The Cognitive Stages of a Buyer’s Journey: Navigating Decision-Making

Woman researches product online.

Understanding the buyer’s journey helps provide the right information at the right time to shorten the journey toward purchase and use.

Each of us moves through stages when buying something. With some exceptions, the more significant or meaningful the purchase, the more defined each step becomes.
A well-documented process for this process is AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire/Decision, Action), with an optional 5th step of retention.
As marketing professionals, we continually work to improve our understanding of the stages a person (or persons representing an entity) goes through when considering a purchase. The goal of deeper understanding is to shorten the buyer’s journey by providing the right information at the right time.
While there is much research (and opinion) on emotions’ role in the buyer’s journey, this article peers into the cognitive stages.

Why Consider the Cognitive Stages of a Buyer’s Journey?

Buyers Have an Enhanced Understanding of Your Product

Buyers are able to more fully understand a product and its benefits much earlier in the buying process, impacting all subsequent stages.

Decisions Are Influenced More by Data

Data is more available than ever before, and data influences decisions. And while not all “data” may be factual, it’s easy for us to process and label it as such.

For example, if a trusted friend tells you they use a particular product brand you are considering purchasing, that information is allowed into your conscious and processed as factual. The result is “that product is good.”

You Can Improve Marketing Engagement

Inversely, you can better understand your prospective buyer using data. With a better appreciation of the problems your customer faces and what they desire, marketing messaging and placement can be more efficiently tailored to address their needs and desires.

What are the Cognitive Stages of a Buyer’s Journey?

The cognitive stages encompass customer behaviors that individuals are conscious of, even if articulating the underlying reasons proves challenging — primarily due to the intricate nature of self-recognizing emotions and ego.

Problem Preawareness

In the Problem Preawareness stage, customers are blissfully unaware of any issues or needs. This marks the period before they recognize a problem, where their attention hasn’t yet shifted towards a particular need. At this point, businesses must lay the groundwork for problem awareness by introducing the challenges their product or service can address. Who knew we needed removable adhesive for sticking notes and hanging pictures?

Problem Awareness

The Problem Awareness stage initiates the decision-making process as customers become aware of a problem or need. It’s the pivotal moment when a vague discomfort solidifies into a conscious recognition, sparking their interest. Companies must strategically position themselves at this juncture, offering insights and solutions that align with the customer’s emerging awareness.


As customers enter the Find stage, they actively seek information related to the identified problem or need. This stage occurs during the decision-making process, and businesses must ensure their visibility in the customer’s search. Providing accessible and valuable information becomes crucial to guide customers toward what they deem as suitable solutions.


In the Consider stage, customers are in the midst of actively contemplating potential solutions. This phase is vital as they weigh various options against their needs and preferences. Businesses should focus on presenting the unique value propositions of their products or services, aiming to stand out positively during the customer’s deliberation.


The Evaluate stage involves customers scrutinizing specific products or services in detail. Here, they dive deeper into the offerings, comparing features, prices, and reviews. Businesses must ensure their offerings are compelling and distinct, addressing the customer’s criteria for making an informed decision. Online and peer reviews are critical at this stage.


The Buy stage is the culmination of the buying journey, where the customer makes the final purchase decision. Businesses need to streamline this process, ensuring it’s straightforward, trustworthy, and aligned with the customer’s expectations to encourage successful conversions.


In the Stay stage, businesses aim to cultivate continued loyalty and satisfaction post-purchase. Building on the positive experience, this phase involves efforts to retain customers, encourage repeat business, and potentially turn them into advocates for the brand.


Customers, now well-acquainted with the product or service, enter the Suggest stage. In this phase, they may actively recommend the product or service to others based on their positive experiences. Companies should harness this potential by implementing strategies that encourage and amplify word-of-mouth marketing.


The Exit stage signifies the end of the customer-product relationship. Whether due to evolving needs, dissatisfaction, or other factors, this phase demands a nuanced approach. Companies should conduct exit surveys, seeking insights into the reasons behind the exit and potentially leaving the door open for future engagement.

Where Cognitive Stages Are Less Important

In certain purchasing scenarios, the impact of cognitive stages is notably diminished, with emotional and ego-driven factors taking precedence. One prominent example is the realm of luxury purchases. When individuals engage in buying high-end products or services, the decision-making process is often swayed more by the allure of exclusivity, brand prestige, and the emotional satisfaction derived from ownership than by a rational assessment of product features.

Moreover, when routine, low-cost, or habitual purchases are involved, consumers might rely less on cognitive evaluations. For everyday items like household necessities or routine consumables, customers may follow a habitual buying pattern, guided more by convenience or brand familiarity than an intricate cognitive decision-making process. In such cases, factors like habit, convenience, or a history of positive experiences might outweigh in-depth cognitive considerations.

Your Next Step

Start with some self-reflection. Take a moment to evaluate your customer’s buyer’s journey, identifying the strengths and potential weaknesses in your current approach.

This self-awareness is the first step toward refining your strategies and ensuring they align seamlessly with the nuanced stages that your customers navigate.

Consider making adjustments where necessary and strategically address any gaps or weaknesses identified in your evaluation. Adaptability and continuous improvement are key in a dynamic market where customer expectations evolve.

Let Perk Brands be your guide in navigating the intricacies of the buyer's journey.

Bringing in a fresh perspective can provide immense value. We partner with home product manufacturers to evaluate and improve alignment with their buyer’s journey. Together, we tailor strategies that not only align with each cognitive stage but also enhance the overall customer experience. Now that this article has delivered Problem Awareness (your marketing and sales may not be aligned to your buyer’s journey), and we’ve offered to partner with you (Find), you can move to the Consider stage and schedule a no-cost call with us to see if you should Evaluate us further. ; )
About the Author

Jason Otis is the president of Perk Brands and founder of Built for Home. Perk Brands is a digital marketing agency that partners with home product manufacturers to make their products easy to find and buy. Built for Home is a community of home product manufacturers and a resource for buyers to find products that make their lives better at home.


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