consider when researching and understanding the shape of a path to purchase:

  • Is the purchase a product or a service?
  • Is it a repertoire or single brand category?
  • Is it a habitual or considered purchase?
  • How much purchase risk is there?

Take many FMCG purchase journeys, they’re about reinforcing habits and loyalty or they’re looking to encourage switching by disrupting others’ established habits. Through the sheer amount of choice that is available for some FMCG categories, this can result in some very late decision making.

The next time you’re in a supermarket, take a look at how people are reacting to a whole aisle of cereal options. With so much choice, you’ll see people changing their minds right at the point of purchase.

This poses the question: To what extent are brand experiences required in an FMCG purchase journey?

For a more high involvement category such as home loans, the key cues are not going to rely on the number of brands you’re aware of in an infrequently used category. What’s required is reassurance of a brand or a product’s credentials to help guide the decision in a complex category riddled with complex small print.

When it comes to technology based purchases we can be so well informed about products by simply Googling reviews while in-store. This amount of available information allows us to circle back on what we once thought was the ‘final’ decision.

From these examples it’s safe to say there is definitely more than one model of pathway to purchase to understand and here’s three potential models we consider when working on pathway to purchase projects at Ruby Cha Cha.

1. The Classic Linear Model

Let’s start with ‘the classic’ consumer funnel - aka the ‘journey to loyalty’ or the ‘hierarchy of effects’. Underpinned by the AIDA approach, it’s been popularised by the likes of P&G and Unilever with the advent of mass media; radio in the 30's and TV from 50's.

Despite its age, it is the foundation of most approaches to brand health and equity measurement with the aim of getting as many loyalists as possible.

Traits of this model include:

  • It’s about the reduction of brands.
  • It’s linear.
  • It assumes consumers already have a need for the category.
  • It also assumes people are familiar and knowledgeable about their options in order to take it through to the next stage.

2. The ‘Bulge’ Model

This funnel has a bulge in it – it’s not based solely on the reduction of brands. Consumer awareness does not have to be the entry point or determinant of success. Decisions are based on the discovery of further options, learning, and initial filtering. The internet is a key enabler for this model and this has been accelerated with social media and mobile devices.

Traits of this model include:

  • It’s not linear.
  • The 'evaluate' stage is also an entry point for more options.
  • It’s about empowered consumers who can seek out relevant brands (especially through digital or social) rather than being ‘sold to’. This makes it:
    • Easier and faster for pre-purchase search.
    • Easier and wider WOM advocacy.
    • Easier and more cost effective for consumer participation.

3. The Circular Model

A limitation of the path or funnel analogy, is that it has a definite start and end point that suggests a focus on acquisition. But a big part of the work marketers do is to focus on retention, as this provides:

  • More assured sales.
  • Lower marketing costs.
  • Greater brand value.

Some suggest loyalty creates a short cut straight back to the purchase and in some instances this is true. But in many instances the consumer will go back through the cycle again. The role of loyalty here is to build resistance to competitive offers at the 'aware', 'evaluate', and 'consider' stages.

Traits of this model include:

  • It’s a cycle as to where new prospects / customers can join.
  • There are also points at which customers can ‘churn out’ or switch brands.

We want to be able to inform marketers on how to reach customers in the right place, at the right time, and with the right message. As researchers looking to understand more complex paths to purchase, Ruby Cha Cha has a number of tools at our disposal.

Through a mix of longitudinal research, in-depth interviews, mobile diaries and accompanied shopping outings we can:

  • Identify what’s relevant at different stages. Respondents are recruited based on their proximity to point of purchase within a category, allowing us to uncover how the stages are different.
  • Record activity related to the purchase pathway. Through written accounts, video recordings and materials uploaded to an online community for moderator observation and discussion.
  • Assign respondents ‘missions’. Which allows behaviours and experiences to be observed and recorded

This allows us to establish the framework for any category and to show how different touchpoints work for purchases and loyalty.

Get in touch with Ruby Cha Cha

Get in touch with Ruby Cha Cha