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Customer journey, from AIDA to messy middle

Companies can rely on different models to better understand the Customer Journey.

A good marketing strategy is by no means casual, but starts from data analysis and understanding the customer journey. Despite this, customer behaviors are not that easy to predict. For this reason, various models have been developed over the decades to describe the path that transforms an individual into a customer and to give companies a reference for their actions.

What is the customer journey?

The Customer Journey is the process that transforms a person into a customer. It begins when the person becomes aware of a need, a problem, or a desire. Since the Customer Journey collects all the interactions (touchpoints) between the customer and the company, we can say that it is the story of the relationship between the two.

 Usually, this journey can be divided into three stages:

  • Awareness: The customer becomes aware of a need or problem.
  • Consideration: The customer begins to consider solutions to their need or problem.
  • Decision: The customer decides whether or not to take action and make a purchase.
Customer Journey, from AIDA to Messy Middle

A fourth stage (after-sales) can also be added. In fact, the relationship between customer and company does not end with the purchase of the good or service, but continues with further contact, the objective of which can be a further purchase or customer loyalty.

Of course, each stage requires specific actions. In any case, it is important for companies to know their customers, since identifying their needs means finding solutions to satisfy them. In particular, understanding what triggers the purchase and what drives customers to choose one product over another is the first step towards a clearer interpretation of their needs. For this reason, regular monitoring of the Customer Journey is central to marketing strategies.

The different marketing models

Many different models describe the Customer Journey. Here are brief descriptions of the most popular ones.


AIDA is one of the oldest models (it dates back to the late 1800s) but is still used today by many companies as a reference for their marketing campaigns.

 The model outlines the purchase path in relation to advertising. The path is divided into 4 phases:

  • Awareness: Every day consumers see and hear countless commercial messages, so our advertising must be truly captivating;
  • Interest: once the attention has been captured, we must arouse in the consumer the will to continue reading, listening, or viewing the advertising message;
  • Desire: advertising must generate the desire to buy. To do so, consumers must identify themselves in our advertising;
  • Action: our advertising must induce consumers to take an action (buy).


Starting from the AIDA model, at the end of the 19th century Townsend imagined the purchase process as a funnel, made up of several steps.

The first step is awareness. At this stage, the potential customers who have a problem or a desire are numerous. The next stage is interest, where only some of those potential customers find that our company might be the right choice. Of these, an even more limited number pass to the “desire” stage, in which they decide to buy our product or service.


DAGMAR (Defining Advertising Goals for Measured Advertising Results) was proposed in 1961 by Russell Colley. This model is an evolution of the AIDA model and introduces the concept of objectives: each stage must have a specific objective, which must be achievable and measurable.

According to this model, communication does not lead to purchase but creates the right psychological conditions that bring the consumer closer to the product or service.

Advertising is just one of the many stimuli that can push a person to become a consumer, but it is certainly capable of directing this transformation.


The Moment of Truth is a model based on the customer's experience with the product or service. The aim is to understand what happens before, during and after the purchase, in order to improve the customer experience.

In fact, a company that focuses only on the product will be easily forgotten when a competitor starts offering the same product at a lower price. On the contrary, a company that focuses on customers generates satisfaction and loyalty in them, increasing their lifetime value.


It is the evolution of the MOT model. As the name suggests, there is not just one MOT but (at least) two:

  • the First Moment of Truth (FMOT): When the potential customer sees our product or service, live or online, for the first time. Here, we can be able to generate or not interest in the purchase;
  • the Second Moment of Truth (SMOT): The customer buys the product and uses it. It is the time when the customer's expectations will be met or disappointed.

There is also an Ultimate Moment Of Truth (UMOT): When the consumer decides whether or not to share an opinion on the product with friends, family, colleagues but also online.


The decision-making process is no longer a linear funnel but a 4-step circular path:

  • the consumer evaluates different brands following exposure through different touchpoints;
  • they analyze brands and add or remove names to their list;
  • the consumer decides which brand to trust and buys a product;
  • they use the product and decide on a further purchase.

This is a marketing model that puts consumers first and is based on new technologies. In fact, digital platforms have changed the expectations of consumers, who are no longer willing to submit to unilateral marketing communication.


It is a further evolution of the MOT model and includes the online dimension.

The customer journey begins when a user searches online for information about a product or service. At that moment the user finds an incredible amount of data, some shared directly by the company, others by consumers. It is on the basis of this information that the user decides whether to continue on their journey to the purchase or choose another brand.

Although companies cannot have control of all information about them online, they can work on their reputation by interacting with the public and improving the user experience.


The Messy Middle model recognizes that people do not make decisions in a linear way. Indeed, they do it in a messy way.

This depends, once again, on technologies. The Internet gives the chance to find a lot of information and to compare companies, products, services, prices, and much more.

There is a huge gap between the first touchpoint, which arouses the potential consumer interest in a product, and the actual purchase. In this space, the consumer collects information, evaluates solutions, adds and removes elements. The phases of exploration and evaluation follow one another continuously, without the companies being able to know when the customer will make a decision.

It is a chaotic and unpredictable path.

How to use the customer journey models?

While some of these marketing models are a little old, they are still useful. In fact, they show common traits that remain unchanged despite the passage of time. For example, AIDA teaches us the 3 fundamental phases of the customer journey, while Messy Middle tells us that today people have control over their purchasing path. So, companies must rethink their communication, make it omnichannel, since they cannot know what moment or what message will trigger the desire to purchase in the user. 

Moreover, companies increase as much as possible touchpoints. To do so, they can, for example, create loyalty programs, take advantage of push notifications, or create connected products. The latter give the opportunity to reach all customers, regardless of the sales channel, and improve the digital customer engagement. This allows brands to add the customer to their CRM and have a better management of the relationship with the customer throughout their journey.


17 Jul 2022

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