CPGmatters: PepsiCo Gathers Shopper Insights Along the Path to Purchase

May 10, 2010

By Dan Alaimo

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary
of a current article from the monthly e-zine, CPGmatters.

The path to purchase is not a straight line, and neither is it a circle as
some have described it. It is more like a pool or a "puddle," said
Sonja Mathews, director of strategy and consumer insights, PepsiCo. "We’ve
seen a lot of models that are circular in nature. It almost infers a linear
relationship to the path to purchase, but I don’t think it is linear.
I think a shopper is really a time traveler."

For instance, she added, when shoppers are in a traditional path-to-purchase
venue, which is usually a store, they are referring back to home-based occasions
for which they are going through that shopping experience. When they see a
particular brand on the shelf, they are thinking back to the time that they
tried that brand. When they see something they don’t recognize, they
are thinking about future uses for that brand."

As a result, Ms. Mathews said, the path-to-purchase is complete. At any stage
in the consumers’ purchase consideration cycle, "the stakes are
very high for us — as retailers, as brands, or as agencies — to
make or break that tenuous connection. So I really think that the path to purchase
is more of a puddle."

Ms. Mathews spoke in Chicago as part of a panel at the annual conference hosted
by the Association for Integrated Marketing (formerly the Promotion Marketing
Association), New York.

The path to purchase involves the shopper, but also anyone interested in,
affected by, or even observing the brand purchase, according to Ms. Mathews.

would be not only people who are pushing the big cart, but also the people
who are whispering in the ear of the person pushing the big cart. These are
influencers, who might not even be in the store. Then there are those who see
somebody else trying something, and think, ‘I wonder if that’s for me.’
That is a magical moment when the path to purchase in the store begins," Ms.
Mathews said.

This complicates simpler concepts of path to purchase. "That neat little
circle talking about pre-shop, shop and post-shop is maybe not quite so applicable."

to an earlier presentation at the conference by a Target Corp. executive, she
pointed out that the retailer practices "three-dimensional selling. They
are looking for a problem to solve rather than a brand to sell, and that means
they are actually doing something very right."

Rita Bargerhuff, chief marketing officer, who was also on the PMA panel, agreed
about the "puddle" metaphor.

"I absolutely agree (path to purchase) is a puddle. The real challenge
— and I think it has always been a challenge — is that as marketers,
we are never really certain when that starts," she added.

Discussion Question: What limitations do you see in the traditional "pre-shop,
shop and post-shop" view in analyzing path to purchase? Is there a better
model that would help marketers visualize how shoppers are influenced?

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8 Comments on "CPGmatters: PepsiCo Gathers Shopper Insights Along the Path to Purchase"

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Dr. Stephen Needel
11 years 7 days ago

The weakness of a pre-shop, shop, post-shop model is only that it is often not used correctly, not that it’s wrong. We know that pre-shop stuff is critical–it’s where we form our brand associations and it where need states that precede shopping are created. We know that many choices are made in the store (shop) and that we can influence those choices. We know that product satisfaction is going to be important in reinforcing brand choice.

Our mistakes in thinking about the path come from failing to understand or appreciate the entire process and that any one marketing action or any one piece of research may only focus on one aspect of the path and there are other forces along the path that may attenuate or inflate the value of that action or research.

A puddle analogy strikes me as a refuge for people who think a path analogy is too hard to define and make operative on a business basis.

Ralph Jacobson
11 years 7 days ago

“Path to purchase” has some true value. This is just one more opportunity for the CPG and retailer to execute a joint strategy at the store. Grocery stores have basically looked the same for 100 years. To take real advantage of this concept, there should be more influence in the floor plan of the store to enable the path to purchase process. More duplication of SKU placement, based upon a shopper’s particular mission of the trip. Is she looking for large-sized value-priced items, or choice of different type of packaging? The CPG and the retailer could merchandise the SKUs in two or more different places to accommodate this shopping mission.

David Zahn
11 years 7 days ago

I agree with Stephen on this one. It is not that the model is wrong; but rather that it is at various times, integrated, components weighted differently by shopper, by shopping occasion, and by category. The inter-connectedness of the factors is where the static arises.

Ben Sprecher
Ben Sprecher
11 years 7 days ago

Ms. Mathews is absolutely correct that the path to purchase might look more like one of Billy’s errands in a Family Circus comic than the simple cycle that we usually see in a glossy PowerPoint presentation. There are a million distractions in life, and a dad who has seen all the right ads, who has tried (and enjoyed) your product, and who has written it down on the shopping list might still not buy because, with a screaming kid in the cart, he ends up hurrying by and not going down your aisle.

So, I think the point of the simplification is not to accurately capture the reality of the “path-to-purchase puddle,” but rather to help make the process manageable for marketers. It’s the 80/20 rule–you can never anticipate every possible influence on a shopper, but by simplifying the task and focusing on the major stages of the purchase puddle, you can build a plan for addressing the bulk of opportunities to influence the shopper’s behavior.

David Biernbaum
11 years 7 days ago

When consumers see a particular brand on the shelf, they are thinking back to the time that they tried that brand. When they see something they don’t recognize, they are thinking about future uses for that brand. This says a lot!

Ben Ball
11 years 7 days ago

In the course of some very interesting discussions with a premier CPG sales team last week about “the sales call” an interesting corollary developed. Just when does the “sales call” begin and end and what triggers those demarcations–if they even exist?

Sonja Matthews referred to it as a “puddle,” but if the word were not such a cliche now, we might just call it a “paradigm”–the present decision viewed through the sum total of all that which has gone before.

Chuck Palmer
11 years 7 days ago
I’ve always thought the path/journey model idea was rather pedantic. At ConsumerX, we choose to flip the concept and start with the complexity of human behavior–purchase decision-making being only one part. Focus on behavior over time. I’m not sure there is a good metaphor or model here. Puddle? What does that mean? If we go down that route, shouldn’t it be a pond? A pond that we want to help our customers swim through and enjoy? A bit of fishing, rowing, skiing? (Yikes, what the devil is he talking about now?) We all need models and linear models are a way for disparate groups to understand complex things. I agree with many here that models end up being considered blueprints for operations. I’ve seen floor plans that actually reflect the path/journey and vice versa. Mistake. If only it were that simple. We need to remember that these models are starting points–ways to organize complex data sets and ways to start recognizing patterns that create shared responsibility between the retailer, brand and consumer.
Joan Treistman
11 years 7 days ago
The problem with the puddle metaphor is that it emphasizes the difficulty of the marketing challenge. Pool/puddle suggests daunting, don’t go there, it could be shallow; it could be deep. Smart marketers like Ms. Matthews and PepsiCo, I believe, are willing to jump in, test the waters, and understand the dynamics that relate to their own brands and products. I agree that a straight line path is the path of least resistance and probably too easy for applicability across the board. But then again, we have lap pools and amoeba shaped pools as well. I’m not in favor of one size fits all. I believe that we have to evaluate the dynamics of the shopping experience; from impulse purchases to deliberate, well considered, and thought out purchases. Quite frankly, I’d be surprised if PepsiCo doesn’t do just that and come to conclusions about the purchase path category by category, brand by brand. Then when they look at all those paths across all those categories and brands…maybe it’s then when it starts to look like a… Read more »

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