Path to Purchase? Think Hexagon.

The original purchase funnel was developed by a fellow called Elias St. Elmo Lewis in 1898. The purchase funnel, also known as the “conversion funnel”, or “marketing funnel” is a theoretical framework used to describe a customer’s path to purchase in their buying journey. This funnel also supplied the backbone to the AIDA model, in which it is also commonly referred to; it is an acronym that stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. You can see the purchase funnel below. 

adobe stock image

Googling “purchase or conversion funnels” will yield an unholy mix of marketing funnels that try to describe a customer’s buying journey, modifying this original framework. For now, we can consider this a theoretical model that a person walks through when buying. It can work as an overlay to strategy and should be considered unique to each brand’s buying ecosystem. There is no one size fits all, your funnel should be tailored to your audience. It can seem to be pretty linear in some ways from start to finish, but,

People can be anything but linear… 

Before we change the shape of our thoughts related to a conic-shaped funnel, we will segue briefly into probabilities and double jeopardy. Simply, “probabilities” are what we as marketers work to increase influence and sway a customer to “buy” your product, brand or service. Increasing a customer’s propensity to purchase in a given time period. Second, a marketing law known as Double Jeopardy also plays a hand in this, as it indicates a buyer base by the size of a brand (market share). The law basically means for larger brands, they have more customers who buy the brand more often. So keep in mind we are working with other factors that conflate a customer’s path to purchase in order to increase their probability of buying your brand. 

A new way to think about customer journey

In February of 2021, a Marketing Week article by James Hankins, outlined a new approach Jame’s had come up with that helps to make customer journeys more than a theoretical framework. The genius in this is that it encompasses a flexible and dynamic way to address consumer touch points and still work in the familiar AIDA framework. The “hexagon” shape allows for connectivity across touchpoints but in a non-linear way. (See diagram below). 

The Hankins Hexagon above is built on the notion of 6 interconnected “decision nodes” or inflection points as Hankins describes. At its core is a fundamental belief of customer journey being a non-linear thing, as opposed to the linear model described above in the purchase funnel.  

The main idea with this model is that each node can be a point of entry and take any number of paths to get to purchase. A person can make their own path to purchase any way they choose. Some may be more direct from a “trigger” to a “purchase” or more complex moving through all nodes. The model describes the various points that one may think about, engage, or interact within a second or a long period of time. Moving through these nodes provides a way to also think about probabilities. 

Ah yes, probabilities…. 

For argument’s sake, pretend you wanted to get into shape and running is your go-to exercise. You’ve got the itch for a runner’s high, and have been sitting in “Passive Assimilation” consuming media on your social feeds, when an influencer pops up, “Trigger”, showcasing the latest Nike’s, or NOBULL runners. You quickly move into “Active Evaluation”, perhaps toggling between “Comparison”, then in a moment of decision move into “Purchase”. Understanding the path “Passive Assimilation” / “Trigger” / “Active Evaluation” / “Comparison” / “Purchase” is important, as each path (node to node) works as a probability, a way to influence the propensity to buy – what advertising does. A key to remember depending on the category is that various paths will present more dominantly.

Having a framework such as this can help with data-driven decision-making. Using behavioural data, teams could be working out the best path or most probable path customers are making towards a brand. What nodes are most relevant? How do we shorten a path to purchase? etc. 

Another great metaphor used in Hankins’ article is “pin-pall”. As a Marketer, if you consider your customers “in play” for longer periods of time, then your marketing budget and investment can act like “bumpers” or “flippers” to a final score. The impact of your communications, like the geometry of the game, can help increase the probability of your customers scoring or buying a shiny new pair of NOBULL’s. 

You can read the full article here from Marketing Week, which provides more background information and looks at how statistics can be applied, along with some other thought leadership on the subject. 

An aspect that can be taken further is the idea about how a path could be shortened mentally. Helping a consumer move through their buying journey with less friction and a higher chance (probability) to buy. This of course leads into Part 2 of this mini-blog series, where I will be talking about category entry points or CEP’s. If you think of the “flippers” or “bumpers” above, CEP’s are an aspect that will keep your customer in play and emotionally engaged. 

*Full credit for the Hankins Hexagon to James Hankins / Illustration by Dan White. This article was intended to provide an overview of the path to purchase and using the Hankins Hexagon as a new approach in thinking.*