Making Sense of the Buyer Journey with One Simple Word

Today’s tech-savvy consumers are growing more and more empowered with each passing year, and along the way their expectations have changed. “They want to feel engaged and connected to the brand at every stage of the customer journey, and they expect retailers to deliver that experience,” says Zmags.

While Zmags refers to the customer journey, there are actually a lot of terms out there that refer to the process the customer goes through along their way to purchase. These include the purchase funnel, the customer journey, the buyer lifecycle, and the buyer lifecycle journey.

Most of us have heard of the terms buyer journey and customer journey. The question is, why is“journey” the term that’s been settled upon, and is it really the best metaphor we can come up with?

Some say the buyer journey includes three stages and others say there are four. Either way, journey maps can end up looking more like a maze—as in the image below—instead of a model for the buyer journey.

Complex funnel
Image source: Forrester

One Simple Word to Make Sense of the Buyer Journey

With all the various types of products and services out there, as well as many different kinds of consumers, you can see why a range of buyer journey models would be useful. But having so many models can also be overwhelming and complex, negating their usefulness.

That’s why Skyword has come up with one word to describe the buyer journey: STORY. Here are 3 reasons why:

  1. What do the journeys and funnels mentioned above have in common? There is a human being involved that is experiencing some kind of difficulty (even a slight one) who wants to find something that will restore balance and sets out on a quest to get it—a story.
  2. Story covers the entire buying experience, including what happens beyond the purchase.
  3. According to Robert McKee, the mind is a “story-making and taking-in machine. He goes on to say, “The natural way in which people think is to storify their experiences. This is how you remember, this is how you try to anticipate the future.”

“Story represents how people really think. So if marketers think in terms of story, they are automatically closer to the experience of the consumer.”

Source: Skyword

When you understand story, you’ll be able to see that there is a human commonality in all buyer journeys.

Story vs. Buyer Journey: Buying a New Car

Let’s say you inherited a used care from your parents. One day, the car brakes down and the mechanic tells you it can’t be fixed so you do some research and buy a new car that you’re happy with.

From HubSpot’s perspective of the buyer journey, the process would break down into the following stages:

  • Awareness: You realize you have a problem (your car won’t work).
  • Consideration: You define your problem (lack of a car) and research options to solve it—mechanic vs buying a new car.
  • Decision: You select a new car you prefer based on your particular wants and needs.

While this model is factually true, it seems incomplete.  Here’s what the case study would look like through the lens of story, as Skyword describes it:

At the start, life was in balance because the used car was working fine. Then the car breaks down (inciting incident)—the event that throws you (the protagonist) and your life out of balance. To restore that balance, you will need a working car ( your object of desire). Instead of buying a car right away, though, you take it to a mechanic to see if your used car can be fixed. When the mechanic informs you that it’s beyond repair (forces of antagonism), you realize you’ll need to buy a new car. You conduct research and narrow down your search to two models, but you have to make a decision about which one to buy (crisis). You buy the car of your choice (climax) and having done so, balance has been restored (resolution).

Can you see how the story model is more complete? That’s because it’s closer to how the consumer really thinks about the buying experience.

Story form includes the before and after (resolution)—the point at which retailers and marketers often forget about their customers.

If you’re like most consumers, you’ve experienced first-class customer service during the buyer journey—or story—only to realize that once the purchase is made, your story has effectively ended and the customer service is less than special (or non-existent).


Consumer behavior continues to change. To be a successful retailer, you need to consistently create amazing customer experiences through omnichannel customer stories that meet shoppers where they are, engage them at every touch point, and guide them through your sales funnel.

Viewing the buyer journey in story form will help you understand how the customer really thinks about the buying experience. It will also provide valuable insight into how customers interact with your brand before, during, and after a purchase.

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Also published on Medium.

Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and two small business e-books. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime. A graduate of Brigham Young University, she worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current writing position at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with small business owners.