Nav: Home

Considering social influences across the customer journey

May 05, 2020

Researchers from Emory University, University of Maryland, Vanderbilt University, and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology published a new paper in the Journal of Marketing that re-examines the classic customer journey model from a social perspective by emphasizing the social influences expected at each stage of the journey and across the journey stages..

The study forthcoming in the the Journal of Marketing is titled "Traveling with Companions: The Social Customer Journey" and is authored by Ryan Hamilton, Rosellina Ferraro, Kelly Haws, and Anirban Mukhopadhyay.

Customer journey models go back more than 100 years to the earliest days of marketing as a discipline. These models break down the customer's path to purchase and beyond into discrete steps or stages and have proven remarkably useful to marketing academics and practitioners. These journey models vary a great deal in their specifics, but what nearly all previous incarnations of the customer journey have in common is the depiction of an individual journey. Hamilton explains, "While previous customer journey models have acknowledged the possible influence of social others on customers, our approach was unique because it fully integrates social influences. This social approach is especially relevant given the ways technology has facilitated more and different social influences throughout the customer journey."

The nature and type of social influences are varied. This article grapples with this diversity by organizing social influences on the customer journey along a social distance continuum. The researchers suggest that social distance is comprised primarily of five dimensions: number of social others, extent to which the other is known, temporal and physical presence, group membership, and strength of ties. They also suggest that these dimensions converge to form a global sense of social distance, but that not all dimensions need to be on the extreme ends of the continuum for the social other to be interpreted as overall more proximal or distal. Rather, a preponderance of the factors will determine how close the social other is perceived to be.

Distal social others can be larger groups or the whole of society, whose members might not be individuated, present, temporally proximal, or even known to the consumer. When a distal other is a single individual, it will tend to be someone the consumer does not know personally, such as a YouTube tutor or an anonymous review writer. For example, a vacation-planning consumer may be influenced by distal social others including the reviews on a travel website representing many, relatively unknown, non-physically present social others with only weak social ties and unlikely membership in a readily identifiable in-group.

Proximal social others are typically specific, individuated others who provide distinct, discrete, articulated inputs to the focal customer's journey. They tend to be close, in terms of temporal and physical proximity, members of the customer's in-group and have strong ties to the focal consumer. For example, the same vacation-planning consumer mentioned above may be influenced by inputs from a proximal social other, such as a single, close friend representing one, well-known, physically present, in-group member with strong social ties.

Perhaps the most fundamentally social journey is one wherein two or more consumers journey together. With respect to the social distance continuum, when a certain threshold is surpassed, social others may become incorporated into the decision-making unit (DMU) itself, creating a joint journey characterized by interdependence in most or all stages of the customer journey. This results in a pluralized DMU, where two or more people travel on a joint-decision, joint-consumption journey together. Decision making in such situations is qualitatively different because the members of the DMU have interdependent utilities and each member of the DMU may, at each stage of the journey, base his or her own responses on the responses of the other. Because of the relationship dynamics that must be managed, joint journeys are complex and distinct from individual journeys.

Key managerial issues across the entire social customer journey involve how and when to become involved in what might otherwise be consumer-to-consumer-only interactions. Considerations might include: when and how firms should respond to negative customer reviews or social media call-outs, when to highlight a social media influencer who is implicitly or explicitly endorsing one's product, how to manage "sponsored" blog posts, and when to provide "corrective" information when consumers are being exposed to unfavorable product information by their peers. Of particular interest to marketers, social influence may be used to nudge consumers from evaluation to decision. Technology has increased the number of opinions that bear upon a customer's journey and has even begun to insert itself as a decision support system wherein the customer and an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled agent, such as a chatbot, together reach a final decision. Firms must carefully consider their usage of AI technologies, attending specifically to the social implications.
Full article and author contact information available at:

About the Journal of Marketing

The Journal of Marketing develops and disseminates knowledge about real-world marketing questions useful to scholars, educators, managers, policy makers, consumers, and other societal stakeholders around the world. Published by the American Marketing Association since its founding in 1936, JM has played a significant role in shaping the content and boundaries of the marketing discipline. Christine Moorman (T. Austin Finch, Sr. Professor of Business Administration at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University) serves as the current Editor in Chief.

About the American Marketing Association (AMA)

As the largest chapter-based marketing association in the world, the AMA is trusted by marketing and sales professionals to help them discover what's coming next in the industry. The AMA has a community of local chapters in more than 70 cities and 350 college campuses throughout North America. The AMA is home to award-winning content, PCM® professional certification, premiere academic journals, and industry-leading training events and conferences.

American Marketing Association

Related Consumers Articles:

Is less more? How consumers view sustainability claims
Communicating a product's reduced negative attribute might have unintended consequences if consumers approach it with the wrong mindset.
In the sharing economy, consumers see themselves as helpers
Whether you use a taxi or a rideshare app like Uber, you're still going to get a driver who will take you to your destination.
Helping consumers in a crisis
A new study shows that the central bank tool known as quantitative easing helped consumers substantially during the last big economic downturn -- a finding with clear relevance for today's pandemic-hit economy.
'Locally grown' broccoli looks, tastes better to consumers
In tests, consumers in upstate New York were willing to pay more for broccoli grown in New York when they knew where it came from, Cornell University researchers found.
Should patients be considered consumers?
No, and doing so can undermine efforts to promote patient-centered health care, write three Hastings Center scholars in the March issue of Health Affairs.
Consumers choose smartphones mostly because of their appearance
The more attractive the image and design of the telephone, the stronger the emotional relationship that consumers are going to have with the product, which is a clear influence on their purchasing decision.
When consumers don't want to talk about what they bought
One of the joys of shopping for many people is the opportunity to brag about their purchases to friends and others.
As consumers, how do we decide what's 'best' when it's not clear?
Imagine you are choosing between two resorts for your island vacation.
Effects of ethnocentrism on consumers
Aitor Calvo-Turrientes, winner of the prize for End-of-Degree Project in Sustainability in 2015 awarded by the Faculty of Economics and Business of the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country in Vitoria-Gasteiz, is the author of the paper 'The valuation and purchase of food products that combine local, regional and traditional features: The influence of consumer ethnocentrism,' published recently by the prestigious journal Food Quality and Preference.
Organic consumers mean business
Groundbreaking research from Aarhus BSS shows that organic consumers are standing fast and are buying more and more organic products following an increasingly predictable pattern.
More Consumers News and Consumers Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.