In 2009, the renowned marketing consultancy McKinsey introduced an innovative customer journey model. While the customer journey was often described as linear until that point, McKinsey’s experts presented a model of a cyclical nature. In the subsequent years, the e-commerce world changed, and McKinsey’s widely-used model evolved accordingly. This blog provides insights into the origin and development of the model. Additionally, it guides you on how to use it to map the customer journey of your visitors and customers.

The traditional customer journey: a linear funnel

Twenty years ago, the relationship between marketers and customers was largely one-way traffic. From the initial encounter with a brand or product to the purchase, it was the marketer who transmitted, and the consumer who received. The consumer progressed through the phases chronologically, with minimal distractions and side paths. In each phase, marketers endeavoured to influence consumers and smoothly guide them towards the end of the funnel. Did this succeed? According to the theory, the customer would remain loyal to the brand or product. However, with the rise of digital media and the shift from offline to online purchases, the model proved to be increasingly inaccurate.

The introduction of the McKinsey customer journey model

In response to digitization and the growing influence of online media, McKinsey developed a new customer journey model. With this model, McKinsey aimed to provide marketers with a framework that better aligned with modern consumer behaviour.

The model introduced by McKinsey in 2009 consists of four phases:

  1. Consideration
  2. Evaluation
  3. Purchase
  4. Post-purchase experience

After the purchase, the entire cycle starts anew: the customer encounters various options, considers them, makes a decision, and evaluates the experience.

Three key differences: consideration, touchpoints and loyalty

In addition to the cyclical element, three significant differences exist between the traditional customer journey model and the customer decision journey as described by McKinsey:

The traditional funnel model suggests that the consideration phase proceeds in a highly structured manner. Consumers gradually narrow down their initial set of options as they consider them, reaching the point of purchasing one of the options. For the modern consumer, McKinsey’s model sees this phase as a dynamic and interactive process, where consumers sometimes take a step back and reassess their considerations.

Not only has the number of options (brands, products, services) exponentially increased, but also the way we come into contact with them has changed significantly. The traditional model posits that marketers largely determine when and how consumers come into contact with their brand. In the digital world, power lies with the consumer, resulting in a much less linear and orderly progression through the first and second phases.

In contrast to traditional customer journey models, McKinsey’s model suggests that successfully navigating the journey does not guarantee loyalty. Additionally, it distinguishes between active and passive loyal customers. Passive loyal customers are open to changing brands if approached by competitors. For these customers, it is crucial to invest in the customer relationship even after the purchase. Active loyal customers not only stick with your brand but actively promote it. This group should be prioritised by investing in new touchpoints in the post-purchase phase.

“Actually, the decision-making process is a more circular journey, with four primary phases representing potential battlegrounds where marketers can win or lose.”
– McKinsey, 2009

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The newest version of the McKinsey Model

In 2016, McKinsey’s customer journey model received a new update. With the rise of new technologies, such as Customer Data Platforms (CDPs), McKinsey’s experts observed another shift in power. They found that CDPs help organisations personalise and influence the customer journey, thereby regaining some control.

Organisations offering personalised experiences reduce the average time consumers spend on consideration and evaluation. Some customers will skip these phases entirely and directly enter the loyalty loop. Based on these developments, McKinsey adjusted the model once again.

Classic journey

In the classic journey, consumers engage in an extended consideration and evaluation phase before either entering into the loyalty loop or proceeding into a new round of consideration and evaluation that may lead to the subsequent purchase of a different brand.

New journey

The new journey compresses the consider step and shortens or entirely eliminates the evaluate step, delivering customers directly into the loyalty loop and locking them within it.

How to use the McKinsey customer journey model with a CDP

The McKinsey customer journey model is a practical framework for mapping touchpoints in each phase. However, to optimally leverage this insight, you need a Customer Data Platform.

A CDP like our CDP Spotler Activate collects and unifies data from all your sources, creating 360-degree customer profiles. These profiles reveal who your customers are, the phase they are in, and their preferences. You can then intelligently respond with personalised content, such as recommendations, landing pages, or offers. Additionally, the CDP helps you thoroughly analyse the results of your marketing activities and continuously optimise the customer journey.

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