superHUMAN Blog

What is the messy middle in consumer decisions in online environments?

In the new digital world, we are all adapting to the new normal. We travel online, we communicate online, but most of all we shop online. All of this is changing the way we make decisions – both in the real world and in the digital world. We know how much harder it is to choose a product when we have a lot of choices, right? For example, when we face the endless produce counter in the supermarket and try to find “our product”. Well, in online shopping we have access to even more products and information about them – offers, reviews, recommendations, etc. This information gives us the ability to look up anything that interests us, but also puts us in an endless cycle of searching and evaluating products.

On top of that, with every search we do, we allow algorithms to get to know us better and provide us with highly targeted ads that answer our questions and needs. Sometimes before we even realize what we want. And here the question arises: How do we navigate the endless ocean of information to reach the user? Google did a study in July 2020 on exactly how consumers make decisions by defining 6 main factors that influence us. There are two main stages of the study – an analysis of data from recent years’ search trends, and an experiment in which they put a representative group of people to shop in different online circumstances.

What is Messy Middle?

The first question they seek to answer is: What happens in the consumer’s mind from the time they become aware of a need for a product or service to the time they close the deal? Google defines this part of the user journey as the Messy Middle. In the meantime, the user jumps through various sources of information, looking for the best offer for themselves. At this point it enters a looping (iterative) phase between exploration and evaluation. Jumping from site to site, he compares prices, reviews, qualities, thus narrowing down his choices gradually until he reaches the best decision for himself. Depending on the type of product, this loop lasts for different amounts of time.

In order to help him get out of this state by buying our product, we need to influence exactly the 6 main biases (factors) that determine his decisions. 

Which is stronger – emotion or practicality?

Have you thought about where your brand communication lies between these emotions and rationality? Sometimes we speak in pragmatic language, but we forget the big role of our emotions and instincts when we make decisions. Have you heard the psychological analogy that compares these two extremes to an elephant and its rider? In his dealings with the animal, the man feels that he has strong control over it and guides it towards his goal. However, if for even a second the elephant is distracted, the rider very quickly realizes how powerless he actually is against the animal’s instincts. And so within seconds of awakening our emotional side, we can become aware of having already made a decision, and the reasons for it remain misunderstood by our “rational” self. Now think about how often something like this has happened to you. Even probably the last week. Increasingly and multi-directionally used, the digital environment is creating new behavioural pathways.

What are the 6 biases in pre-purchase decision making and how do we influence them?

In these circumstances of clash between our instincts and pragmatism, every brand can find a way to navigate both the rider and the elephant beside them, even if the paths are different. This is what happens through the proper use of the 6 basic biases (known as cognitive biases) that influence us when we make decisions.

  • Message clarity is about concise messages that make consumer decision-making easier. An example might be focusing on key USPs – how many megapixels (MP) a camera has when you buy a smartphone or how many gigabytes (GB) of data are included in a mobile phone contract.
  • The power of “now” represents people’s preference to receive products and services as soon as possible. This factor explains the success of items with 24H delivery over those that require a longer waiting period. The longer the consumer has to wait for our product, the less desirable it becomes.
  • Social proof includes product reviews and testimonials. This factor influences people’s tendency to copy the behaviour of others, especially in moments of uncertainty. More and more we scroll through the comments under products or sort the suggestions by “most popular”. These actions bring us exactly this feeling of social proof that we are choosing the right product for ourselves.
  • The “uniqueness” factor of the product represents that urge we’ve all felt when we see the words “Only One Unit Left” next to a product we’re interested in, or the timer that counts down the time of a big promotion. In these moments people feel the emotional need to get something “unique” before others.  Inmarketing, this factor is used both as a reminder of the last piece left or the last minutes of a promotion, as well as on limited editions that evoke precisely the feeling of uniqueness of the order.
  • A recommendation from an authoritative person is that opinion which gives us the confidence that we are choosing the best product. This factor indicates our tendency to change and facilitate our decisions based on a review from a known and trusted source. When looking for technology, for example, this can be vloggers who review and compare different devices.
  • The “power of free” is the factor that motivates us to place an order just for a free “gift” with our purchase. Sometimes we even prefer the worse offer just because it is free. In one of his books, economist Dan Ariely writes about an experiment in which a group of people are given the choice between a free $10 voucher and a $20 voucher, but with a $7 fee. And most people choose the free one, even if the other one earns them more. This makes “free shipping” or “free packaging” a primary method of increasing sales.

All this is proven by Google’s research, this is the link. You can also find additional information about complementary phenomena in consumer behaviour and decision-making.  The SuperHuman team at Xplora believes that the success of any marketing pitch lies in getting to know the audience you are speaking to. Therefore, in order to improve our communication strategies, every year we do internal trainings on topics related to consumer behavior and new things we discover – this year we had two on the topic of subconscious factors that make consumers choose a certain product. 

In conclusion, we can say that the path that each user walks is unique, and the factors that influence them to take action change with the environment around them. That’s why our work as marketers is to give him that information that will make it easier for him to make a decision. The better brands focus specifically on navigating consumers through the proper use of the 6 decision factor. If we do this correctly and optimally, at the end of their journey the consumer will not have received a product/service only, but a real experience from which they will want more and more… This is what we focus on when we work for our clients, so we follow the 5 A’s. If you haven’t guessed who they are, you can find them here: The five phases of a modern user journey

Don’t miss our article about the four phases that consumers and businesses are going through after this year’s crisis. You will find that in Bulgaria we also went through these phases and with the timing indicated. Never mind that the world seemed totally changed and that there would never be any level of normalcy.

But how do we do everything in practice? See in Our video interview with Boris Milev, Tombow, where you’ll discover both a lot about messy middle and the cognitive biases we all have when it comes to marketing planning.

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