Many shopper marketing consultants are wrong. The path-to-purchase is not linear. The path-to-purchase in days gone by was just a tool “to drive consumers from the couch to the shopping mall to the aisle.” The line was:

we’ll turn consumers into shoppers and shoppers into buyers

…often where “integration” meant a “matching luggage approach” to the creative work by a range of agencies.

Yesteryear’s Path-to-Purchase

Putting the matching luggage issue aside, this Path-to-Purchase, which we might call “yesteryear’s p2p” only works now for TOTALLY NEW products. You see, for the majority of products – from recognised brands – social media has changed the path-to-purchase for ever.

Today, we’re all familiar with the idea that there exists a myriad of new channels for consumers to communicate to each other. Brands now can thrive or die because of these interactions.

New channels should be considered as springboards for conversations, for the frequent, lightweight interactions that are vital in today’s socially networked society.

The path-to-purchase now starts with your current, engaged audience. Your current buyers. We can give them a regular reason to repurchase and an always-on platform to express their advocacy to their own groups across their own social networks. Their advocacy can then be used to promote awareness to this new audience.

The Virtuous Communication Cycle

We’re not talking here about display advertising on social networks like Facebook, but rather, as The Economist notes this week, Facebook is probably worth $100bn because of three reasons, one of which is:

social marketing. Few sales pitches are as persuasive as a recommendation from a friend, so the billions of interactions on Facebook now influence everything from the music that people buy to the politicians they vote for.

You see, Shopper Marketing is not only about targeting elusive influencers, but also targeting your currently engaged buyers, and their extended circle of influence.*

In this way, the path-to-purchase has become The Virtuous Communication Cycle** where each item of communication – each consumer touchpoint – relates back in its own way to the Big Idea at the heart of the Virtuous Communication Cycle.

PS Okay, admittedly at times it’s convenient to show the path-to-purchase as linear; in these cases we should look first to the current customers and use their loyalty and then advocacy to leverage awareness amongst their spheres of influence:

The All-New Path-to-Purchase

* Indeed some say that it’s not the influencers who matter. Rather, it’s about targeting the groups that matter. See Grouped, by @padday who also tweets that his “least favourite word is influencer“.

** The Virtuous Communication Cycle or the VCC has not been trade marked. Not by me. You’re welcome to it. Acknowledgement in a creative commons fashion is appreciated. Please note, the VCC only works if there is a big idea at the centre!