The Consumer Decision Journey Explained

A consumer looks at items on a store shelf.Today, the consumer decision journey is a common marketing concept, as businesses in every industry pour resources into mapping, analyzing and influencing this sales avenue. Not surprisingly, psychology is essential to mapping the journey and understanding the customer’s decision-making process.

Understanding the consumer decision process is essential for effective marking, and those with an advanced education in applied psychology can better understand the motivations behind individual spending decisions, as well as consumer behavior on a larger scale.

What Exactly Is the Consumer Decision Journey?

The consumer decision journey is a behavior-driven framework that allows marketing professionals to assess how consumers decide to buy certain goods and services. It also helps marketing professionals strategize about how to influence these decisions. It is a template for building targeted marketing strategies. Factors considered in these strategies include target demographic, medium used, online presence and societal trends.

Why Understanding the Consumer Decision Journey Is So Important

Decades ago, businesses could seamlessly guide consumers through the sales funnel since most potential buyers had similar information and followed identical steps as they made purchasing decisions. But today’s consumer decision journey is more fluid and can be very different for different target audiences. Businesses must take steps to understand their customers’ different paths.

These days, consumers are bombarded with information about products and services, and it is easy for them to sift through it on their own. They no longer have to rely on in-person retail businesses for education or information. Instead, they can proactively research potential purchases, read testimonials, get to know brands and comparison shop online. This has led to more informed consumers, requiring marketers to build strategies that acknowledge this new reality.

Marketers need to use information derived from each of the consumer’s touch points with the product or brand to build proactive strategies that not only meet consumers where they are but also anticipate where they may be going. To do this, businesses must understand the psychology of the consumer decision journey and determine how they can influence its trajectory.

How to Map the Consumer Decision Journey

When McKinsey & Co. launched their road map for the consumer decision journey, they suggested a six-stage journey that began with consideration and evaluation. They have since transitioned to a shorter loop model built on the following stages:

  • Buying: the process of the consumer buying the product or service
  • Experiencing: how the consumer feels about the product or service after purchasing it
  • Advocating: the consumer proactively spreads the word about the product or service
  • Bonding: the customer develops brand loyalty

The final stage, bonding, creates a loop that brings the consumer back to the journey’s starting point. This loop provides marketers with a template for developing key consumer marketing strategies.

The decision journey is a process personal to each consumer. Businesses should use internal data to map out their customers’ unique paths. Some customers may even skip steps depending on their needs or their research.

Similarly, businesses are likely to find that customers tend to get caught up at similar points along the journey. Marketers who can identify these bottlenecks can much more effectively guide customers past the pain points and through the remainder of the journey. In some cases, website analytics can shed valuable light on when and where businesses tend to lose customers.

Businesses should also strive to determine the typical length of their customer decision journey, since it can vary greatly depending on the product or service. For many customers, the initial consideration stage includes an extended shopping phase. During this phase, customers read online reviews, use search engines to learn more about a brand or a product, visit stores to see products in person and look for deals.

When mapping their customer decision journey, businesses may also find it useful to take their research a step beyond normal practices. For instance, businesses that build their consumer decision journey around the values of their targeted consumers may develop new pathways on their consumer decision journey. Marketers should also consider looking at their competitors’ purchase paths to determine key places to intervene.

How Psychology Factors Into Consumer Decision Journey Mapping

Once they have mapped out their typical customer decision journey, marketers can begin targeting customers proactively. To guide the journey effectively, however, an in-depth understanding of consumer psychology and how it relates to purchasing decisions is key.

Marketers who understand the psychology of purchasing and consumer behavior can create campaigns that forge connections with potential customers. In this way, they can guide the customer along their decision journey while adding even more value to the customer’s experience. Ultimately, this may result in more satisfied customers who become loyal brand advocates.

While marketers have had to take manual actions to guide customers in the past, today, they can take full advantage of the digital tools at their disposal. Automated marketing tools enable professionals to streamline each step of the process, while proactive personalization gives them the power to alter their messages based on what they know about each customer. Contextual interaction allows marketers to change their behaviors depending on where customers are in the buying journey, while journey innovation gives them the power to A/B test continually.

Psychological Tools for Mapping the Customer Journey

It’s important to acknowledge psychology’s role in mapping the customer journey. For companies looking to forge deeper connections with consumers, it’s imperative to know how to optimize the application of psychological principles. To do this, companies can deploy specific tools whose purpose is to create efficient pathways for these intricate connections.

Customer Journey Maps

Raw data analysis typically yields “what” data. This type of information relates to concrete surface data quantified by predetermined metrics like a customer’s age, how long they stay on a web page, or how much money they spend at a specific location. A customer journey map goes beyond this surface by using psychology to help determine the “why” of the customer decision journey data that may ultimately drive interest in a product or a service.

Answering these questions can be difficult because the impetus of consumer behavior is primarily within their subconscious. While digging into the subconscious of each individual is not feasible, customer journey maps can help build a psychological profile of customers. This can help businesses extract educated guesses on what may psychologically motivate consumer behavior.

These tools can use data that slots consumers within a psychological archetype, which is then combined with “what” data to construct a more holistic consumer profile. This combination can help mitigate the potential for assumption and risk, which could help create more targeted campaigns that acknowledge current needs while anticipating future needs.

Empathy Maps

An empathy map doesn’t try to glean insights from an individual’s subconscious level. However, it does inform purchasing by using psychology to build understanding from the customer’s perspective. This typically requires the company to ask specific questions that may drive consumer decisions. These questions could cover topics such as:

  • What the consumer may feel when they use the product
  • What the consumer may see when using their product
  • What the consumer may be doing while using the product
  • What benefits the consumer may receive by using the product

Using psychology to see a product or service through the eyes of the consumer can further shift focus to consumer interests, which could allow them to develop more intuitive campaign strategies. It could also help them uncover potential vulnerabilities or weaknesses in their product or campaign. This can ultimately lead to improvements that can garner deeper consumer connections.

Become an Invaluable Part of a Company’s Growth

Psychology plays a vital role in both mapping and guiding the consumer decision journey. Understanding important psychology concepts can help marketers become more effective at targeting their audiences and communicating the right things about their products. Professionals skilled in applying these concepts can help a company optimize its marketing strategies.

The USC online Master of Science in Applied Psychology can help marketing professionals better understand and capitalize on the psychology behind consumer behavior. Earning this degree can help marketers shape campaigns that successfully leverage psychology on the path to purchase. Learn how our program can help prepare professionals to become game changers in business.

Recommended Readings

How Does Consumer Psychology Influence User Experience?

Psychology Behind Developing Brand Loyalty

What Is Consumer Psychology?


Accenture, “What Is an Empathy Map?”

Business Insider, “Ethical Consumerism: Spending Money on Your Values”

Customer Experience Magazine, “Keeping Experience in Mind: The Neuropsychology Behind Customer Journey Maps”

Deloitte, “The Modern Consumer Decision Making Journey”

G2, Best Marketing Automation Software

LinkedIn, “What Is a Customer Journey Map and Why Are They Important?”

McKinsey & Company, “The Consumer Decision Journey”

McKinsey & Company, “The New Consumer Decision Journey”

McKinsey & Company, “Understanding and Shaping Consumer Behavior in the Next Normal”

TechTarget, “7 Benefits of a Personalized Marketing Content Strategy”