• Jefrey Gomez

Decluttering the ‘Messy Middle’ of the Consumer’s Purchase Journey with Google Insights

The customer’s buying journey is usually not linear. They don’t typically start from a point and move through the subsequent steps to reach the finish line. They, instead, move into the purchase funnel at different phases. Thus, it’s crucial that marketers understand their customers’ buying journeys to tell their stories better with their brand across all touch-points.


With the acceleration in COVID19 and the trend of online shopping picking up, it’s become more important than ever for marketers to understand how people make purchase decisions. However, that’s easier said than done as most marketers tend to miss the most important pieces of the customer journey’s jigsaw.


However, the 2020 Google Insights compiled by Alistair Rennie and Jonny Protheroe decode what mistakes marketers commit in understanding the consumer’s journey and what they can do to improve it.


Here are the major highlights of the report.


Cheap or Best?


The evolution of the Internet has been such that it no longer remains a tool for merely comparing prices but compares everything. That’s precisely why we have seen the purchase behavior undergoing significant transformation over the years on Google Search. For instance, consider the terms “cheap” and “best”. The worldwide search interest for “best” has substantially outpaced search interest for “cheap”.





The above data shows that the consumers’ interest in finding the cheapest product online was taken over by a desire to find the best item at some point.


That may be because the exact value of “cheap” may differ from one person to another, but, nevertheless, it carries a singular meaning. On the other hand, “best” can have a wide range of meanings, including performance, value, quality, or popularity.


It clearly proves that the consumer behavior can and decision making are often intricate and impulsive, which makes it even more difficult to figure out the customer journey.


However, more than the customer journey, it’s the touch-points that the consumer engaged with along their path that matter.


What Does the Customer Journey Look Like?


While this question is the most frequently asked by marketers, it depends on how consumers decide what they want to buy and whom they want to purchase it from. However, most businesses tend to outsource this question although it’s the most important in advertising.


Often the answer to this question boils down to narrowing down a list of touch-points that the customer hit along their path to purchase. While these questions provide valuable insights into the places that people went to for the purchase, they don’t reveal why the buyer made that decision.


The answer to this question is somewhere within the labyrinth of searches, clicks, links, and ads that lead to the purchase. This territory, or the “messy middle” as the Insights team calls it, is a space of infinite information and abundant choices that buyers manage using various cognitive shortcuts. The success of future marketing will rely heavily on learning to navigate its switchbacks, dead ends, and hairpin bends.


The Role of Behavioral Biases


Google’s consumer insights team devised an updated model to determine how people behaved when faced with such an abundance of options. They sought help from behavioral science experts and recruited people to complete shopping tasks and captured their behavior to find out what they were thinking, doing, and why they were doing it.


Unsurprisingly, they observed that when faced with such complexities, people tend to keep things simple. They use their cognitive biases that are encoded deep within their psychology and existed long before the internet. These cognitive biases tend to influence their shopping behavior and decision on why they choose one product over another.





These observations and psychological biases led to some very interesting revelations such as-


  • By simply being present in customers’ moments of deliberation, marketers can ensure winning or retaining consumer preference. This is known as the power of showing up.

  • Many of the most powerful behavioral biases can be easily addressed if marketers surface and modify the existing assets.

  • Addressing the most powerful biases requires cross-functional cooperation from marketing, finance, product development, and user experience.


Exploration & Evaluation: The Two Mental Modes of the “Messy Middle”


The research carried out by the Google Insights team led to the development of a decision-making model, in the center of which lies the messy middle- the infinite space between triggers and purchase, where customers are won and lost.





People consider all options when looking for information about different products and brands. This is done within the two mental modes of the messy middle, i.e exploration (an expansive activity) and evaluation (a reductive activity). A person’s activity across an array of online sources such as social medium review websites, search engines, and aggregators can be categorized into one of these two modes.


People keep moving back and forth between these twin modes of exploration and evaluation, repeating the cycle as many times as they need before they make the purchase.


So, Here’s How You Can Navigate Through the Messy Middle


While the concept of messy middle might seem like a complicated one to marketers, it is the same as normal shopping for the consumers. So, your goal shouldn’t be forcing the people out of the loop that the model talks about, but give them the push that they need to make a decision.


Regardless of whether you are a small brand or an industry giant, the approach remains the same. Try boosting your brand presence so that your product or service comes first in the consumer’s mind as they explore their purchase options. Leveraging and employing the behavioral biases responsibly and intelligently can also go a long way in making your proposition compelling when consumers evaluate their options.


However, reducing the gap between the trigger and purchase is key to ensuring that your existing and potential consumers aren’t exposed to competitor brands for too long.


To delve deeper into the report and form a more sound understanding of the messy middle, behavioral biases, and purchase & triggers, download the full report here.

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