The 4 Stages of the Customer Buying Journey

What are the different stages of the customer buying journey? How can you create more loyal customers?

As customers repeatedly have positive experiences with your brand, they tend to move through different levels of connection to your brand. In Superfans, Patt Flynn explains there are four levels of fandom that customers can go through in their journey.

Let’s touch on the stages of the customer buying journey that you often see in businesses.

Stage #1: Discovering Customers 

The first of four stages of the customer buying journey is when customers are just discovering your brand. These are your company’s largest group of customers. They often have just heard of your company or discovered it through a search engine. These people are interested in learning more about your products or services, and may even make a purchase, but they don’t yet have personal investment or trust in your brand.

(Shortform note: To become a discovering customer, people must have already discovered your brand. Therefore, understanding how people discover brands is an essential first step to cultivating superfans. Market researchers have found that people most commonly discover new brands through search engines when they are actively looking for a product. The next most common means are TV ads, family and friends, and online ads, respectively.)

Stage #2: Interested Customers 

Interested customers know your brand, but are not devoted to it. They have usually purchased something from you before and liked it enough to take another look. When you offer new products and services, they will take the time to consider whether they want to buy your newest offering. Since they’re not devoted to your brand, they’re just as likely not to buy from you again as they are to buy from you.

(Shortform note: In retaining customers at this stage, it may help to know more about how people make decisions when purchasing in the first place. A recent study asked customers to rate the importance of a range of factors when making purchases. It found that when evaluating information about a product, customers relied most heavily on online user reviews, followed by recommendations from friends or family. Respondents most frequently cited cost as a determining factor, followed by brand familiarity and product durability.)

Stage #3. Connected Customers 

These customers regularly buy your products or services. They trust your brand and prefer it to competitors. They communicate with other fans of your brand on social media and other online forums, and may even attend a live event that you put on. These are the people who build your fan base into the type of vibrant, thriving community that naturally draws in even more fans. 

(Shortform note: As Flynn points out, getting customers to this stage requires them to trust your brand, so it helps to understand why customers trust some brands over others. Business experts counsel that there are two important factors in earning customer trust: transparency and consistency. To be transparent, be clear about what you’re selling and don’t try to mislead your customer about your product or price. Consistency is about being able to deliver the same quality product or service every time. These factors will let customers know that they can count on your company. In addition to these core factors, good customer service is also a plus, and consumers tend to trust small businesses much more than large ones.)

Stage #4: Superfans 

Superfans are the final tier: a small core of passionately devoted customers. The size of your superfan base will vary from company to company, but expect this to be less than 5% of your total customers. They buy anything you produce and eagerly look for new products, updates, and general company communication. Your superfans will attend live events, advocate for the brand, and take on leadership roles within the fan community, such as helping to organize live events, networking to introduce fans to each other, or leading conversations on social media.

How Should We Understand Passion?

As Flynn argues, the defining characteristic of a superfan is passion. A psychological understanding of this concept will help us better understand what superfans are and why people become them.

Broadly speaking, psychologists define passion as an exceptional devotion to an activity or goal. They identify two qualities that aren’t necessarily always found together: intensity and duration. Intensity refers to the emotional high when one engages in the activity, and duration to the length of commitment—someone’s willingness to keep doing the same activity year after year. A superfan may or may not experience an emotional intensity, but to fit Flynn’s definition, they must keep coming back to your brand year after year.

Psychologists also point out that identifying with the activity strongly correlates with passion. For example, people who play a sport self-identify as athletes, those who play music identify as musicians, and so on. Therefore—as we’ll discuss throughout this guide—many of Flynn’s strategies involve building identities based on the fandom.

The 4 Stages of the Customer Buying Journey

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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