BrainTrust Query: What if it all STARTS with the purchase?
Commentary by Joel Rubinson, Chief Research Officer, The
Advertising Research Foundation
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion
is an excerpt from a current article from the Joel Rubinson on Marketing
Research Consulting blog.
Traditional marketing theory tells us that the
purchase is the successful outcome of consumer-directed messages that create
awareness, which begets interest, desire, and action. But what if it all
starts with the purchase?
Well, for certain types of products and retailing
situations, I believe it does. Consider this:
- Conduct a study to measure the percent of products bought for the first
time that are discovered in-store (I got 50 percent+)
- Do you think the products bought for the first time on impulse in a Kroger,
Trader Joe’s, Costco, Target, etc. are all the same and were previously known?
If not, then you believe that brand adoption can start via the shopping experience.
- Consider shopping styles that people have, reflecting their relationship
with a product category. Can you imagine categories (e.g. artisan cheeses)
where shoppers like to explore and find new interesting products to buy?
This last point is perhaps the most important. People have different shopping
styles for different product categories which means that the heuristics they
use to make decisions are systematic. You might not ever buy carbonated soft
drinks the way you buy interesting dips that you just tried at a tasting station.
This is where behavioral economics intersects marketing. Hence, some products
will predominantly be bought via a process that starts in-store. Others will
be bought based more on the traditional marketing model requiring awareness
built via mass media.
When it all starts with the purchase, marketing must get the product noticed
at shelf and impart meaning to it instantaneously for the shopper. In this
communications model, when someone encounters a product they were unfamiliar
with, they should be able make sense of it instantly; to tell you (the marketer)
what the product is about, rather than you having to tell them in a concept
statement. After the product is bought and being used, there is more sense-making
that occurs. If the consumer is really into the product as they are using
it, now you have an opportunity to build engagement: they might join a community,
become a fan in Facebook, share comments, start seeking out advertising and
recalling it, seek out the brand’s "creation story," etc.
In this scenario, the impact of brand narrative, brand values, social media
engagement, etc. come after the purchase, so they solidify rather than precondition
the brand-customer relationship.
When it all starts with the purchase, everything
that you thought was upstream becomes downstream and the thing that was the
most downstream of all, the purchase, becomes the most upstream event. This
is an extreme version of what Procter calls "store
Now, the researcher in me has to ask the rhetorical question, "Does
the marketing community have the research tools to act on this new way of thinking?"
Rhetorical because, I don’t think we do.
Discussion Questions: Do you agree that for certain categories, at least,
it all starts with the purchase? How does marketing’s role change
when awareness starts with the purchase?