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Osmosis: What Happens BEFORE "The Path to Purchase?"

Posted by Marty Murk

Wed, May 20, 2020

Osmosis Blog Opener (1)

When I go hiking, when does my “hike” really start? Is it when my shoes hit the dirt path? When I pull out of my driveway? When I park at the trail head? Or...if we go really “deep” maybe it was when I was six, learning to play baseball, and ultimately built an affinity for exercise.

It can be similarly hard to understand when a buyer’s path to purchase truly begins. In a research-heavy category, like TVs for instance, it’s obvious that you need to measure, dig into, and understand the experiences along a consumer’s journey (the Trigger, Discovery, Evaluation, and Purchase phases)

What about a category like fashion?  In some categories... there are a LOT of ideas taking shape prior to that “foot hitting the dirt path.” In fashion, people absorb what’s on/off trend (colors, styles, shapes) well before they start looking for a new pair of pants. At CMB, this approach is one of the subtle differences between thinking about this as a path to purchase versus a consumer journey. The journey being broader and including pre-category engagement and later stage customer experiences.

Customer Journey Approach

At CMB, we think of this early stage as “Osmosis” (the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.). In the context of consumer journey, it’s the part of a person’s journey, that includes the way they engage with a category prior to a conscious need emerging

Recently, CMB self-funded an online study on the consumer journey exploring the gaming industry.  There’s no silver bullet in measuring the idea of Osmosis, however it’s very easy to miss, ignore or skip during the design phase of consumer journey work.  For this reason, we were extra careful about embedding measurement indicators about the consumer’s background and experience in the category. This study lent itself nicely, given the breadth of gaming categories covered. A few categories that intuitively would rely heavily on Osmosis in the decision process, and few that would rely heavily on the Discovery and Evaluation process.

Below is an example of drivers of the final decision, comparing six gaming categories. You see Peripherals, AR/VR, PC/Hardware relying on traditional Evaluation criteria:  reviews, promotions, etc. However, categories like Games and Consoles, are putting a lot of weight on pieces that have been gathered prior to actively being in the market: trust, and love for instance.

Four Factors Influencing Final Decision

Prior to starting path to purchase or consumer journey work, thinking through internal hypotheses and the notion of Osmosis is critical. Without it, insights risk over-emphasizing parts of the consumer journey, and missing other parts all together. Here are two tips to consider:

  1. When you think about qual, while you are connecting with the consumer—through one-on-one quality time, shopping along, or reliving a purchase—spend some healthy time digging into their background in the category (e.g., the affinity for exercise, the introduction to health and fitness). This knowledge can be invaluable to understanding the consumer broader journey. 
  2. Design any quant to probe on their history in the category, experience with product/competitors, etc. At CMB, we dig into psychological motivations by understanding  the Emotional, Social, Identity, and Functional Benefits to the consumer as well as perceptions of a brand.

In short: be conscious of what happens BEFORE you THINK “the Path” begins.


Marty MurkMarty Murk, Account Director, is an avid runner, and our resident path to purchase guru.

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Don't forget to immerse yourself in our latest gaming research: A Gamer's Journey | The Virtual Reality Edition. And stayed tuned for more of our findings--VR and beyond.

Explore A Gamer's Journey

Sample provided by Dynata

Topics: strategy consulting, methodology, path to purchase, consumer insights, marketing strategy, Consumer Pulse, customer journey, engagement strategy, Gaming, consumer journey, osmosis