Customer Journey

The Path of Purchase Decision Making

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© Peter Smola/
© Peter Smola/
Topic | p&a international market research 2/2013

The increased complexity of communication channels requires new integrated research, capturing a comprehensive picture of the complete journey the customer takes. Understanding the decision-making process and relevant touch points helps you to gain deeper insights.

In a world that’s constantly changing, understanding consumer decision-making processes has become more difficult than ever. A multitude of touch points play a role in today’s purchase decision-making, and the controlling of information has shifted away from manufacturers and their traditional advertising to consumers and the content they actively seek. The path to purchase decisions can be a long, winding road with many unexpected turns taken by consumers. The multiple sources of information available to them can influence the duration of the decision-making period in both directions – speeding it up as well as slowing it down.

Moreover, the process varies greatly depending on several factors, including consumer personality, involvement in the product category, disposable budget and time pressure, to name a few. Depending on the respective relevant dimensions, different sources of information and brand touch points can be of relevance.

© Karl-Heinz Laube/
© Karl-Heinz Laube/
All of these factors make it difficult for brands to understand and predict the customer’s journey to a purchase, and thus also impede the ability of brands to actively manage relevant touch points accordingly. This edition of p&a international market research takes a closer look at the state of the art of customer journey measurement and how such a journey can be actively accompanied.

Dr. Rusanna Gaber, Kurt Imminger
and Dr. Tomas Jerkovic take a conceptual perspective in their article Customer Journey: Last Stop Purchase Decision – Understanding Consumers Paths of Decision-Making and discuss the brands and categories it is most beneficial to conduct customer journey research for. If a brand is positioned or caught in a pure price market, the customer journey is very straightforward and thus needs little exploration. Contrary to this, performance- and premium-driven brands demand a clear proposition. They can benefit greatly from customer journey research. From a qualitative perspective, the authors propose research designs for exploring and understanding the journey to a purchase that consumers take, thus enabling brands to actively guide them towards the decision in favour of the respective brand’s own offer. Industry examples with the best potential for customer journey research are included as well.

Subsequently, Axel Puhlmann follows with an example study for three industries: computers, TV sets and mobile communications contracts. His article Reaching Customers Where It Really Matters – The Customer Journey Applied Across Industries goes on to show that the traditional decision-making process with consumers forming a set of preferred brands early on in the decision-making and gradually narrowing it down no longer exists. His clear recommendation based on the results is to invest more in the later stages of the decision-making process, as it gives the highest chances of a good return on investment. Furthermore, in addition to traditional communication, it has proven to be worthwhile – at least in these industries – to also develop attractive earned media strategies and ways to provide information to potential buyers. These findings are an opportunity to strengthen the overall customer orientation within organizations to actively reach consumers where it really matters in order to trigger a purchase.

© Rainer Sturm/
© Rainer Sturm/
A very specific part of the customer journey is the transition from a known product to a new alternative. This can be triggered through different reasons, one typical situation is a growing family. Every transition bears the risk of losing customers, as was the case for P&Gs Babycare division. Children outgrowing one size of diapers were not naturally transformed to the next size as sales data clearly indicated. Andrew Sauer and Steve August describe in their article Minding the Product Transition Gap – How Digital Qual Helped P&G Solve a Diaper Dilemma how the company successfully tackled the issue with market research. Accompanying consumers seemingly unnoticed across the threshold helped them to understand the real issues and allowed for course correction.

The methodology of co-creation is a completely different perspective on the customer journey, as it brings brands and consumers together to go through the customer journey with one another, benefiting from each other along the way: Consumers obtain the products and services they really want and companies make sure that their offerings meet the demand. Thus, co-creation can be seen as a special sub-category of customer journey research, as a certain part of the journey happens while guided and observed by market research. In her article The Process of Co-Creation – Involving Consumers on an Equal Footing, Sally O’Rourke outlines what co-creation is, what it isn’t and what can be expected to be accomplished through co-creation. She clearly points out both the strengths and the weaknesses of co-creation and, in addition to all her enthusiasm for the method, she does not shy away from describing its limitations. Her conceptual contribution is rounded off with a few short case examples showcasing how cocreation efforts have helped different brands with a variety of business challenges. Making the voice of the consumer clearly heard within an organization and jointly refining products and services have helped them tremendously.

© Fabian Voswinkel/
© Fabian Voswinkel/
A very specific case of co-creation is introduced by Dr. Nicole Lehnert and Dr. Anita Petersen as they venture into the territory of top-level business-to-business research. Their article C-Suite Customer Journey – How to InvolveTop Management in Market Research describes a strategically relevant joint innovation research project at Deutsche Post DHL. The challenge of the project was to set up a research design that allowed the answering of the research questions while offering an appropriate setting for the participation of the most valuable customers. The relevance of the topic for the target group on such a high corporate level was key – not only to ensure participation, but also to prevent any possible negative image effects that irrelevant or poorly executed research could have had. Thus a multi-stage workshop concept was developed, including the exploration, strategic summarization and innovation phases within one day. The process and the results were perceived as very valuable, especially since employees were included in the project and had the opportunity to understand their customers better first-hand. The clarification of roles and an explicit division of responsibilities in customer service were central success factors of this very open research design.

Overall, these tools and approaches demonstrate how market research can be the best travel guide that any brand could wish for on the customer’s journey to a purchase.

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