When we built the initial concept of the Prevailing Path, our goal was to fully understand the shopper’s journey from discovery and awareness, to preference to purchase, and post-purchase usage and loyalty. By understanding the digital touchpoints along the way, we could build more efficient marketing models by managing the 5 Ps (PPath views participation as the 5th P of the marketing mix).
The first step of this process is traveling along the path to purchase to understand the shopper’s journey. Whenever we work with a new brand, our team will buy or test its product or service as any other shopper would do, to understand the brand’s touchpoints better and to learn more about the category.
An example of this approach is understanding the intermittent fasting category as part of our work with Fast-Blast, a 5:2 intermittent fasting nutritional product. I was personally aware of fasting and would sometimes use 16-hour fasting as a way to maintain my weight, but I really didn’t know much about it. I used the PPath approach to learn and experience the product myself. Here’s how it went.
Intermittent Fasting – Gather DigitalCategory Knowledge
The first step is to simply do a bit of digital research. Google knows almost everything and can even help with the right questions to ask.
Google Snippets provide a clue that the category is relevant and also help to understand some of its nomenclature and taxonomy. I had been using ‘5/2’ intermittent fasting as the name but most of the content used 5:2. It’s a small detail but important and could even provide an opportunity for brand differentiation. The Google Snippet about the category provided insights into additional information I might want to explore.
While positioned as a diet, 5:2 fasting is more of a lifestyle health management approach. Additional benefits include blood glucose management, better sleep, ongoing appetite suppression, and might even work to lower blood pressure. The search even provided additional questions people frequently ask, which are helping us to begin considering what kind of content might be helpful to win organic searches.
The Google search also provides some top line information about key players and brands in the category, and gives a quick read on advertising competitiveness. There were no ads featured for my search, and few products besides books and guides. All of this content helps to get a sense of the primary players and content types that shoppers are encountering when engaging in the category.
The shopping tab reveals which brands are actively advertising in the category and how they are positioned. This is helpful to guide further exploration into the digital shopping journey using additional tools and research.
The next step of the process is to order the product like a regular customer. A simple Google brand search shows how well the brand manages its digital footprint, related content, and competitor activity. Like the category search, the brand search reveals a myriad of information that helps understand the current environment. Like the category search, brand searches show commonly asked questions, ratings and reviews, and what competitors are up to.
However, the most valuable information is how the brand shows up. In many ways, brand search is a proxy web page Google assembles that can be easier to navigate for shoppers than the brand’s assets. As with most product searches, Amazon Media is an ad player. What’s interesting about Amazon’s approach is that despite its ad touting low-priced FastBlast with an impressive 3500 reviews and an average 4.5-star rating, when I click the ad, it shows me competitors first. These are all sponsored posts for which Amazon collects high-margin revenue. It’s a great business model for Amazon but a dangerous experience for brands. It’s good to understand this process however, and think about how to best manage the process.
This is a challenge for most brands and the modern version of the power struggle between brands and retailers, and Amazon wins by removing friction from the shopping process. For a DTC brand like FastBlast, it is critical to understand how to provide value and community beyond what Amazon can offer through its powerful shopper enablement.
There are many additional steps to understanding the prevailing digital shopping path. Still, by simply taking a typical shoppers’ journey, much can be learned about how the brand can increase its positioning and competitive situation.
We order products, sign up for marketing messages, take advantage of any promotions, and generally immerse ourselves in the purchase process. We refer to this process as ‘eating our own dogfood,’ and find that this teaches us the most about the brand and its current communication stack. Some basic things we learn:
- How easy is the order process?
- What incentives exist to bundle/upgrade?
- How much communication is provided post order, and expectations for delivery?
- How easy is it to make changes if needed?
- What is the product unboxing experience?
- How easy are product returns?
- How much does the brand communicate via email, text, and retargeting?
Use The Product
As discussed previously, product usage is key to understanding the customer experience. My wife Shannon and I have been learning about 5:2 fasting and using FastBlast for our fasting days. We’ve also been learning about the overall effects of the practice. We were immediately taken by how effortless it is to fast for a day with supplemental nutrition support. The first week was initially difficult by late day on fasting days, and we both were a bit ‘hangry,’ but we persevered and saw it through.
What amazed me is the unexpected ancillary benefits. We both slept quite soundly and this was confirmed further by my Oura ring. My post-fast sleep was some of the soundest sleep I had in months. A secondary benefit was the amazing mental clarity I had the following day. This of course prompted me to explore these effects further and I came across this article about the benefits of fasting on sleep from the Sleep Foundation and the impact on your brain from this Amen Foundation blog post.