The customer journey, the relationship and experience between people and brands, has been the subject of much theorising for some time.

There are a number of cognitive models, outlining the thought process people undertake; most of which are quite linear and logical. The vast majority of these stop at the point of purchase. This, by definition, cannot be “customer journeys”; isn’t a “customer” someone who has already purchased?

Then there are some, which go beyond purchase and introduce the concept of the "loyalty loop". It is perceived that people will remain loyal if they have a great post purchase experience with the product, offering and brand interaction.

Which of course makes complete sense….as do all the descriptions and commentary based around these models. 

Unfortunately, they are all wrong...

Customer journey models

Some of these models are illustrated below, and described by McKinsey: The Consumer Decision Journey:

GfK's Funnel; McKinsey's and Harvard's Loyalty Loops

However, they are wrong. They make the assumption that consumers only have direct relationships with the brand and do not cater for the influence and interaction with other people, even though they make reference to word of mouth.

They also over-simplify people’s individual thought processes, and, somewhat arrogantly, treat people as non-emotive robots or automatons making very logical decisions in isolation of others, with no mention of the drivers of impulsive behaviour.

Theoretically, they seem to make complete sense, but in reality it’s not the case.

Accounting for real people

When you throw in real people into the mix, like you and I, the dynamics change. We’re unique individuals right? Biologically we may not be, but emotionally, personality wise and through our experiences, we are.

We’re one of a kind. Our personality/make-up/identity, is steered and influenced by past experiences, how we want to be perceived and by the people we mix with. Our decisions are heavily swayed by this complex mix, not just how good a product is …..we don’t follow logical paths. How dare they even think this!

Example: Why am I made to queue outside a shop by my eldest daughter for at least 20 minutes, to be greeted by two ripped male Adonis models and enter a store where the lights are so dim you can’t really see what’s on sale?

I then spend at least another 30 minutes wandering around, observing that my daughter is not really looking at the clothes, but is much more interested in everyone else.

Due to my pestering and 'encouragement' of my daughter to finally make a decision (because I’m getting a little frustrated by this point) she picks up an item of clothing, which she barely spends 30 seconds looking at. It’s got the logo, the brand on it, colour's ok…it’ll do. "We" buy it.

Who is the customer? I’m the person who pays, yet it’s my daughter who has become absorbed by this whole thing. She’s been influenced by others, and in turn has 'influenced' me…somehow.

Where does this play out in the models illustrated above? It doesn't.

Theory would say, waiting is bad, and not showing the products in a decent enough environment is not a good idea either. It’s a poor experience for the consumer.

But practically, this works really well for Hollister. They have recognised the key influencers along the customer journey are not just the clothes, they have recognised that their brand, which is a badge, means something to people and those who have it on show.

It’s a common bond of a micro community.

This dynamic is all about the influence of others, being part, or more accurately, aspiring to be part of a 'cool' group of people. It’s about identity, how you want to be seen and the recognition from others that comes with this.

More importantly, this isn't a new dynamic, being part or being seen to be part of a "cool" group is most probably something people have always done.

If I can make a slight indulgence at this point, The Mods in the sixties had this down to a fine art and subsequent sub-cultures have followed a very similar dynamic.

Being part of such a group was everything to the people involved; achieving a level of status and recognition gave them even more kudos. Being a 'ticket' is one thing, but everyone wanted to be a “face”!

Putting people at the heart of the customer journey

So, doesn’t it make sense to put people at the heart of every customer journey framework? If you don't know what gets them excited and how they behave, how can you create and implement a successful engagement strategy?

We need to create one which caters for the influence of others at every stage of their own unique journey, pre and post sale. It’s time to put the customer back into the customer journey.

It is essential to know exactly who the people are you wish to engage with; what they are doing and the reasons why they behave this way. Only then can you create a communications framework that resonates with the right people, at the right time and in the right places. 

A framework for customer-centric engagement

  • People are unique individuals and behave differently to each other.
  • They are motivated and influenced by many differing factors.

  •  Fellow consumers influence other individual’s own unique journey. The level of influence sometimes outweighs that of the brand itself.
  •  Cognitive thought process from awareness through consideration to commitment seem rational. But, the pace of travelling through these stages and the influence others have are sometimes overlooked.

    Not everyone spends time researching, many act on impulse; some purchases are habitual, it all depends on the mind-set of the individual concerned.

  • The plethora of communication channels now available has caused people to change their behaviour significantly. Some consume content via multiple channels at the same time; some are very heavy social web users, others shy away from the latest technology and would be considered more “traditional”.

    The simple fact is, the paradox of choice means people will choose what is right for them and it could be different every single time they embark on a journey.

  •  The various stages of Awareness through to Advocacy are mapped around the people. This non-linear approach caters for sector cross over.  

    The amplification of customer advocacy to create awareness, interest and even conversion, or for the more impulsive enable to move quickly from awareness to conversion and from suspect through to customer.

This is a base framework with which businesses can map their consumer centric engagement around. It takes research. It takes time and effort. It’s real. It works

Karl Havard

Published 5 January, 2012 by Karl Havard

Karl Havard is a Partner at PA Consulting. You can follow him on Twitter and connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (8)

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Lindsay Keith, Digital Marketing Consultant at Canvas Perspective

IMHO this is a great article - well formed and to me highlights the key difference between consumer and customer.

To add if I may Karl, an extreme example is "Babies consume nappies (diapers for our US cousins), mothers buy them."

Clearly babies cannot interact and communicate like teenagers buying teeshirts, but the point is there is a difference that needs to be embedded into thinking about CUX.

Another example is that as a customer I buy my entertainment for a well known satellite TV company, but I consume the entertainment sitting on my sofa at home. Same person different attitude to the purchasing/service experience.

The opportunity for firms to perfect loyalty is to know these dimensions and design superb end to end service touch points that are both personal, relevant and charming to consumers and customers even if they are the same person.

It is this opportunity that keeps me getting up in the morning...

Nice article.

over 6 years ago



I agree with marketing becoming more people to people and putting the individual in the centre (even B2B are people too).
I have missed the arguments re. customer journey models. I have never read or heard (nor between the lines) for example that the McKinsey model would reduce consumers to linear thinking robots. These models don't say anything about the pace of people moving through it...

over 6 years ago


Alex Loach

A great article from both the relationship and experience perspective.

over 6 years ago

Andrew Davies

Andrew Davies, Director at Idio

Good stuff Karl. Start with the customer! Being observant and accepting of complexity is absolutely fundamental.

over 6 years ago


Alan Charlesworth

Excellent article – nice to see theories cheerfully expounded by theorists [in books/papers and at universities] questioned in ‘real-world’ scenarios.

I would also add that ‘customer journey’ of you and your daughter would have been different for each purchase if you had left the shop and [a] gone for a snack, [b] sought a gift for her grandmother or [c] purchased something she needed for school.

over 6 years ago

Gerry Brown

Gerry Brown, Director at MIS Associates

I agree with Koen. With respect, this is to misunderstand the purpose of a model. A model is a generality, a framework and a guide for understanding behaviour, rather than an absolute truth or rule of law. Nothing and no-one can forecast human behviour with complete certainty, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't start trying to set some parameters . . .

over 6 years ago

Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Partner, PA Consulting Group at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Thanks everyone for your comments. Nice to know the post is being read. @Koen and @Gerry I don't agree the previous models have been mis-undestood at all; the models do not cater for behaviour or speed....hence they're flawed. A consumer centric model, with the various stages of engagement surrounding them, demonstrates a "journey" with relevance to their identity and motivation (as individuals and as groups) driving behaviour regardless of logical, impulsive or even illogical path. Every quadrant touches, therefore people can have immediate access to which ever quadrant they choose, from wherever they are.

I hope that makes sense.

over 6 years ago

Paul Walsh

Paul Walsh, Founder & CEO at Infinity Call Tracking

This is realy important. We've been spending a lot of time looking at the ways in which, both on- and offline, customers make up their minds to buy a product.

Correct conversion attribution is key to understanding what is and isn't working in a marketing spend. The more you understand your model, the more you are able to really represent what's happening with your customers.

This is something we all need to work harder on in 2012.

over 6 years ago

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