Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Leave Auntie AIDA alone - understanding consumer buying behaviour

The esteemed consultants at McKinsey have been burning the midnight oil to come up with the startling revelation that consumer purchases are, wait for it, needs and wants driven.

Yes, it’s true. In its recent paper on the
Consumer Decision Journey, McKinsey challenges the linear progression of consumers from awareness to purchase and now says that consumers start with a trigger event that spurs them into action: they decide they need or want something and then set about finding it.

Well, knock me down with a feather.

The disturbing thing, beyond the fact that people are actually paid to come up with this stuff, is that Mckinsey is confusing the psychology of buying with a marketer’s approach to intervening in the process.

The linear progression that McKinsey challenges is based on AIDA – Awareness, Interest, Desire & Action.

To my knowledge, nobody has ever maintained that this is how people buy. We have understood since Maslow was a boy that human actions are based on fulfilling needs. When we have a need, we set about fulfilling it at a speed dictated by the urgency of the requirement and the degree of risk in the decision.

A B2C or B2B marketer’s challenge is to intervene in the process and create a purchase of their product at the highest possible price. This could involve stimulating an impulse buy or making sure that the brand is on the consideration list for a more measured acquisition.

‘A’ stands for ‘attention’ or ‘awareness’ and makes AIDA a good guiding principle when developing the approach to anything from a new brochure to a long-running multi-media campaign.

In the context of a shop, AIDA can mean grabbing attention with a compelling display and then turning the initial curiosity into desire with a great product and packaging. This, in turn, should lead to the action of a purchase.

A brochure or a website, be it B2B or B2C, should follow the same principle. The creator must find the compelling Home page or cover message that encourages the reader to delve deeper and deeper until action is taken.

Awareness comes into play for the more complex decisions when the purchaser may decide to explore the market. A marketer needs to create awareness to ensure the product or service is in the consideration set in the first place. This awareness could be created by brand advertising or a face-to-face relationship, either way it is a necessary pre-curser to interest in the marketer’s product, the decision that it’s the right solution and the action of purchasing it.

AIDA remains valid and has its place for those that understand it. To claim insight from the revelation that purchases are needs and desires driven is like proclaiming the Earth orbits the Sun.



Gianluigi Cuccureddu said...

Good post.

What exactly do you find the difference between customer behavior and marketing intervention? To me it are the two sides of the same coin.

If you don't know when to intervene you might be too late or too early creating brand awareness and a spot on their consideration list.
If you don't know how customer behavior works, a marketer can intervene all he or she wants, but not with the maximum result.

"To my knowledge, nobody has ever maintained that this is how people buy", there are -too- many that apply AIDA to create supports to fall back on. Problem remains, AIDA might have been correct back then (1898) in that economy, but mr. Lewis developed AIDA to explain mechanisms of personal selling.

Personal selling/sales is much back then is a different and other world then marketing in a dynamic world as we know it now.

Neuromarketing research has found that AIDA could be at most a reversed process of it.

The Marketing Eye said...

Whether a marketer is trying to stimulate an impulse purchase or place a product in the consideration set, the marketing strategy has to begin at the point of creating awareness and attention. As basic awareness turns to interest, the focus can turn to influencing perceptions and creating the desire. Whether this is by progressing the messaging in ‘old-style’ brand advertising or using ‘modern’ social media doesn’t change the basic objective.

My frustration is that the McKinsey theory says nothing new and at the same time suggests that AIDA is now incorrect. I don’t agree – it has stood the test of time because it’s common sense. A consumer or business can’t desire a specific product or service if they don’t know it exists in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I once worked with the McKinsey boys - they work s**t hard and produce lots of 'stuff'....but personally never found it that enlightening. Always thought there was an air of emperors new clothes about them.

Craig Elias - Creator of Trigger Event Selling said...

A little perspective on AIDA and marketing from a top performing sales person's perspective...

I agree with the AIDA model. All I think McKinsey is trying to say - and I HEAVILY agree with them - is that the desire component of AIDA is driven by a ‘Trigger Event’.

Back in 2003 I took a month off to reflect on 20 years of success as a sales person - in one case I went from new hire to #1 in the entire country for a multi-billion dollar company in less than six months.

I was amazed to identify that in almost every seven figure, or eight figure deal, that I won there was a specific ‘Trigger Event’ that started the purchase process and that I was the first person the decision maker spoke to after the ‘Trigger Event’ happened.

Since then I have been sharing insights about Trigger Events at

If people want to identify the best ‘Trigger Events’ for the products/services they sell they can download the Trigger Event Analysis (aka Won Sales Analysis) form and instructions at

Good Luck!