The idea that the purchase decision journey is not linear has been around for years. I wrote about it in The Global Brand in 2008, referencing Prophet’s Brand Touchpoint Wheel from earlier that decade (click here for a 2003 reference).
Don’t get me wrong, I think the McKinsey decision journey is an improvement on the purchase funnel. As I wrote in The Global Brand:
A good discipline for developing a customer-centric view is to lay out the different contact points that consumers have with your brand, starting from their first contacts, when they may not even be considering a purchase in the category, through the purchase process and the experience of the brand in use.
I like the fact that the McKinsey model includes a separate track for the post-purchase experience and a loyalty loop. It reminds us that the job of marketing is to help retain existing brand buyers not just acquire new ones.
But perhaps McKinsey and I need to let go of the idea of a decision journey and start thinking about a cloud. As Sue Elms comments in this POV, the world is becoming far more complex than a mere loop. It might be better to think of our potential and current customers existing in a cloud of turbulent and sometimes conflicting influences.
Sue proposes that instead of targeting people at specific points on the path to purchase – be it funnel or loop – we need to plan for “meaningful coincidences.” The objective of each coincidence is to help create a center of gravity around a brand based on people’s impressions accumulated over time.
In future, Sue suggests the challenge will be to ensure that any combination of communications will be effective, because we cannot guarantee that people will encounter them in the “right” order. Sue states:
Though their specific tasks may differ, each impression must stay true to the core idea of the brand, and must be designed to prime and recruit other impressions in the Cloud. It will be vital to find something that works through every connection. Iconography, symbolism, idiom, and implicit communication will become far more important to support the delivery of powerful and synergistic brand impressions.
So maybe the McKinsey decision journey is still too simplistic. It fails to capture the random, fluid nature of people’s interaction with brand touch points, be they paid, owned or earned. And in spite of the fact that marketing communications are becoming ever more fragmented – digital as well as traditional – the authors still assume that marketers will be able to target people at specific points in the purchase process. It is an increasingly false assumption, but a very cozy and reassuring one. I guess the problem is that we all like simplicity, irrespective of the complexities of the world we live in. That’s why the purchase funnel has lasted so long.
So what do you think? Are we dealing with a funnel, a loop or a cloud? Are most comms plans delusional? Please share your thoughts.