All models are wrong, but some are useful – George E. P. Box

“AIDA? Are you kidding me? That model is like 100 years old. It’s got nothing to do with today’s digital marketing.”

Not what I was looking for.

But that was the response I got from my content marketing pitch to a financial services company.

The company was looking for some help with content strategy to reach prospects interested in mobile banking services — a relatively new customer persona. I had shown this slide below, depicting the venerable AIDA model — attention, interest, desire, action.

It is in fact well over 100 years old, having been developed E. St. Elmo Lewis, an American businessman, and marketing strategist, in 1898. Over the years, people have made additions and changes to the original model to reflect current market realities. I think that in today’s subscription-and-SaaS economy, with its emphasis on customer retention and future growth, the extra “A” for advocacy is warranted.

I’ve also seen the model depicted as “AIDAS” to reflect the importance of customer satisfaction. But our goal for those satisfied customers really is for them to become brand advocates, so let’s call it AIDAA.

Here is the offending slide:


Even in the early stages, our aim is to create a community of people that are happy customers, but who will also help us tell our brand story by advocating our products or services.

Anyway, in response to the comment, I said that I respectfully disagreed. My rationale is:

1 .AIDAA is only a model, and it’s not representative of reality or an actual customer journey. Two of the biggest struggles with content marketing seem to involve:

  • Missing content: many organizations have tons of top-of-funnel awareness content that tapers off as the buyer’s journey continues. They don’t have content to support prospects and customers during the crucial laters stages.
  • Mismatched content: The second issue is matching the appropriate content with the stages of the buyer’s journey. You can see this every day with pitches and pop-up calls to action that appear within seconds of landing on a website — before visitors have a chance to know what your solution is, or why they should buy it from you.

2. The AIDAA model as I understand it is not intended to be an accurate depiction of the buyer’s buyer’s journey experience. It’s more a cognitive model that describes the stages that occur inside the prospect’s mind, not somewhere out on the interwebs. These cognitive stages precede any physical actions that we measure as conversion events: Visits, views, reads, clicks, downloads, and purchases. The AIDA model began as a sales script for sales training.

The source of confusion might be the slide’s title, “The Ideal Customer Journey.” Our understanding of the buyer’s journey would be ideal if all customers could be understood to progress through the buyer stages in a linear fashion, and become loyal customers at the end. But that’s not reality.

AIDA and AIDAA – The next slide

Today’s customer journey looks more like the image below from Think with Google. I added the multiple people at the beginning to show that, especially on the B2B side, there are often large groups of decision-makers involved. The days of simply winning over senior decision-makers are long over.

In 2014 CEB, now part of Gartner, found that an average number of 5.4 people were involved in a typical B2B purchase. A 2016 follow-study found the number had increased to 6.8 people – a 25% jump in just two years. By 2018, the average buying group size reached 10.2.

These people are connecting through more devices, through more channels, than ever before. The level of personalization in today’s digital marketing is unprecedented, and that level is only going to increase as organizations compete on the customer experience (CX).

The map is not the territory

You need a different checklist and different mental models for different companies. I can never make it easy by saying, ‘Here are three things.’ You have to derive it yourself to ingrain it in your head for the rest of your life. – Charlie Munger

The customer journey is markedly different than just a few months ago, in pre-pandemic times. Our strategy planning must address a faster future that arrived even more quickly than anticipated with the advent of COVID-19.

But for ideal prospects who are not brand-aware, we still need to capture attention. The stages are linear, and that is by design. In the awareness stage, we create content that captures the audience’s attention, answers questions, solves problems, and focuses on their goals. Of course, some visitors who are familiar with you will skip this stage, and some visitors will ping-pong back and forth between stages.

The reason there’s no single model or mental framework that can provide a lens to view today’s customer journey, which continues to evolve rapidly. But mental models and frameworks remain useful in understanding the dynamic world of digital marketing.

The bottom line on AIDAA: Deficiencies? Yes. Discard it? No. There’s still something to learn.

What’s your opinion on AIDAA and other legacy marketing models? Obsolete or useful? Tired or wired? Dead or alive? I’d love to hear your comments!