The beginning of customer journey – Initiation


The customer comes to a crossing and stops because the brand successfully engages with him or something changes in the customer’s situation. In most customer journeys there is a defining moment when a person gets actively interested in buying, initiated. That moment can be identified rather reliably. Something makes a person actively start considering about buying something. Active purchasing consideration does create memories because it’s done.. well, actively in your conscious consideration. Active consideration could take years in some cases or it can spark purchase spontaneously. Depending on the category, differences are huge but also within a single product group customers’ behaviour have vast differences. In many smaller decisions the consideration is less profound but still, when ever you are breaking a habit or really considering about doing something, you can recall doing so when specifically asked about it. In fact the customer is the specialist in his own experience and we can learn from him. Best way of getting to know the dynamics and learning about the reasons for people to get interested is by doing one-to-one interviews. Interviews are actually for discovery, expedition trip to customer behaviour and drivers, differences and variety. Group discussions easily make people indicate rational behaviour although it was not. We would suggest one-on-one in-depth interviews or questionnaire before a group discussion asking person’s own thinking. In the group discussion some of the key findings could be thoroughly opened. This kind of approach enables capturing human behaviour more reliably.

There is a methodology in Psychology called Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (The Psychologist, vol 18, No1, January 2005) It has been developed for analysing people’s lived experiences. The methodology avoid making assumptions and does not test hypothesis. The person’s experience should be recorded as authentic as possible. They are done in one-on-one meeting. Interpretative means that the researcher looks for things that are distinct (i.e. idiographic studies), but will also attempt to balance this against an account of what is shared (i.e. commonalities across a group of participants). Researcher reduces the complexity of experiential data through rigorous and systematic analysis. Analysis relies on the process of people making sense of the world and their experiences. I use this methodology in Insight interviews and then create quantitative study based on these findings in order to quantify which phenomena has most meaning and can these phenomena related to specific business and brand be segmented in some way or result difference between segments and brands.

The best way we could come up when working on One Experience cross-channel buying behaviour mapping tool, was to start with one-on-one interviews and learning about the people’s reasons to get initiated in the first place and continue to map out the cross-channel purchase behaviour.

The initiation of the active consideration is often a result of certain drivers and motives in certain context being prompted to active consideration by certain touch point in certain channel. These reasons, channels, motives, contexts and drivers should be recognized and quantified in different target groups. They are the very foundation of profitable marketing operation.

You can roughly divide reasons to initiate in commercial and non-commercial reasons. Commercial reasons have to do with advertising, direct marketing, outbound telemarketing, retail, point-of-sale promotions, sales people and so on. Non-commercial reasons have to do with magazine reviews, word-of-mouth, actual need because of losing or breaking the old product, tradition based behaviour (e.g. in travelling every year at the same time), change in a living situation (e.g. moving) and so on.

Further, initiation can be divided in initiation in general and initiation to the brand. Initiation in general is about how the customer became interested in acquiring certain product or service in general and these reasons are often non-commercial when asked from the customers directly. This is not completely true because something has created the need in the first place. That’s why it’s also important to ask about their initiation to a purchased brand. Becoming initiated to certain brand is more likely to be commercial. In most cases you can narrow these reasons to a few major ones per segment. This information will help you decide where and what to do in marketing. How to effectively reach people and how to choose the message and content in most appealing way.

The Apple iPod is a great example of a product, which had  ”a long activation” period. The iPods were originally too expensive for many people who would have loved to get one. After some time, the price of the iPod reached tippin’ point, level which enabled most people to get one. At that point iPod rose from most wanted niche product to dominant brand. The MP3 format, iTunes and making CD digitization easy were the enablers of MP3 revolution. ITunes and buying music online were Apple’s strengths. However, the product design and user experience made it the most wanted brand and later on dominant market driver leading the way. Currently it has been predicted that when eye surgery costs come down to the level of 1500€, people choose surgery over new classes. Markets could change profoundly and rapidly.

We have learned from several cases that the brands often don’t know why and from who’s initiative customers got activated. In one case our client, advertiser, was wondering why their demand had suddenly increased dramatically and they made record sales without doing anything specifically. This company had very effective sales process delivering superb customer experience and consequently very high sales conversion. After running customer journey study for them we found out these people were originally activated by a competing company, which had launched a major direct mail campaign. The product was expensive and people wanted to take another offer just to be certain. This incident delivered record sales for the competitor. It’s likely that the active brand also sold more than in average but it’s absolutely certain that they also lost major part of their potential sales.

When you are concentrating on customer perspective you are simultaneously doing very effective competitor benchmarking and learning from their success too. In best case the competitor becomes your best salesman without knowing about it. You can also learn from competitor’s success.

In retail store you can roughly share products in two categories: must have and nice to have products. These products life cycle could vary greatly. In one CPG case that we analyzed we found three most common patterns in getting initiated. The first one was planned. People wrote on their shopping list that they will buy this product. The second was buying in stock when the product was in discount. The third was the biggest one… People who had made a mental note they should buy the product. However, this product was not in the priority list, which resulted ”pending activation”. These people were activated to purchase by just seeing the product in store or seeing an offer about it. The major sales increase for promotion was due to the fact that they had promotional spots that prompted people’s attention and activation by just being there. The sales would have increased even if there were no discounts because people just forgot to act on their decision. In many cases there is latent behaviour that must be recognized in order to optimize profits. There’s no need to offer major discounts if just being there does the job or offer smaller discount or on-top offer in order to justify the extra visibility in store and also activate stock buyers. It also has major indication in the media strategy. If the brand’s awareness and other KPI’s are in order, the most important goal is to have continuous activation going on generating faster re-purchases and increase in the market value. Depending on the product’s role in customer’s life there would also be possibility of creating CRM or social relationship management (SRM) approach that would keep customers active and engaged with them in product and service development.

Testing in the real environment is the only way to get a true business case

Making people move is a fundamental marketing goal. In order to optimize marketing effect, you must study, test and learn what kind of trigger and content create most response. You should also learn in which context or medium people would be most likely to act on the advertising and which interaction channels deliver best results. Consider, what is the role of your own mediums like website, retail or CRM. How can you leverage earned media like discussions online and press or other PR. Are there ways of collaboration with partners that would result synergy and low-cost leads? Where and how much should you invest in paid media like TV, print, radio, outdoor and online. You can manage what you measure and optimizing the mix takes a lot of learning, trial and error to make it right.

The second equally important issue is to learn where you should steer people post activation: online, mobile, customer service, retail or create a first action which help you support customer thru out the journey and purchase. Again, there are good learning’s available but each business is unique.

Consumers want to have control

Today’s consumer want to control the process of choosing and avoid being sold at. Pushing is irritating and considered as a bad customer experience. When customer has a medium in which there is a lot of choice he has the control. Customers choose what to concentrate on, and how much time they are willing to use in learning about product. Customers can choose to continue shopping online, in retail, mail order or to go and see the product live or choose not to do anything.

Advertisers have an opportunity to increase communications to own customers and creating own mediums in print and online. Previously marketing focus was mostly about finding new customers, although majority of the sales came from existing customers. Customer magazines and catalogues are part of customer loyalty, mobilisation marketing. The respondents consider the magazine or catalogue as respect of customers own space, time and consideration.

Buying is not easy

Marketers often assume that selling is hard and buying easy. For customers it is not easy to really understand the scale of offering and relevancy of it. At personal level they have ways of learning in their own time. Often the retail experience is too hectic and nervous for learning at own speed. Online services and catalogues allow people to have their own time and space. In one case outbound represented majority of initiation, but fraction of the transactions.  Banner ads are often judged wrongly due to this – people initiate but make transactions elsewhere.

Consumers consider concrete pricing, product pictures and good presentation of products as valuable service that makes buying easier. It’s easy to see for example how much catalogues and online travel advice decrease the need of personal advice from travel agencies and enable online buying.

The difference between emotional brand advertising with very little information and buying information sources is obvious.

Conclusions about Initiation

Initiation and getting activated is about prompting attention and making the person move. No matter how long there has been a latent interest, there’s always something that changes in offering, customers situation or the market that gets people activated. What is that, what is the motivation behind, what is the customer’s mindset at that point, which brands customer considers as options, which does he prefer if he does? Understanding this has a major influence in the overall marketing strategy.

In order to understand how customers are best reached it’s also important to understand the need of advertising and shopping consideration. For many brands there would be possibilities in helping customers learn about their value proposition by really making great product descriptions and photos for shopping medium use. Although the customers would not buy from these sources, they still learn from them. That’s free media that really hit the target. Brand’s own online service should be the source of ultimate information that really answer customer’s questions and engage with the customer resulting action.

When we were studying the different mediums capability to influence customers and how brands currently work, we came to conclusion that when brands are rapidly learning new, they are simultaneously forgetting old. Customer’s behaviour does change but when competing retail brands e.g. drop catalogue and go purely online, the other brand might gain advantage.

When measuring success brands should concentrate on how much did the advertising change customers perception of the brand positively, did the advertising justify higher price or increase the interest in wider audience with current price or did the advertising just activate people with discounts, which is good in the short run but could damage the brand in the long run. Which mediums performed best compared to the investment? If some mediums under performed was it due to the medium or advertising content? If you can answer all these questions post campaign, your capability to improve further is much better and you can actually predict outcome much better than previously which justify the spending.

What do you think? I’d love to get some comments :)

If you liked this one, check out how to manage customer interfaces and pre-initiation stage along the customer journey Brand-as-a-roadsign.

An article about the next stage in Customer Journey here: Choosing and buying – cross-channel influence

More advice about how to map and stury customer journey is available at

Author: Toni Keskinen, Marketing Architect & Customer Journey Designer

Join FutureCMO Movement LinkedIn Group here

Published by Toni Keskinen Catalyst for transformation and Executive-as-a-Service, Author, Speaker and catalyst for change. I do Behavioral Economics and Customer Journey insights driven growth design at strategic and operational levels together with client's employees and operate as a catalyst for corporate transformation.

25 thoughts on “The beginning of customer journey – Initiation

  1. Ho Toni,

    First of all I have to compliment you on your productivity and drive to get to the bottom of things 🙂

    My first feedback to you would be to advice you to try and cut your posts into smaller parts. This post is too long and deals with many different topics, that you now only touch upon, worthy of more detailed coverage.

    Having said that, there is a lot I agree with and there are some bits that worry me. Forgive for focusing on the latter now.

    It worries me when you say: “Marketing has to do with creating needs and increasing desires to fulfil that need.” I think this is standard and flawed Goods Dominant Logic thinking about the marketing function. Modern (Customer driven) marketing starts with the premise that Customers HAVE needs (jobs-to-be-done) that the firm can propose to fulfill (help get done). Hence, marketing should significantly reduce effort to increase demand and increase their effort to help Customers increase use-value.

    And I know this is usually where the popular saying “If Ford would have listened to his Customers” is being brought to my attention. I like how Hutch Carpenter responds to that: “It assigns customers to the Dumb Bucket”. (You should read his post on Customer Jobs to be Done btw! ).

    Creating needs and increasing desires is the kind of marketing thinking that fits and inside-out product centric firm.. Surely you don’t want to put yourself in that bucket, no?

    Looking forward to your reply! And keep on digging.


  2. Thank you Wim, very much for your feedback! Actually I totally agree with you and share your idea about customers having need and jobs-to-be-done.

    What I’m referring to in this article is two different dynamics which vary from one brand to another and between different product and service segments. All demand generation and marketing should be driven by customer need, customer behavior and adapting to it or creating more value for the customer. However, in many categories you need to break in to customer’s consideration by force – this is what I mean by selling. Check out the customer journey rules of engagement map behind this link and it’ll explain the idea.

    Sales is about active selling with online, outbound, direct marketing etc. when you have a brand which is not in customers consideration list, you need to do two things a) become considered and b) you have the burden of proof to show that your brand is better than all the competitors the customers was aware of or even preferred.

    For example in Telco business these two dynamics are in play simultaneously – depending on operator, vast majority of turnover could become from customers active buying as phones create natural re-consideration cycle and in another from outbound and active sales. This is especially true in generating cross and up-selling to new categories in which the customer doesn’t consider the operator as an option. Optimizing buying and sales in right combination is an art you just need to test and learn in practice

    This article totally concentrates on one single moment in customer journey – the initiation. Prompting consideration actively in businesses that have a strong status quo often require active selling. Still, I was careless and thank you for your comment. I’m just making another post about the most profound brand measures and it was even longer than this one 🙂 I’ll fix it!

  3. Enjoyed this blogpost and great to hear of someone else using IPA for commercial projects – very few of us about!
    Like you, I use 1-to-1 interviews, and then validate the findings with quant surveys, and find this a very effective way of uncovering fresh customer insight, genuinely customer-led whilst still providing the level of robustness that commercial sponsors require, in order to build business cases based on my findings.
    It would be good to share our methods on this – I’m always up for improving and building best practice!


    1. In my experience the combination of in-depth-interviews for discovery and quantitative with both open answers and disclosed options deliver the rich consumer input, behavioral dynamics and market logic quite well. Once you have analysis from these, the other data sources like online analytics and CRM intel deliver further depth and applicable solutions. Rick, I’ll connect in LinkedIn and let’s have a call 🙂

  4. Her is a fact to stir the pot – behavior is triggered and directed in our brains in 150 milliseconds. This is all done unconsciously, instinctively and emotions are correlated but not causal – it appears. There really is not such thing as “decision making.”

    1. Thank you very much for your comment. I agree, very often there is no decision making in initiation. Post-initiation in cross-channel decision making and a decision to buy, although this could also very well be habit driven. However, when you are breaking habits and something happens waking you up to the possibility of buying something, that point is something you can remember.

      In my experience you can break the initiation in two a) commercial reasons and b) non-commercial reasons. If you buy a new apartment and totally hate the kitchen cabinetry, that is what I call non-commercial initiation. No commercial player was present in that choice, although once you actually start the consideration you enter a maze and can’t be sure what you actually buy.

      Some people have considered for years about buying a digital camera Like Canon EOS series, semi-pro or pro equipment. One day you see an ad telling that you can get one at the price of 350€. This is my story and I went and bought that camera 15 minutes after I saw the advertisement. The actual consideration could take anything from a split second to years, but the point of initiation is often a realization that just happen.

      Understanding the contexts and events that wake people up like that is extremely important and enable very effective marketing touchpoint and content planning. Do think that I gave you a good enough answer? I’m relying my own cases and practical case work and those above are my own observations.

      1. Humans are just animals like all others. Think of other animals “deciding” what antelope to chase after, fruit to eat, hole to run into or other monkey to groom. Nature solved the problem of “deciding” hundreds of millions of years ago.

        So all animals have the basic biological brain > behavior process of “getting” something – which humans inherited..

        It is unlikely there is a different brain > behavior process for initiation vs ongoing continuous behavior.

        Now what we subjectively experience is ourselves telling ourselves, and others stories, about “why” we do something. Likely these are no more accurate than us describing how our body works when we are sick.

        What marketers focus on is, not what really is going on with “decision making”, but what’s easiest to talk about. What we think is going on, science tells us, is not that relevant or causal.

        The fact is unless it is experimentally tested — we really have no way of knowing what are the physiological processes directing and guiding getting/buying behavior.

        A very few marketers and clients want to move beyond anecdotes, opinions and story telling and use data, evidence and proven facts.

  5. Your view, from my experience is narrow. When considering purchases that are are very impulse sensitive, like candy, soft drink, majority of fmcg product, I do agree. That’s only partially true though. When you are comparing kitchen cabinetry, cars, pension insurance,… you will be capable of telling where you searched for information, what information did you pay attention to and for what reason you decided to drop some brand of product out. This data is still raw material that represent possibilities and phenomena where to pay attention to. I have practical example about this in a format of case story here

    The brand have actual value and heuristics apply, but the product or service ranges have variety in business dynamics you can read more about here

    Still, from these raw material you can generate tests that prove whether the insight was true or not. Actual experiment with real customers and real money is the only way to really know whether it works or not.

    Along with my own experiences there are fantastic academic proof and cases about these phenomena that apply to marketing too. eg. Mr. Thaler’s concept about choice architecture should be applied to every touch point and channel the customers engage with. Please check out two books I really love
    1) Nudge
    2) Thinking Fast and Slow

    1. We see no evidence for the statements and ours are based on peer-reviwed primary studies not airport business books.

      The behavioral econ model has not only been debunked but actually may have bad effects contrary to the goals. The idea that animal brains only have two modes is cartoonish on it’s face. The idea that complex behavioral, social, business and policy matters can be effected by something like a “nudge” is responsible and simply not true. Behavioral econ, in fact has little brain science to support it.

      Again, if there are robust and predictive brain > behavior processes – we would find them in all other animals.

      Again, what is being claimed as useful and predictive business knowledge is just story telling and opinions. The case study method is not valid for reliable, professional knowledge.

      Glad to provide cites.

  6. Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thank you, However I am experiencing difficulties with your
    RSS. I don’t know the reason why I can’t join it. Is there anybody else having similar
    RSS problems? Anyone who knows the solution can you kindly respond?

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