The consumer decision journey – on the path toward valuable customer contact

Understanding purchasing decisions using the concept of customer journeys is an outdated approach: the traditional model often can’t be applied to today’s purchasing processes. That’s where the consumer decision journey comes into play.

The purchasing process can be redesigned using the consumer decision journey.
Image: ©Artem Varnitsin/Adobe Stock

Purchasing decisions are not linear (anymore)

The customer journey has long been seen as the ultimate marketing tool for understanding what leads customers to complete a purchase and accompanying them along the way with appropriate measures. The customer journey is based on four stages that customers pass through before a purchase:

  • Initial contact
  • Selection
  • Comparison
  • Purchase

The “purchase funnel” is used to visualize the multistage model. The funnel helps to identify the touchpoints along the purchasing process where customers come into contact with a company. However, the old customer journey model is starting to show signs of weakness:

the touchpoints often can’t be mapped adequately anymore because a lot has changed in terms of buyer behavior and generally in how product information is accessed and how purchases are completed.

The consumer decision journey: new complexity in the purchasing process

Nowadays, customers have a wide range of options for exploring brands and products. For example, they can take out their mobile device when catching the train home to quickly see how others have reviewed a product before proceeding to buy it later on. A new trend is also emerging in which the purchasing process is no longer completed in a single session, but rather only after visiting a website an additional time. The consumer decision journey helps marketers address these changes.

The purchasing process: it all comes down to the touchpoints

Just like the traditional model, the consumer decision journey also encompasses various stages that go hand in hand with a purchasing decision:

  • Consider: customers start their purchasing process by looking at about three or four brands in detail to find the product that is most suited to their needs.
  • Evaluate: customers thoroughly research the selected brands and use a vast array of channels to find the information they’re looking for.
  • Buy: customers make the purchase.
  • Experience: customers use and experience the newly purchased product.
  • Advocate: if customers have positive experiences with the new product, they may recommend it to others, thus becoming advocates for the brand or company.
  • Bond: consistently positive customer experiences with the company lead to customers becoming loyal customers in the best-case scenario.

From a marketing perspective, this new complexity in the purchasing process means that new touchpoints can be incorporated at various moments.

The consumer decision journey model also provides scope for using the stage following a purchase to keep interacting with customers, thereby ensuring a positive customer experience way beyond the purchase.

Viewing customer feedback as an opportunity

The consumer decision journey particularly highlights the importance of referral marketing: when customers are satisfied with their purchase, they might leave positive reviews. In other words, they promote the product and become not only loyal customers, but also brand advocates. These customers thus ideally have a positive influence on the purchasing decision of other consumers. On the other hand, negative customer feedback is likely to also have a negative impact on the evaluation stage of other prospective customers. Therefore, the key is to learn from mistakes or weaknesses! Companies should see negative customer comments as suggestions for improvement and take them on board for future products or marketing measures.

Brands are harnessing the power of influencers

With all this in mind, managing customer relationships is crucial: dealings with customer service or various interactions with a company on social media are among the positive experiences that consumers can have with a brand. Especially in the last few years, big brands have discovered the benefits of social media and are increasingly turning to influencer marketing. According to an influencer marketing study published in 2021 by the German Association for the Digital Economy (BVDW) and Influry GmbH, a company that specializes in social media growth, one in six German online users have now already bought a product that they previously saw influencers promoting. Influencers are really trusted when it comes to product reviews – but not because of their fame or popularity, but rather because consumers like to share interests and tastes with influencers, for example in terms of food, clothes, and lifestyle.

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