The consumer decision journey is a model that illustrates how consumers make decisions in regard to the products that they purchase. It’s an important model for businesses to understand, as it directly impacts how they can reach their customers and influence them to decide to purchase products, which ultimately impacts the success of a business. In this article, we’ll discuss the consumer decision journey and how it benefits businesses.
If there is only one goal of marketing it is to reach consumers during the times that influence their decisions to make purchases the most. That’s why Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, started offering targeted products recommendations to consumers that were already logged into the site and ready to make purchases years ago. That’s why companies that sell electronics not only display their televisions in their stores, but make sure that they are showing televisions that offer the most high-definition and vivid images.
Marketing has always tried to find the moments - the touch points - when buyers are the most likely to be influenced. In order to successfully influence consumers, marketing efforts have to know exactly how and when to reach their targeted audiences.
The consumer decision journey sets out to explain how consumers go about making decisions regarding the products that they purchase. It is a non-linear model, meaning that the phases that are involved in this journey don’t always follow one another in a particular pattern until a final purchase decision is made; rather, the phases tend to overlap and are often repeated. The consumer decision journey focuses on important aspects of marketing in order to influence decisions. These factors including customer loyalty, word of mouth marketing, and the experiences consumers have after they make a purchase.
The Basics of the Consumer Decision Journey
Traditionally, there are four phases that are involved in the approach to describing the purchasing behavior of consumers. A key assumption of the consumer decision journey is the marketing funnel. The term “funnel” is used as an analogy to track the path consumers took in order to find a company or a product, and to determine which touch points the company used that were the most effective.
The four phases of the consumer decision journey include:
- The initial contact. Buyers start with a specific number of brands that they are made aware of via advertising or word of mouth (recommendations made by friends, family members, co-workers and other people that they know).
- The selection. Next, consumers minimize the number of brands that they are considering by choosing and limiting specific features that products offer, or that certain brands provide.
- Make comparisons. Once selections are made, consumers assess and compare the products or brands that they have selected.
- The purchase. Lastly, consumers decide what brand or what product they want to purchase.
The sales funnel is the beginning point of the customer decision journey. It’s important to understand, however, that there are certain circumstances that come into play during the purchasing process, and that those circumstances are ever-changing.
Today, shoppers have ample opportunities to make contact with brands and products. Conventional means of connecting with businesses and products include advertisements on television and radio. While these methods are still viable today; however, newer methods of connecting consumers with products and brands, such as social media and email marketing, are becoming much more commonplace, and offer even greater opportunities for businesses to create touch points for consumers.
Given the new methods of linking consumers with products and brands, the traditional model of the consumer decision journey isn’t exactly applicable. Moreover, only a small percentage of buyers complete the buying process in a single session. In fact, most purchases are made about 2 weeks after initial contact or touch points.
The New and Improved Consumer Decision Journey Process
In 2009, the McKinsey Consulting Company conducted a study to discover new trends in the consumer decision journey process. This study involved more than 20,000 participants from three countries and from different sectors.
This study determined that the following make up the basis of the consumer decision journey:
- Consideration. Buyers that are not already loyal to a specific company begin their decision journey with an average of about three to four different brands or companies.
- Evaluation. Once they have selected a collection of brands, consumers then evaluate those brands. In this portion of the study, it is revealed that there is a significant difference in the sales funnel for today’s buyers: they can gain access to digital channels in order to acquire information, such as social media channels, blogs, search engines, etc. Brands can make connections with potential customers at these modern-day touch points.
- Purchase or Buy. When buyers feel that they have found a product or brand that meets their needs, they move forward to make a purchase. The barriers need to be as minimal as possible at this vital touch point so that customers can complete their purchases with as few steps as possible.
- Experience, Advocate and Bond. This explains what happens after a purchase has been completed. Buyers use the products they have purchased and gain experience with those products. If their experiences are positive, they may decide to offer a rating or a review of the product, and possible recommend it. Word of mouth marketing largely comes into play in this phase of the consumer decision journey, and it can either be positive or negative. For example, if customers are happy, word of mouth marketing can be extremely effective; however, if consumers are unhappy with a product or a brand, word of mouth marketing can deter other consumers from choosing a brand or a product offered by a brand. Negative word of mouth marketing isn’t always a bad thing though; companies can use it to make improvements to the products that they offer, thereby improving what they offer and ensuring that their products meet the needs of consumers. They can also use this word of mouth marketing to make connections with consumers, developing loyal customers.