Debbie Johnsen of Christie’s tells IRCE attendees that following a customer’s path to purchase is key when determining how to advertise.

Paid and organic search can be effective in driving conversions, but knowing when—and how much—to use display, paid and social media marketing is challenging.

The key is to know your customers’ path to purchase, Debbie Johnsen, associate vice president of digital marketing at art auction site Christie’s, said at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition. Retailers need to know when their  customers start researching for products before they make a decision and buy, she said.

Johnsen provided two examples: one where customers have a long path to purchase and one where the path is short.

For instance, a customer planning a vacation at a luxury resort will begin her research six to nine months months before booking travel and accommodations. And before customers make travel decisions, they typically look at travel guides and sites, social media and talk to friends. As a marketer in this scenario, start with display ads, Johnsen said. Place a display ad on TripAdvisor, for instance, as a way to get in front of customers when they’re researching. Merchants should spend on paid search at this point in the customer’s buying process as well so they’re present when customers begin to search for keywords. 

In between customers researching and booking travel and resorts, marketers should spend on retargeting to these customers, Johnsen says. “Hit them with a reminder that you have this certain resort to offer. Really try to get them back.”


Johnsen’s other example involved a customer buying a bed for her dog. This customer would research and buy within one week, so the path to purchase is much shorter than the travel example. Johnsen says retailers should advertise in search, such as paid search ads and product listing ads. Affiliate marketing and contextual advertising—an advertisement that targets specific users based on the keywords on the page she visited—work in shorter paths of conversion as well. 

In general, Johnsen said brands and retailers should use display ads to build awareness, paid search to capture intent when customers are looking for more information, and they should support initial advertising with retargeting to ensure their brand remains at top of consumers’ minds. “Test. Learn. Find the right mix for your product,” Johnsen said.

Johnsen also spoke about some digital trends in 2016. For one, cost per clicks prices are falling. “Last year at this time, the cost per click was going up, so you were getting less clicks per ad spend,” Johnsen said. “In Q1 2016, we’re seeing a 33% increase in clicks—more clicks for your money this year.”