Path to Purchase Part 2: What Changed?

Path to Purchase Part 2: What Changed?

Centuries of advertising methods changed in 2009. Actually, the change began in 1998, but accelerated in such a significant way that 2009 marks the actual date when consumers took control of brands.

In 1998-2001, the modern Internet took shape. Prior to that, we had AOL, Geocities, and a bunch of weird crap. AOL had about a 41% share of the “cybernauts” and Yahoo was sort of a big deal. Sort of, because there wasn’t much to do.

I recall in 1998 that brands wanted in, with their own websites. We built big, expensive websites that entertained (read: frustrated) users because we thought it was sort of like TV on a bad delivery vehicle.  Speed was slow, creativity was high, and it was a bad recipe. But it did change. Google was still in the garage; Netscape was kind of effective; and people were online in growing numbers.

The 2000 Superbowl ads were dominated by Internet excess. paid a lot. E-Trade paid a lot. 14 dot-com advertisers in all.

For my part, I didn’t get it. I had no idea how companies were supposed to make money from the Internet. A light bulb eventually glowed dimly – it wasn’t about making money; it was about saving money. I was sort of right. The dot-com companies had a few more years to refine their models. But right away, they saved costs on printing. They had a place to tell a deeper story. TV was expensive. The Internet was “forever.”

What we didn’t know at the time was that including the little “Contact Us” button changed the game.

Then 9/11 happened. Our company happened. In 2005, Google Analytics launched for FREE.

We began to visualize how many people were looking at our brands. The Contact Us button gave consumers a voice beyond their “Cash Vote” of buying or not buying. Things were changing.

In 2003, Facemash launched on the Harvard Campus. It became TheFacebook in February 2004, limited to Harvard, then expanding only to students. By December 2006, there were over 6 million, mostly college age users. By 2007, there were over 100,000 “Business Pages” on Facebook and our company was being asked by clients, “Is this something we should do?”

In 2006, Facebook opened up the platform to anyone over age 13. While that was sort of a big deal, it didn’t really cause a stir. But I distinctly remember the Fall of 2007 when Facebook scaled from 30MM users to 50MM users in three months. By September of 2009, over 300 million monthly users meant Rinck was in the Social Media Management business for clients.

Brands had their pages on Facebook, and all sorts of tricks to create “Organic Engagement”. The 2009 addition of the “Comment” section (the Like Button) was the real game changer. For the first time in history, the consumer could speak back to brands, immediately… and publicly. Depending on the extent of followers, a tactic nearly all brands were pursuing with high levels of interest, EVERYONE could see how well the brand reacted to complaints, to compliments, to individuals, not just a mass audience.

From today’s vantage point, I don’t think anyone realized how this powerful tool had altered the landscape so completely. And how we are still catching up to consumer needs for human to human contact, even if it is via a computer screen.

Facebook no longer has the total monopoly on this transaction. There are multiple digital platforms where consumers live, all requiring managed response to inquiries or all types.

It is only within the past three years that brands have started to focus on the funnel, a visualization of consumer behavior that digital experience can aggregate.

But the funnel is not enough.


That’s next.

Peter Rinck


Peter Rinck

Chief Executive Officer