Understanding the Consumer Decision Making Journey

Depending on the level of impact each decision will have on a person’s life, making a decision can be either easy or intensely tricky. For consumers, the decisions they make in their interactions with brands tend to be more on the easy side of things.

The easy decisions are typically made quicker seeing as there’s very little risk involved in the process. What to have for dinner that night, whether to go to the gym, what to watch on tv, do they really need those new shoes, etc. The harder decisions are harder to make because there is typically a lot more risk at play: can they afford to buy that new thing this month, what happens if they accept one job over another, should they move to a new place or stay where they are, etc. It’s not very often that consumers make hard decisions in relation to a brand, but if they do, it’s typically when higher-cost items are involved (cars, holidays, technology, etc.) and they want to get the most value for their money.

With each decision consumers make, research teams can better understand what factors are in play during each part of the customer journey.

With each decision consumers make, insight experts can better understand what factors are at play during each part of the customer journey.

The Consumer Decision Making Journey

When googling ‘consumer decision-making journey’ there are a few diagrams and loops that pop up from the likes of McKinsey and Deloitte. The base of all versions look like this:

  1. Recognising a need
  2. Researching options to fulfil the need — considering options based on brand perceptions and exposure to recent touchpoints
  3. Evaluating/understanding viable and feasible options
  4. Deciding which option to go for based on factors such as: accessibility, price, the level of risk and value involved

The longer versions include post-purchase evaluations/experiences on the consumer’s end, then return journeys and even going so far as customer loyalty.

This first journey depicts how consumer use system two mode of thinking, the slower, more analytical and logical side of decision-making. The side that has been researched through surveys and focus groups for decades and helps stakeholders understand how their consumers would act in the best-case scenario. However, stakeholders can better inform those insights by gathering behavioural data through passive data collection methods — recording consumer’s actions as they make their way through the brand’s customer journey.

For the most part, this initial decision-making journey covers all the bases, but there are moments in time where consumers skip a few steps here and there. This is due to an influx of emotions and time-sensitive situations where they have to make a decision quickly due to extenuating circumstances, in which case the consumer decision-making journey will look a little like this:

  1. Recognising a need
  2. Looking at the options presented in the moment to fulfil that need
  3. Choosing the option that seems the best at that time
  4. Post-purchase evaluation and dealing with any consequences

It’s typically much shorter and in that post-purchase evaluation stage when the immediate risk has abated, consumers can then take the time to do that research to prepare themselves for similar situations in the future. Depending on how brands react to this and interact with the consumer during and after this experience, there could be a chance to create a loyal customer if they feel they were taken care of during this quicker decision-making journey.

How do insight teams understand which situation consumers they’re dealing with? The short answer to this is that, most of the time, they don’t. Brands can only gather high-quality insights and provide the best customer experience at the time, and unless they are face-to-face with the customer, it’s hard to understand which system of thinking is at play.

Once insights are gathered on the consumer decision-making journey, stakeholders can apply them to all manner of brand strategies, decisions and processes.

Using Insights from the Decision-Making Journey

Now that the consumer decision-making journey(s) is outlined, how do stakeholders understand how that applies to their own brand experience and customer journey? The answer to this is through tailored consumer research.

As mentioned earlier, the typical methods of research employed to understand how the consumer decision-making journey is applied to their brand experience is through traditional research such as surveys and focus groups, then informed by the behavioural data collected in real-time as consumers make their way through the customer journey.

However there are other modern research methods to employ when looking to gain insight into the consumer decision-making journey. Using video for instance can be a huge boon for stakeholders and there are many ways to use it, for example:

  • Live-stream consumers making their way through the customer journey whenever they need to make a purchase or use a service. This will generate in-the-moment insights into both the consumer decision-making journey and how it impacts consumers’ actions.
  • Video diaries are great for longer-term studies and where stakeholders can view the same thing on a longer timescale and don’t have the time to observe consumers in real-time due to other priorities and commitments.
  • Video surveys allow insight teams to collect video answers and verbatim comments to the questions posed — this is useful for when brands are concept testing new or updated aspects of the brand or customer experience, for when a baseline needs to be established before a larger qualitative study, or for when deeper insights are needed after a large task has been completed and thrown up unexpected insights.

Once those insights are gathered, they can go on to inform all manner of stakeholder decisions across the entire organisation. From investing in insight-driven strategies and tailoring the customer experience to overhauling internal processes and policies to future-proof the business, those insights from understanding the consumer decision-making journey can be applied to many situations and improve the success-rate of stakeholder strategies.

The article was originally published on the FlexMR Insights Blog and can be accessed here.

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