The conventional customer journey has it all wrong

Flo Halliwell
Customer Journey has it wrong

Conventional marketing wisdom suggests that the consumer journey to purchasing brands is linear and logical. Essentially, it assumes that people move through a funnel from awareness through consideration and eventually make a purchase.

In fact, research that we carried out for AdWeek’s stand out media agency of the year, Canvas Worldwide, reveals that this is not the full picture. In fact, the customer journey is not linear at all; it is long and complex. Further, people’s ‘brand encounters’ impact the purchase journey in different ways and over different periods of time. And it is as true for cars, clothes and designer handbags as it is for insurance and fast food.

The typical consumer is on two different journeys simultaneously – the brand journey and the purchase journey.

The brand journey is a marathon, not a sprint

Brand journeys are long. The relationships that consumers have with brands develop over a significant period of time. In fact, the average length of time between initial brand awareness to the most recent purchase of a brand in our research study was 10 years.

Brand journeys are also catalytic. The more familiar people are with a brand, the more likely they are to notice the brand in their lives. And the more affectionate they are to the brand, the more likely they are to categorise their encounters with the brand as positive.

Of course, different brands mean different things to different people since this is based on their individual experiences over time.

It is also true that there are some things that cannot be controlled. Just like a chutes and ladders game board, unexpected ladders can take us further back than our last move. The impact of a negative encounter with a brand for example, can be 7x more impactful on brand affinity than the impact of a positive brand encounter, regardless of other brand encounters that the consumer may have had.

Popcorn thinking

The purchase journey is equally complicated. Multiple purchase journeys occur at the same time for most consumers. For example: you may be thinking about what to buy for dinner; a new dress for a party; whether it’s time to get a new washing machine and all while dreaming about a new car.

We think about what we need or want to buy in continuous and spontaneous bursts. Over half of the people we spoke to for the Canvas Worldwide Decision Map study were actively shopping in at least five of the eight verticals we asked them about.

People have bursts of ‘purchase thinking’, which may or may not be triggered by a brand encounter. It is usually disconnected from the brand journey and can be triggered frequently and randomly. And it doesn’t always lead to a purchase.

It’s also worth considering that there are rational and emotional components to purchase journeys. Most shoppers buy in a state of ‘want’ more than they do ‘need’, and even the most rational of ‘need’ purchases will involve an element of emotion in the decision process.

Where are your customers on the Decision Map? 

Together with Canvas Worldwide, we created a decision map of how brand affinity impacts inclination to purchase.

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Essentially, what we learned is that the more positive brand encounters a person has, the higher their affinity to the brand. This accumulates to an increase in purchase propensity of as much as 24%.

Of course, increasing brand affinity is not easy. It takes time and consistency. Not every piece of brand communication will land, and a single misstep can send people’s opinion of a brand hurtling.

Make me happy

The brand encounters that have the most impact on brand affinity and purchase propensity were makes me happy followed by gives great value or provides me with exclusive products or services.

Conversely, poor quality products or experiences or when consumers felt that they were tricked into a purchase, has a profoundly negative impact. 

What makes people happy varies by audience. Moments of surprise may make compulsive shoppers happy, but may not be as relevant to those who need reliability and reassurance.

Understand your segments

Since we’ve established that most brand and purchase journeys take a decidedly non-linear path, it is more important than ever for brands to understand what matters most to each audience by taking into account the brand experiences and moments that have shaped their awareness and affection towards a brand. 

Our research uncovered four distinct groups of consumer:

  1. Clout Hounds – preoccupied with image and what their purchases say about them. These are 2x more likely to be influenced by celebrity endorsements and social influencers.
  2. Real Deals – respond most to brands and products – quality products and experience and these people reward you with their purchase.
  3. Compulsive Consumers – these people love the shopping experience and the hunt for the ‘perfect product’ more than the product itself. 
  4. Straight Shooters are less concerned with the brand but the product itself. There can be serious consequences for brands if they are ever disappointed.

These groups are not mutually exclusive. People move between groups depending on the type of purchase they are making, their purchase propensity and brand affinity and their need state.

Don’t get lost in the funnel

Influencing the customer purchase journey is as challenging for brands as it has always been. To avoid getting lost in the funnel, brands should consider how they might appeal to each of the different consumer archetypes and create multiple positive encounters. Consider the customer journey through a more holistic lens and look at the cumulative effect of how people encounter your brand. So don’t just track the impact of individual brand campaigns but track the cumulative experience over time. Don’t forget that not every brand encounter consumers experience is one that you created.