• Ivaylo Yorgov

The average journey is no one’s journey

The classic, linear Awareness-Consideration-Preference-Purchase journey is dead, they say. It was killed by the lifestyle, technological, environmental, and societal shifts in attitudes and behaviour for which it couldn’t potentially account due to its rather schematic nature.

With all fairness, it’s never been alive in the first place. There has never been a time in which consumers, not unlike robots, followed a strict sequential standard purchasing procedure in which they receive information, process it, make a call and act on it.

What this model is, is a remnant of the times in which we still believed that homo sapiens is homo economicus – a rational being supplied with perfect information and unlimited capacity to calculate probabilities. In this world, applying one model to capture the plethora of journeys consumers take only makes sense; remember, it’s a homogenous world in which people are by and large driven by the same motivations most of the time.

In the last couple of decades however, it became (sometimes painfully) clear that the one-model-to-measure-them-all vision is not a fair representation of the complex human world. We can do much better than this, especially now that we are armed with the vast volumes of data produced daily by every one of us. We can understand consumers’ behaviour in all its fascinating granularity; we can deep dive into their varying and fleeing motivations; and importantly, we can strike the right balance on the wood vs trees scale.

In a recently published study, scientists from three universities set out to investigate the journeys consumers take, accounting for the fact that they can be very different depending on the category, on consumers’ psychological characteristics, on their need state, and on the context in which the journey unfolds.

Here’s the list of the 12 archetypical journeys they discovered:

  1. The Classic Journey: “linear shopping process, characterised by an initial awareness or identification of a need (or needs), the consideration of different brands or product options, and the eventual choice and purchase of one particular brand or product.”

  2. The Required Journey: typically followed for purchasing utilitarian products

  3. The Opportunistic Journey: one triggered by “sales promotions or the launch of limited-edition products”

  4. The Entertainment Journey: consumers embark on these mostly for hedonic purposes; in a word, for pleasure. Importantly, “consumers undertake this journey simply because they find shopping intrinsically enjoyable and hedonically gratifying”

  5. The Routinized Habit Journey: one that is undertaken by consumers periodically. Unlike in many other journeys, “consumers engaging in it are considerably less “intrigued,” and also less likely to explore, browse, or evaluate other options before purchase, and subsequent to purchase, less likely to advocate/critique or share their consumption experience of the purchased product”

  6. The Joint Journey: in which the decision making is a group one rather than individual

  7. The Impulsive Journey: as the name puts it succinctly, such journeys often time results in spontaneous, unplanned purchases

  8. The Learning Journey: not necessarily ending with a purchase; focus is more on learning about the trends and products in the market rather than on buying per se

  9. The Gifting Journey: clearly, triggered by the need to buy a gift

  10. The Retail Therapy Journey: a by and large compensatory consumption mechanism motivated by the need to feel better after experiencing negative emotions

  11. The Social Network Journey: arising from interactions with other consumers, online or offline

  12. The Outsourced Journey: delegating the decision and/or the execution to others


Why is this important for marketers and customer experience professionals?

On one hand, because your ability to smoothen or disrupt certain journeys depends on the journey archetype. With some journeys you are more likely to succeed – take for example the Retail Therapy Journey or the Impulsive one. Both of these provide ample opportunities for you to intervene. With others you are likely to waste your time and money – the Routinized and the Learning journeys are prime examples; the former because the consumer is not likely to be receptive to new ideas as the journey is mostly a matter of efficiency; the latter because the consumer is not actually in the market to make a purchase.

On the other hand, what instruments do you use to intervene and how do you influence the consumer will differ sharply between the journeys. A sales promotion for example will attract consumers on the Opportunistic journey but is not likely to be effective on the Entertainment journey. Or take the Gifting journey – consumers on this path are very open to ideas so it might be a good idea to try and showcase the breadth of your portfolio.

While by no means exhaustive, this framework is a great example of the type of investigation we are likely to see more of in the future. Utilizing a need-adaptive approach will be paramount for any company that wants to manage consumer journeys better. If you are managing the average journey you are actually managing the journey of no one.

My best wishes for a great day ahead!


You can read the full paper here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3093999&download=yes. All quotes are based on this paper.