The linear journey
As conventional wisdom has it, the consumer’s interaction with a brand or a retailer can be mapped into a journey. I first hear about some product from an ad or from a friend, and if the product resonates with my needs, I consider purchasing it. I walk into the store, I buy the product and, if my overall experience with it is positive, I will become a loyal customer.
So at the most basic level there are four critical points in the journey: awareness, interest, consideration, purchase and loyalty. These points are usually represented along a straight line, as in the picture below.
Of course, this is a very basic model. There are far more interesting ways to represent customer journey.
The customer funnel adds another component to the journey: the number of prospects transitioning from one step to the next. Obviously, the number can only decrease, thus giving us the typical funnel-like shape. Awareness>interest>consideration>purchase>loyalty.
The funnel can come in handy when modelling single-channel consumer journeys, and it is widely used to analyze conversion rates on websites.
While these two models do indeed break the customer journey into manageable bits, their limits are clear.
First, they are strictly consequential. There are five clear steps, and each step needs to be passed in order to get to the next. As we shall see, things are not usually quite so simple.
Second, the stright line and the funnel models both completely ignore the issue of channels. How is a customer made aware of a product? Which marketing mix works better to convert the prospect from the interest to the consideration stage?
Finally and most importantly, a coustomer transitioning from awareness to interest, consderation, purchase and loyalty is a purely rational customer – akin to what has been called Homo Oeconomicus . Especially the passage between interest and consideration assumes that the customer is always carefully wheighing his purchase decisions, which is obviously not the case.
There is another interesting point to be made here, which relates to the point-of-view we take when looking at the funnel system.
If we look at the funnel from a company’s perspective, namely, at each stage of the funnel we have fewer and fewer prospects going through, the funnel model is actually quite accurate. It may not be a theoretically precise description of a consumer’s journey, but it is still undoubtedly works operationally
If however we switch to a customer-centric perspective, whereby we would have an individual consumer considering fewer and fewer brands at each stage until one is finally selected, the model no longer applies. As we know, consumers arbitrarily make the decision of which brand to purchase at any point of the journey. In order to give a more accurate depiction of this mechanism, marketing practitioners developed new customer journey models.
The McKinsey model
In 2009 McKinsey introduced a new model of consumer journey.
After conducting a large scale qualitative and quantitative study, the authors concluded that the funnel model was inaccurate. The main criticism was that, with the emergence of new technologies and the general empowerment of the customer, the consumer’s decision making process has changed.
The simple model above can actually give us some great insight. Let’s briefly go through its different phases:
1. Initial consideration set. The consumer is exposed to several brands over a period of time and a few of them stick as “default choices”
2. Trigger. A necessity of a kind pushes the customer towards purchasing a product.
3. Active evaluation. Once the customer has decided she has to purchase a product, the consideration set increases, and more brands enter the raffle as the consumer actively searches for the right thing. This is clearly in opposition with the customer-centric view of the funnel.
4. Moment of purchase. It is now, and only now, that the customer decisdes which brand to buy.
5. Post-purchase experience
6. Loyalty loop. The loop can be either active, whereby the customer will not consider any other brand for the future, or passive, in which case the purchased brand merely enters the consumer’s initial consderation set for the next purchase.
Despite its simplicity, the McKinsey model is a great step forward, and it must be credited for overcoming the linearity of previous models. And yet, it too can be challenged.
If we look at it in depth, we realize that the model is not really describing any consumer decision situation, but a specific one: when the consumer knows what product she wants to buy, and has only to choose which brand to go for.
Now let’s imagine the following situation. I am thirsty, I just ate, and I want a coke. Not a Pepsi, not a 7up. A Coca-Cola. This is what I want from the start, and this is what I’m gonna get. And what about browsing through store windows? What many call “retail therapy” does not stem from a need, and as such, the initial consideration set is extremely broad: I could end up buying just about anything, because I just feel like buying something.
The truth is: in order to really understand a consumer’s journey from a consumer-centric perspective, we need to introduce some more elements. First and foremost: the consumer’s mind.