Have you ever heard of ” messy middle “? In this way, marketers define the central stages of the purchase path that allow the potential buyer to move from the stage of ” contemplating ” a potential solution to the decision to buy that product or service.

Two specialists from the Google team dedicated to consumer insights, Alistair Rennie and Jonny Protheroe , have dedicated an entire in-depth study to the subject precisely by virtue of their constant analysis of changes in consumer behavior , and the result is really interesting, because it allows a vision privileged in the decision-making process of buyers . 

These are therefore conclusions not only useful for marketers and advertising specialists , but also for companies that, on a daily basis, invest budget and commitment in promoting their products. 


Purchase decision making: chaotic today, even more so tomorrow

Google’s analysis indicates first of all that the way people decide to buy something is chaotic and that it will almost certainly become even more so in the future . Without prejudice to this important variable , it is even more fundamental to know how to carefully evaluate the key points of the mental journey that the consumer takes, and to calibrate one’s strategic actions accordingly.

For example, we know that between the first stimulus that triggers the funnel that will lead to the purchase and the actual decision to buy something there is not a linear direction , but a complex and very different network of touchpoints between one individual and another . We are not currently able to know how the prospective buyer processes the information he receives, but we can speculate how it influences his final decision. 

The network itself offers important insights simply by analyzing how search queries have changed over the years: from ” cheaper ” users have over time (from 2004 to 2020) begun to favor Google searches oriented instead to ” the best ” “. It is also very unusual to note that this is a transversal change that seems to have affected all nations, including Italy .

The next step is to analyze what “best” means to each person and what price the individual might place (ie be ready to pay) for this trait. This evaluation must be made at every step of the funnel , including the messy middle – that is, in all those confused phases that occur, as we have said, between the initial consideration and the actual purchase action. 

Understanding how to move in such a complex context was already fundamental before the Coronavirus pandemic, and it has become even more so now . 


Because understanding the consumer passes through Behavioral Sciences

How does the mental path leading to a purchase work? As a rule, the decision-making process passes first from searching for certain information, then from evaluating the different options available and, finally, to the actual  “ buying ” action.

We therefore have an exploration phase , which by its nature is expansive , and an evaluation phase , which is on the other hand reductive , and we know that every consumer on the web will move mainly following one of these two mental approaches , moving from time to time towards each other for an indefinite number of times: this is why the middle is so messy 


The various cognitive biases that can influence purchasing behavior and push the user to direct their choice towards one product rather than another  will then be considered .

As you no doubt know there are an infinity of different biases , but according to Google the marketer and / or the company will have to pay particular attention to these six : 

  1. The category heuristic : the purchase decision is simplified by short descriptions of the salient information relating to the product.
  2. The power of immediacy : the user who has to wait too long to take advantage of the product they are looking for will switch to another solution.
  3. Social proof : The final purchase may be influenced by the opinions and advice of other people.
  4. The scarcity bias : the lower the availability of a product, the more desirable it will become in the eyes of the user.
  5. Authority bias : the purchase decision may be influenced by the opinion of who the user considers an expert. 
  6. The power of gratuity : when the purchase is accompanied by a gift, the decision will be positively influenced even if the gift is totally different from the desired product. 

To understand how these six biases could really influence the path within the funnel, Google implemented the simulation of 310,000 purchase scenarios in the most diverse sectors, asking buyers to choose the first and second favorite brand in a category. and then applying a series of biases to see if and how these could change the purchase intention. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that this “experiment” even included an imaginary and completely new brand for the tested audience.

What were the results? In summary, even the less effective brand (which was also fictional) won 28% of the preferences compared to a “favored” and established brand, simply because it was able to convince potential buyers to offer a greater amount of benefits ( from high valuations to purchase discount). Indeed, when the experiment was calibrated on an imaginary car insurance, this obtained 87% of the preferences thanks to a series of advantages attributed to all six biases. 

So, ultimately, behavioral sciences can be applied intelligently to win shoppers’ trust and foster positive decision making for the brand .


Digital Marketing and messy middle: how to get noticed?

Now that we have explored the interesting results of the Google study , what conclusions can we draw and apply as digital marketing professionals ?

We can summarize below four useful principles : 

  • Ensure that the brand is present in a strategic way so that it can be noticed by potential buyers as they explore the different options.
  • Use behavioral sciences not only in a smart way, but also in a responsible way, so as to convince users with our proposal.
  • Make the moment of the trigger and the actual purchase closer, thus exposing the consumer to potential competitors for less time. 
  • Leverage the talent of a flexible and competent team , which knows how to go beyond traditional branding and transform the decision-making process into a fluid and synergistic process for the user.

Do you want to talk more about the path your potential buyers might take to get to your product or service ? We are waiting for you in Naxa ! 

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