HomeTECHNOLOGYThe Messy Middle: What Is It? A 6-Element Model

The Messy Middle: What Is It? A 6-Element Model

The model, which can be considered a summary of the well-known Google Consumer Insights, aims to answer one of the “sacred” questions of marketing: “how do consumers decide to buy what they buy, and from whom do they want to buy it?” Answering this question can allow us to obtain the maximum return on investments in branding policies. It can help us protect the brand from fierce and numerous incumbent competitors, as the behavior of consumers also follows these patterns.

Messy Middle: A Consumer Insight Project 

The research project underlying the model lasted two years and involved hundreds of thousands of purchase processes of goods of different natures, hundreds of hours of active observation of purchase processes in real-time, and proposes a model of “Google consumer behavior,” which is an attempt to explain better the digital user journey and its implications for companies and marketers. There are some starting elements that the Mountain View company takes into consideration as fundamental in this analysis:

  1. Once our choices were restricted by availability and proximity, this fact pushed the user towards the Brands as security vectors and indicators of “a correct decision.”
  2. Now the situation has radically changed, we have an essentially infinite choice in terms of breadth, and distance is no longer a problem… but this represents an element of decision-making complexity.
  3. Our cognitive biases, encoded in centuries of pre-digital development, are now overloaded with many options and opportunities and are still relevant consumer choice factors.

Definition Of “Messy Middle”

The Messy Middle is a “space” in which information is abundant, and choice is practically unlimited. The consumer maps this “space” according to a pattern consisting of two continuously alternating states, the state of exploration and that of evaluation. At the user level, during the exploration/evaluation phases, the underlying classical cognitive processes and the related biases are used by our brain to make choice processes faster and more efficient, even more so when abundance and breadth make them long and complex, i.e., in the digital world.

Purchasing Decision-Making Process And Consumer Behavior In The Messy Middle

Exhibition: A Continuum In Which The Consumer Is Immersed

As we all know, the relationship between consumers and brands occurs through many interactions, conveyed by different digital and non-digital tools, living and evolving in an “experiential continuum.” In the digital marketing model proposed by Google, this enlarged interaction space is called exposure. 

Exposure, in English, is not a phase, but a continuous universe in which the consumer is immersed, a constantly active universe, in communication on many overlapping channels, some of which escape a complete mapping (events, WoM, etc. …). The observation of hundreds of hours of purchasing processes has brought to light an elementary fact, partially contradicted by some specialist readings on the customer journey: the consumer does not follow a typical purchasing process, not even within the same product category/service, and does not follow a linear purchasing process. 

Trigger: The Initial Trigger Point

The consumer moves from an initial point, a point which identifies the activation of the process called a trigger, to the final point, where he completes the actual purchase, crossing many different contact points, including:

  1. search engine
  2. review sites
  3. Sites that share videos
  4. Please bring them
  5. social media
  6. price comparators
  7. forums
  8. interest groups
  9. aggregators
  10. blog
  11. sites that issue coupons (discounts)
  12. brand sites

The consumer, bouncing between these sources, acquires information, makes comparisons, checks, and continues to explore, amplifies, diversifies, and then again reduces the choices, selects … and so on in an iterative path that ends only when he decides to conclude the purchase.

Exploration And Evaluation: The Iterative Consumer Behavior That Makes Up The Messy Middle

The behavior of the observed consumer essentially consists of two fundamental guidelines, which make up the loop of the Messy Middle, as the figure above indicates:

  1. exploration: aimed at broadening the choice, understanding the alternatives, categorizing the properties of the desired product/service, and establishing a set of evaluation parameters;
  2. Evaluation: aimed at reducing the alternatives, excluding elements that do not reflect the set of parameters described above

Consistent with some scientific theories, in particular with the one defined as Information Foraging, it has been observed that the user tends to acquire all the information at the point where he finds it if it is deemed valid. At the same time, he immediately changes the information source if this utility does not exist. This fact may support some observations:

  1. It is essential to provide the user with complete information to avoid the escape towards information sources of better quality or competitors for the same/similar product. 
  2. Understanding the difference between providing information at the category level and the individual product/reference level is essential.
  3. As already known, the alignment between ecommerce SEO indexing and the actual content of the published texts and related images is fundamental.
  4. The loop between states of exploration and evaluation graphically represents what, as mentioned, is a non-typable, uncategorizable, non-linear journey during which the consumer, often having fun or in any case with a possible effect of satisfaction, navigates non-stop, up to when he decides to complete the purchase. The duration of this trip varies:

Complexity equals length: where the object of purchase is more complex, the consumer tends to generate a more significant amount of alternatives before deciding, and therefore the journey tends to lengthen. Impulse purchase equals a shortcut: impulse or repetitive purchases shorten the path considerably

The Purchasing Experience: An Opportunity To Be Exploited By Companies

To complement what has been highlighted, it should be emphasized that when the consumer completes his purchase, he creates an experience, both in terms of the digital process and in terms of appreciation of the product/service. It is a phase that lies outside the model which, however, is crucial to support the repetition of the purchase, which, as highlighted above, reduces the consumer’s tendency to re-enter the loop of the Messy Middle or, conversely, in which one can risk receiving non-positive judgments, even public ones (if the experience provided is negative).

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