AIDA Is Dead! Long Live Buyer Complexity

I’m not the first to say this, but I want to put something to rest. Longtime readers of this blog (and any qualified digital marketer) should already know to stick a fork in that old advertising acronym “AIDA”—attention, interest, desire, action—because it’s done.

But wait, you’re saying, surely we need to get buyers’ attention and arouse their interest in order to create desire and ultimately move them to act on that desire! OK, yes … but it’s not that simple anymore. AIDA implies a sequential 4-step journey, but buyers don’t typically proceed in a straight line the way they used to. You don’t need to have an MBA or communications degree to know that. Just consider your own purchase paths in the always-on socially networked mobile universe.

“The Purchase Loop”
Now that we’ve established the death of AIDA, what should we be thinking about to understand customers and the way they go about buying today? Consider “The Purchase Loop” (pictured below) as presented by Latitude Research and What’s nice about the purchase loop is that it both accommodates buyer flexibility in terms of the different optional phases and defines other contemporary crucial stages not found in the old AIDA model, such as “learning/self-education,” and “idea & inspiration seeking.” In short, where AIDA is one-dimensional and inflexible, the purchase loop is dynamic. Think of the two models as black-and-white vs. color: One narrowly defines the customer journey, while the other allows for nuance.


What’s refreshing about the “loop’s” new phases is that they underscore the need for marketers to help buyers in their journey by educating, inspiring, and truly resonating with their individual needs. AIDA doesn’t do any of this. It was great for the 19th century, but “Get their attention and make them buy!” doesn’t cut it in the era of what Salesforce calls “The Internet of Customers.”

So, what gets it done from the modern marketing perspective?

  1. Recognize the prevalence of the Web. Customers are Web-ready and ever-present. Your website needs to be welcoming them at all times.
  2. Cater to multiple devices. Tablet and smartphone adoption are widespread and integral to daily life, including for both consumer and business purchases. Keep in mind that one person may use several devices in the course of a single purchase. Furthermore, “showrooming,” or the behavior of investigating products in a retail store only to purchase them online for a lower price, illustrates the multiple dimensions where virtual and real-life evaluation collide in often unpredictable ways. Don’t think B2B purchases are immune to variations on this behavior, either. Ever have a potential customer or business partner visit you on site only to go with a Web-based boutique competitor who promised a better price or better joint arrangement?
  3. Be socially aware. Your customers often talk about what they want before they want it. For information or reinforcement, they’ll turn to peers, friends, and potentially experts like those working at your company who can help justify the purchase. Conduct market research by monitoring their conversations with free or paid tools (or the electronic equivalent of old-fashioned eavesdropping—join a few groups) Creating discussion and facilitating new groups as appropriate can be effective ways to increase your online reputation, thus building trust in your company/brand. Never underestimate the power of LinkedIn as a B2B lead-gen source.
  4. Educate. Make it easier for buyers to purchase by outlining options, defining your value in their terms, and revealing the price transparently (yes, B2B people, this applies to you, too). To use a great phrase from renowned usability expert Jakob Nielsen, the last thing you want your site to be is user-hostile. To the contrary, you generally want to be helpful and human (read: not corporate/soulless) to buyers.

These principles and the purchase loop are by no means the be-all and end-all when it comes to today’s marketing, but they should serve as a better instructional guide than AIDA and other old textbook examples of “interruption” marketing and their associated umbrella numbers like impressions, ratings, “eyeballs,” listeners and signs posted to bulletin boards in the town square.

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