The Transformation of the Customer Purchase Funnel

The Customer Purchase Funnel is a ‘hierarchy of effects’ model that illustrates the theoretical customer journey towards the ultimate purchase of a product or service.

In the model, potential customers enter the purchase funnel with a pre-existing awareness of a product or service, they then consider the product-fit with respect to their needs after which they form a preference for a particular offering that ultimately leads to the action of a purchase. The model can be visualised as a funnel as not all potential customers progress through the various stages within the model.


Given that the Customer Purchase Funnel is a model that generally captures the psychological states of a customer as they navigate along the path to action, the model is as relevant today as it was a century ago. However, a transformation has occurred in how marketeers manage the funnel through the use of new and evolving tools made possible by the Internet.

In the era of mass marketing, a period covering the entire 20th century, businesses were the central players who created mass market products to capture as much of the market as possible. To build awareness of their products and services, they adopted a ‘Broadcast Model’ view of the world using mass media, such as TV and radio, to reach as many customers as possible. Once awareness had been achieved, businesses used direct mail marketing and brochures to get consumers to consider their offering, to build a preference for their offering and ultimately to drive a sale of their offering. After a customer had purchased, they were then incentivised to become a repeat customer through the use of loyalty marketing techniques.

Over the last 20 years or so, the ‘Broadcast Model’ has dramatically fallen away as the world continues to embrace the Internet. While the business is still the driver of products and services, its relationship with customers has become increasingly complex. In the ‘Internet Model’ view of the world, customers are increasingly connected not only with the business but with other customers, friends and like-minded communities. Travel customers are just as likely to connect with and be guided by other customers as they are to be influenced directly by an airline, just look at the success of Tripadvisor.

In this new world order, customers can shape brands, markets and reputations. And for travel businesses to grow and to prosper, there needs to be a fundamental rethink of how the business interacts with potential customers and actual customers throughout the various stages of the Customer Purchase Funnel.

Watch the funnel approach to airline retail.