The purchase funnel was first developed in 1898 by E. St. Elmo Lewis as a theoretical customer journey from the first point of contact with a brand to the final purchase decision. As consumers traverse through the funnel the numbers lessen. This is due to the fact that of all who first become aware of the brand, relatively few actually convert. Understanding how changes in our marketing strategies at each of these steps impacts the bottom line is key to the success of any business. Pre web and social media or post, the basics are still the same.
As shown in Figure 1 below, the marketing purchase funnel has been comprised of four main components over the years: Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action. This is known as AIDA. What has mostly influenced the decisions at each stage were brand initiated and included such things as in store demos, TV and print ads, FSI's, coupons and billboards.
Figure 1: Purchase Funnel Pre Social Media
Due to the introduction of the web, search engines and social media, the definition of each are changing as is the relationship of each of these to one another. However, the basic funnel concept still works. Let’s discuss each of these concepts further in today’s world.
Awareness in today’s world has totally changed due to Social Media. No longer are we made aware by simple push messages. Brands are pulling us in and telling us what they have to offer. And in some cases it is not even the brand that is directly making us aware of a product but rather our friends who are sharing their experiences with us on social media sites.
How a brand keeps our interest is also totally different thanks to retargeting of online ads or tailored web experiences due to cookie drops.
Once we have gained product awareness and shown sustained interest, a brand has many more options today to move us further along that path in order to increase our desire to buy. Years ago we would have to call to request a sample or go into an automobile showroom to talk pricing. Today those are no longer the only options available.
And then of course there is the purchase action. Money is still needed for this to take place, but what has changed is how we can share our purchase experiences (good or bad) with our friends and family. We can become advocates and make others aware of the product on behalf of the brand.
The new funnel is being depicted in many forms by various companies like Forrester Research as shown below in Figure 3.
Figure 3: New Model by Forrester Research
What this figure shows nicely is the “disruption” being caused in the purchase cycle by the abundance of information we can now gather at every step of the purchase process.
But at a high level the “funnel” concept still works. It shows nicely how as consumers move along that journey their numbers lessen.
Keep in mind, the funnel never was meant to depict a linear path. What is vastly different today are the experiences or options we have at each of those steps from a marketers and consumers perspective. What the funnel looks like today is as shown in Figure 3 below. As you can see there are now many more things affecting the purchase decision.
Figure 3: The New Purchase Funnel Post Social Media
The biggest difference in today’s world is advocacy. Brands need advocates for their products. They need to create them, find them and foster a good relationship with them. Why? Because they who the consumer turns to in order to gain information prior any purchase consideration. Based on a recent Nielsen report, 92% of people trust brand advocates. Remember, as said prior, control has shifted to the consumer in so many regards. This makes brands a bit nervous. Understanding that shift, as Sephora has done, and capitalizing on it will ensure a strong customer base full of advocates for your brand or offering for years to come.
I would love to hear your comments.
Perry D. Drake
Professor of Social and Digital Media
University of Missouri - St. Louis