‘Think with Google’ the research arm of Google has released some really interesting research on how people buy online and have introduced the interesting concept of the “messy middle”. This is what happens between the purchasing trigger ( I want to buy something) and the purchasing decision ( I want to purchase that thing).
I am not normally into wishy washy marketing theory but what did interest me about this research method was the ability to tie channels into this journey from trigger to decision. What we are trying to answer is how do customers decide what to buy and who to buy from. This isn’t a simple or one size fits all answer yet understanding it will give you a serious competitive advantage.
Google collects a lot of data. Some of the stuff we know they collect is the history of search queries. Google sees billions of these queries every day and 15% are ones that have not been seen before.
The data that we don’t really see is how search queries change through the sales journey with the addition of adjectives or other descriptors i.e. they might start searching for a laptop then search for the “best laptop” then search for the “cheapest laptop”, “cheap” as a term declined in use over the last 15 years. Google are now starting to look at this data and build it into their bidding algorithms and the CPA targeting.
There are many types of marketing models from the Elmo Lewis’s AIDA model from 1898. That theoretical customer journey from the moment a brand or product attracts consumer attention to the point of action or purchase, to models like the 2009 McKinsey consumer decision journey, with “active evaluation” stage updates decision-making to reflect a less linear, active process and “loyalty loop”. But like I said, I am not really into marketing theory. What I want to know is how I can sell more stuff and at a lower price.
Google has a lot of research into observing shopping behaviour. They’ve taken several hundred hours of shopping tasks covering 310 different journeys across 31 categories. Where users have to research products in the market for other journeys were recorded using audio and video and the shop talked through what they were doing with the researchers. What they found was that no single model applied to all purchasing journeys.
What they did find however, was between the purchase trigger and the purchase events was exploration and evaluation but this only happens to brands and products with exposure which kind of makes sense, you have to be in it to win it and this point of exploration and evaluation is now called the “messy middle”.
A goal now for every marketer now is to understand their customers’ “messy middle” and campaigns. First get exposure, then to be part of the exploration and evaluation loops that happened before the purchase events. So it is becoming more important to line messaging to the stage of the customer journey and stage in customer journey to customer data. Once you have customer data and customer journey you can build campaigns and test the results of their interactions during this “messy middle” phase.
I will put a link to all the research on our website.