The Customer Decision Journey: Mapping Critical Points

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Customers often switch devices before making a purchase decision.
Nearly a decade ago, global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. declared that the traditional funnel model no longer accurately described consumer behavior. Instead, the firm proposed replacing the funnel with a consumer decision journey, a less linear pathway that was a radical idea at the time.

Today, the customer 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 customer decision journey and understanding the consumer’s decision-making process.

Why Understanding the Customer 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 customer decision journey is more fluid and can change drastically between target audiences, and businesses must take steps to understand their customers’ different paths.

As David C. Edelman and Marc Singer note in Harvard Business Review, consumers increasingly have expert-level tools at their fingertips as they make purchasing decisions. They no longer have to rely on businesses for education or information. Instead, they can research potential purchases, read testimonials, get to know brands and comparison shop online on their own.

While many businesses use their marketing resources simply to react to these unfamiliar customer decision journeys, Edelman and Singer argue that businesses must take steps to get ahead of their customers with their marketing efforts. To become industry leaders, businesses must understand the psychology of the customer decision journey and determine how they can shape it.

How to Map the Customer Decision Journey

Marketing experts have proposed numerous formats for the customer decision journey map. McKinsey & Co. suggested a six-stage journey that begins with consideration and evaluation before transitioning into a loop that includes four stages: buying, experiencing, advocating and bonding. The American Marketing Association’s Molly Soat says the journey is circular and includes stages representing consideration, evaluation, closure and post-purchase. Ultimately, loyalty closes the customer decision loop. Julie Quick, head of insights and strategy at Shoptology, believes the customer decision journey represents a web or map rather than a linear path. Instead of single starting and ending points, the journey has numerous entry points.

Since the exact customer journey has many potential iterations, businesses should use internal data to map out their customers’ path. Some customers may even skip steps depending on their needs or the research they have performed.

Similarly, businesses are likely to find that customers tend to get caught up in 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. Gary Ostrager, a senior retail and CPG strategist, suggests that businesses should determine where their customers are most passionate and most disengaged to identify key opportunities in the customer decision journey. Marketers should also consider looking at their competitors’ purchase paths to determine key places to intervene.

How Psychology Factors Into Customer 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 how psychology factors into purchasing decisions is key.

As Greg Satell writes in Forbes, marketers who understand the psychology of purchasing and consumer behavior can essentially become consumer concierges. In this role, they can both guide the customer decision journey while adding even more value to the customer 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. Edelman and Singer say automated tools enable marketers 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.

Psychology plays a vital role in both mapping and guiding the decision journey. Understanding important psychology concepts can help marketers become more effective at targeting their audiences and communicating the right things about their products.

The USC online Master of Science in Applied Psychology can help marketers 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.


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