Offline Path Analysis

It’s always a treat to work with bright, committed people and I’m happy to say this was the case with the folks at the Oriental Institute.  These higher ed environments can be exceedingly complex from a Marketing perspective, and the OI is way up there on the complexity scale.  So much to do, so few resources to do it with.

That said, we came up with a crackerjack plan that should significantly boost paid Membership at the OI without additional time or money resources.  How?  Path Analysis.

Personally, I have never understood why many web analytics folks don’t care for Path Analysis; I can only surmise these folks are simply not doing it correctly.  For one thing, Paths don’t make any sense without the context of a behavioral segmentation – entry page, campaign, etc.  Just like any other web data, Path is useless without segmentation.  Or perhaps these folks don’t know how to interpret the data they see because they can’t survey a Path for the answers. 

Who knows.  What I do know is Path is extremely important in all the work I do, both online and off.  Path is one of the richest and purest forms of human behavior; I’d take a Path over a survey any day in terms of likelihood to take the correct action based on the data.  Surveys have a long and rich history of leading folks into enormous blunders.  This is particularly true when the behavior of the survey participants is not known first, as is often true on the web.

Anyway, it turns out that the good folks at the OI had not spent enough time thinking about Paths.  And that’s not unusual.

I’m sure most people have heard about Path analysis as it applies to product placement in retail.  You know, the reason grocery stores put the milk coolers in the back.  That’s not a random decision.  Neither are decisions about the height of the shelves certain products are placed on – eye level for adults, eye level for kids, etc.  This is Path; an understanding of how people react with the environment they are in.

In web analytics, Landing Pages are an expression of the importance of Path.  When I set up my very first GoTo (now Yahoo Search) campaign in 1999, I created unique pages for each Ad to point to and tested these pages versus sending the traffic to the home page.  How did I know to do this?

Because it just made sense.  It’s Path.

Just like Outer Envelope > Teaser > Open Envelope > Johnson Box > P.S. > Letter > Reply Device in direct mail.  The more connected and logical the Path is, the higher the response rate.

In Marketing you will often see broken Paths, and fixing them generally doesn’t cost much.  It’s usually more of an organizational issue.  For example, Path will often break when prospects have to cross through silos; the ball gets dropped due to Friction and the sale never closes.

Also, as in the case of the OI, you can have many different contact or outreach programs that all operate independently but don’t create a Path into the core offering.  This means you get really short LifeCycles because as dis-Engagement with one program occurs, there is nowhere for the customer to go – no Path.  So they just drop out completely, instead of moving logically to the next step.

The solution is to create a Path, to stitch these diverse programs together in a logical, sequential way  that maintains the Momentum of the customer until goal (in this case, Membership) is reached.

We then took this same analysis into the physical world – the Museum itself – and discovered (surprise, surprise!) many of the same broken Paths manifested there.  So we literally made plans on the spot to rearrange the signs and fixtures to facilitate smooth, unbroken Marketing Paths to Membership.

Just like you do when Optimizing Campaigns and web sites.  It’s Navigation and Copy; it’s about Path.

If you understood the Marketing Bands approach, you know that each Band served to address the customer most effectively at a particular point in the AIDAS model or Customer LifeCycle.  Customers move through the Bands in a clear and unobstructed way, each Band creating the communication opportunity for the next.  Path.

Bands and Paths.  Questions or Comments on this?


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2 thoughts on “Offline Path Analysis

  1. Hi Jim,

    I understand that you are using Path here in a broad sense, as it applies to various types of channels.

    As for Web sites, I have much difficulty seeing how path analysis, such as a response to the “I want to know how people navigate my web site” question, can be really useful based on how web analytics solutions report on them. Most of the time, we get lists of most used patterns, which end up representing very small portions of overall visits, especially with larger sites.

    Because of this, I agree that pathing (here again in the context of a web site) without segmentation poses the question in too broad terms to generate any actionable information. However, I haven’t found web analytics application to be good at presenting pathing in correlation with segments.

  2. Campaign or Entry (Landing) Page are the most useful for the way my brain works, if you have reason to believe there is anything Linear going on.

    If the application or data doesn’t do Path very well, it’s really the same thing as a Scenario / Funnel analysis, I guess. You could accomplish the same thing by making the Landing page the first “event” in the funnel, though you would probably lose some of the details.

    For some biz models like Media, a strict path isn’t very useful but I find Path using “Content Groups” to provide insight.

    I believe that Navigation (including Copy) is a primary source of non-conversion. If someone believes otherwise, Path probably is not as important to them…

    Not sure how they could reach that position, though.

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