Consumer journey to purchase: Myth or Fact?

To craft marketing strategies, we have to be able to predict how our ‘craft’ can change behaviours, ultimately, to persuade people to buy a product or service. Often to ascertain the circumstances in which people will purchase, marketers will rely on consumer insights. Only trouble is, marketers are prone to romanticise the process of generating these insights; conjuring complex research processes to find the magic ‘sweet spot’ while others opt for more simplistic surveys which boast more fiction, than fact.

The quest to obtain valuable consumer insight seems paramount to any marketer who wishes to ‘own’ the consumer journey,which allows brands to be all too-present at each consumer touch point – in the hope of nudging people a little bit closer to a sale. Over the years, we have seen the visual representation of the consumer journey evolve – from simple to complex, from linear to non-linear, and more recently from a closed-loop relationship to a dynamic intertwined loop relationship. Despite all efforts, marketing mistakes are attributed to a lack of consumer-centricity, yet, even the most consumer-focused brand and company can get it very wrong. Why?

Consumer Journey Evolution

As a strategist, it is my job to help grow a brand’s business. How I’m being evaluated as being successful (or not) is when and how much the brand sells its product or service. So a large part of what I do, and importantly so, is to diagnose why people are not buying a product or service, in order to help marketers predict how their marketing actions would change behaviour. So, I reference a lot to these consumer journey models to help marketers identify the root cause(s). Sounds rational, doesn’t it? But, you see, I’m also a consumer. The very person, a brand is spending their marketing budgets is trying to reach. Speaking as a consumer, I am not so convinced about these consumer journey models.

Have you wondered how our brain signals drive our purchase decisions? What if there isn’t any science to this at all?


Do we know why sometimes our brain facilitates us to approach and buy a product, while other times, our brain inhibits us from spending money on the product altogether? If it is all too common that marketers belief about how the human mind works is incorrect, then their predictions about consumer behaviour are also likely to be incorrect, such as characterising how people behave – believing we are rational, that our decisions are driven by choice-making, and the constant consideration of options. This is simply untrue. So much of marketing is based on the idea that the conscious mind is in charge.

Following this logic – as an example, adding more attractive features to a car will make it more compelling and likely for one to buy, whereas increasing the price of the car will just deter any potential buyer. It becomes harder to explain why brands like BMW despite being more expensive than similar competing brands, have high brand love among their users and as a company, has high brand value.


How and why we purchase, are influenced by both the conscious and unconscious heuristics activated in the mind. Our natural shortcut buttons which help us make quick judgments or inferences. For example, if a product was marketed as a “good deal” we often assume it will increase the likelihood to purchase. But it can too have an opposite effect as the lower price can be perceived as ‘poorer quality’. This is why there are some marketing programmes that have been so successful in the past, fail, when repeated. Then it inconsistency just becomes baffling to any business decision-maker. Does this sound all too familiar, if you work in Marketing or Advertising?

The reason why this occurs is that people have a tendency to violate this tenet of rationality. The interplay between these two extreme decisions, is what makes us irrational beings. To exemplify, I will share two very different purchasing scenarios as I had encountered recently.

Scenario 1:

OK. Confession alert. I gravitate towards a sinful yet delightful world of chocolate chip cookies. During a late evening after work, I found myself standing outside a cookie shop that bakes freshly made cookies right on the high street. A new batch had just made its way out filling the street with a trail of irresistible mouth-watering aroma. A sign outside the shop read “2 for 1 sales promotion”. I was transfixed but confronted with a dilemma. Should I buy or should I walk away? I was feeling torn. I began to debate with myself, resisted temptation and finally walked away. Afterall, I have been meaning to lose some weight. As I entered the tube station to head home, all the while in my head, I was patting myself on the back as to celebrate exercising my virtuous self, proud of having self-control.

Activators vs Inhibitors
From the authors of “Why People (Don’t) Buy: the GO and STOP signals”

Scenario 2:

Next evening, same thing happened. I did manage to walk away and head for the station. However, this time I stumbled upon triggers. While on my way to the station I encountered a woman from the cookie shop handing out flyers for the “2 for 1 sales promotion”. As I gestured to take the leaflet from her hand, she said, “Miss, they’re now available at 100 calories per pack”. For the next 20 seconds: everything I did, my information processing was a blur. I had circled back around, gone into the shop and bought myself two packs of cookies. It was only when I got home that I took a look at the per unit price and found that I had paid a 300% premium for outsourcing my portion control exercise on a purchasing decision that was intended to save me money. The marketing action was a success, it had converted to a sale. But as a consumer, I felt duped. I wouldn’t be compelled to give in to temptation and buy these cookies if I had a sense of awareness. What happened to my mental state to exercise self-control, and making intelligent, rational decisions?


So if 90 percent of all purchasing decisions are made unconsciously, experts claim, why do marketers keep targeting the 10 percent? We need to shift how we think about marketing. Successful marketing is about strengthening these facilitators and weakening inhibitors. Marketers who keep ignoring feelings and emotional influence in purchasing decisions risk failing. It is about developing strategies that identify with the sensitivities around the consumers’ behaviour which counteracts their urge to purchase, acting as brakes and keeping them away from the product. Dependent on context, avoidance triggers can be a thought, feeling or an unconscious response that inhibits consideration and purchase.

For the chances on the market to succeed, marketers cannot assume that increasing utility of decreasing consequences will lead to linear results. Instead, they have to start to appeal to the unconscious motivators. By that means, predicting human behaviour will become even more a complex business. I honestly believe there has been a missed opportunity that marketers have not considered neuromarketing. Unfortunately, to this day, the hype far exceeds the reality – with biometric companies overpromising what they do, resulting in limitations and under-delivery.

I am hopeful, however, as I heard Daniel Kahneman, Nobel prize winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making and behavioural economics is working on his next book which features a new model of consumer behaviour. It would be highly interesting to see how Kahneman attempts to demonstrate the understanding of the unconscious as well as the conscious influences on behaviour in the dynamic marketplace. The future of marketing will rest on the ability to influence both the conscious and unconscious together – and if we do this well, a brand’s business will succeed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s