What happened to Purchase Funnel?

In 1898, St Elmo Lewis developed a model which mapped a theoretical customer journey from the moment a brand or product attracted consumer attention to the point of action or purchase. St Elmo Lewis’ idea is often referred to as the AIDA model - an acronym which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action:
  • AWARENESS – the customer is aware of the existence of a product or service
  • INTEREST – actively expressing an interest in a product group
  • DESIRE – aspiring to a particular brand or product
  • ACTION – taking the next step towards purchasing the chosen product

As intuitive or interesting as it may sound, this funnel metaphor is not valid anymore. Consider this - The initial awareness is usually triggered by a mass media ad. After a certain number of ad impressions, some people may start their initial consideration with a relatively narrow list of brands. However, when a customer gets serious about making a purchase, she would start a more active evaluation. According to the old purchase funnel metaphor, the number of options open to customer at this stage would be smaller. This used to be true during the ice ages when internet was not there but now, this is the stage where consumers have maximum number of choices - thanks to Google that generates 50 million search results in .0001 seconds. With this broken purchase funnel and limited effectiveness of traditional advertising media in later stages of purchase funnel, what can marketers do?

Welcome to the world of Social Media; Social Media plays an extremely important role in these later stages of purchase funnel (err. customer journey - Source: McK). Social Media can help brands gain visibility by increasing their credibility thru reliable social channels when customers are actively evaluation brands. Ironically this is also the most under-utilized aspect of Social Media. Marketers who use Twitter to broadcast their ad messages or Social Networking sites for display ads are not harnessing the real power of Social Media. They are only catering to the first stage (awareness) of the customer journey, which is perhaps best served by traditional (offline+online) display ads.


  1. Nice insight. I personally feel that with the sea change technology has brought about, the age old models or frameworks dont even work. We cant blame those framework as they were not meant for the digital age. As you rightly pointed out, twitter marketeers should cash on the Intention web and the companies have to be fast enough in pushing their product in the market based on what the consumers are positing. This is where Social Media would play an extremely critical role.

  2. That's right Surjendu. I wonder when b-schools (where such frameworks are taught as if they were gospel truths) will wake up and embrace these emerging trends!