Three Modes Of The Customer Buying Journey

Martyn LewisJanuary 30, 20193 min

Once triggered, the Customer Buying Journey can be categorized into one of three modes, each of which tends to dictate the nature and complexity of that buying journey.

1. Substitution

Substitution is when a buying journey is triggered by the customer’s need to explore — and potentially acquire and adopt — an alternative offering for or supplier of something that is already part of the standard operating procedures. In other words, the buyer is simply substituting one solution for another. Maybe a cheaper, faster, or higher-quality solution has been discovered. Perhaps a particular supplier has failed to deliver the required quality or service, and this has triggered a Customer Buying Journey to find an alternative provider.

Substitution is the simplest overall buying journey. Usually, buyers know what they require, and their current approach offers a benchmark by which to judge possible alternatives. However, it is risky to assume that this implies the journey will be straightforward and easy, because any change — no matter how small— can present a barrier to the successful completion of the journey.

2. Augmentation

Augmentation is a buying journey in which the buyer explores the potential to acquire and adopt an offering with greater functionality or potential than a current approach. Such a journey may be as straightforward as upgrading a current product or service, or it could involve switching providers to add greater functionality.

For example, in the high-flying world of corporate aviation, if a company is exchanging one turboprop for another, that could be considered substitution. But if they are upgrading to a jet, then that would be augmentation. At a more mundane and earthbound level, switching from Dell/Windows to Lenovo/Windows laptops could be considered substitution if the specs and usage remained largely the same. But upgrading to Cloud computing with iPads could be considered augmentation.

3. Disruption

Disruption is when a buyer considers something totally new, whether that journey is long planned or more spontaneous. The acquisition and, more importantly, the adoption of such an offering will disrupt the current approach in some way. As an example, think of a distribution business moving from old “green screen” monitors in its warehouses to tablets and RFID. Although there may be many benefits associated with such a change, it will require workflow changes, reskilling, redefining job roles, and likely major installation challenges. That would be disruption.

To contrast these three modes, consider the world of health care providers and one aspect of orthopedics. If a hospital is looking at switching from one artificial joint provider to another, that would be substitution. If it is considering a provider with a new form of infection-preventing joint coating that otherwise requires the same surgical processes, that could be considered augmentation. However, if the hospital is contemplating adopting 3D imaging and the custom design and 3D printing of joints, that would likely be a disruptive buying journey, as their surgical procedures and schedules would need to change to accommodate this new approach to joint replacement.


1. There is a very important distinction between someone with an intent to buy and someone purely educating himself or “window shopping.” One is on a buying journey, and the other is not.

2. It’s important to know what can trigger a buying journey and the dependencies that enable the successful conclusion of that journey.

3. There are three modes of the Customer Buying Journey:

◦ Substitution. The buyer is simply exchanging one supplier or offering for another.
◦ Augmentation. The buyer will continue to buy what they have in the past but do so in a way that adds something more to the equation; this could be with the same supplier or offering or with a different supplier or offering.
◦ Disruption. The buyer is going to buy something that either is new to them or will change something they are already buying.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Martyn Lewis, excerpted from his book How Customers Buy & Why They Don’t, with permission from Radius Book Group.

The Blake Project Can Help You Grow: The Brand Growth Strategy Workshop

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

FREE Publications And Resources For Marketers

Martyn Lewis

Connect With Us