We use website cookies to ensure that you receive the best experience. If you’re happy and would like to carry on browsing, click ‘Accept’, or find out more about our Cookie Policy

Road to nowhere: social media’s role in the shoppers’ path to purchase

Written by

I’m old enough to remember a brilliant 1980s band, Talking Heads’ great single ‘Road to nowhere’, with the opening lines reminding me so much of our current state of affairs when it comes to the path to purchase, even if the penultimate line about the future being certain is somewhat up for grabs at the moment!

What is the path to purchase?

“Well we know where we’re going

But we don’t know where we’ve been

And we know what we’re knowing

But we can’t say what we’ve seen

And we’re not little children

And we know what we want

And the future is certain

Give us time to work it out”

– Talking Heads

 It makes me think of my favourite path to purchase graphics, which just about sums up our predicament. I can remember the days when we used to think brands’ path to purchase was a nice, neat and logical process that looks something like this:

1. Awareness

2. Consideration

3. Decision

4. Purchase

…and now life is not so simple, and we have a path to purchase (I’m not even sure that’s really the best name for it anymore) that resembles something rather messier.

It really does look like we’re on a road to nowhere when trying to establish shoppers’ path to purchase. It’s further complicated when marketers are trying to find the right communication touchpoints on this winding journey to try and convince a shopper or consumer their brand is the one for them.

How to create a path to purchase

We’ve all been taught about the need for precision targeting, being relevant, having the right ad at the right time in the right place… and it’s all supposed to be so easy in our hyper-connected and digitalised world. We can build, segment and cluster so-called custom audiences, reach them programmatically by what they’ve searched for, where they are, by what they’re doing, and pretty much anything else that comes to mind. Click your mouse, press a button, and all will be solved. Yet, especially when it comes to arguably the most dominant communication vehicles of our time, social media platforms, we get ourselves into the most enormous tangle in an already complex situation. 

Faced with a myriad of KPIs and unfathomable jargon, we run the risk of getting our TikTok hashtag strategy tangled around our influencer strategy which could have a celeb or nano execution depending on which audience cluster engages with our brand ambassadors’ dance routines. This in turn might change our retweet optimisation approach depending on Instagram or YouTube VTR (Video-Through Rates) in addition to the CTRs (Click-Through Rates) achieved on Facebook divided by the total impressions and uniques achieved. This is before we consider the impact on our sentiment KPIs via our NPS (Net Promoter Scores), review ratings, pins on Pinterest and Snapchat completed views.

It’s no wonder by the end of all this we end up counting the number of responses from prospective employers our new job search gets on our subsequently favourite social media platform, Linkedin! Not only does it look like we’re on a road to nowhere, it feels like it too!

Importance of mapping a path to purchase

The route out of this quagmire is not to be distracted by this unending jargon, but to focus on what’s practical and valuable for your business. It’s unlikely to be any KPI a social media platform offers, but more like something that has an actual commercial impact on the sales of your brand, if not in the short term, at least in the measurable longer term. It is possible to link social media activity to both on-line and bricks and mortar sales, measure the residual sales effects to work out what you said, where you said it and when you said it to establish the role and value of this kind of marketing communication activity on shoppers’ path to purchase.

In fact, we know at CollidaScope, through our clever analytical techniques, that social media, when used in this manner, is commercially a pretty strong tactic for brands to win short and longer term sales, despite what seems the best endeavours of the platform owners themselves to put you off.

You can find the sweet spot where audience numbers and their reactions to your commercial messages maximise incremental sales, see the effect of different forms of content and rather than optimise your social media mix against a bunch of not so key performance indicators, do it against the commercial KPIs that really count.

For example, for one client, using our statistical analyses to measure short and medium term sales impact of their social media campaigns, we recommended switching spend from Facebook and Instagram into YouTube, capping the number of impressions bought to avoid diminishing returns, removing product-based end tags from their videos, and focussing on building their brand message.

The result has been an ROI of 5x spend (an improvement of 200%), and an increase in incremental sales in both on-line and brick and mortar stores of 29%. This is taking into account effects on shopping behaviours from Covid19 lockdown (yes, we can work that out), seasonality and any other factor the marketing world can throw at us.

If Talking Heads had written the song about this, I’m sure it would’ve been called ‘Road to somewhere’… now there’s a thought.


Content includes:

All in
How can we foster and learn in order to create an inclusive and diverse culture in design?

Cultural diversity in design
Brands that cater to the widest range of people will not only be rewarded by consumer spending, but by elevated status in competitive markets too.

Design for a better world
Noteworthy brands who are innovating for a more inclusive world.

How do brands create cultural relevancy through compelling storytelling?
It’s not whether you stand up for a social issue, it’s how.

Why shouldn’t grass be purple?
Designing for colour blindness.


All In.


Fresh thinking from 1HQ