Alistair Rennie and Jonny Protheroe, who work on Google’s consumer insights team, wrote an article published on Think With Google titled How people decide what to buy lies in the “messy middle” of the purchase journey.

The full report, a 98-page PDF document titled Decoding Decisions: Making Sense of the Messy Middle, can be downloaded.

« What happens in the messy middle? Two mental modes

Through the research, an updated decision-making model began to take shape. In the center of the model lies the messy middle — a complex space between triggers and purchase, where customers are won and lost.

People look for information about a category’s products and brands, and then weigh all the options. This equates to two different mental modes in the messy middle: exploration, an expansive activity, and evaluation, a reductive activity. Whatever a person is doing, across a huge array of online sources, such as search engines, social media, aggregators, and review websites, can be classified into one of these two mental modes.

People loop through these twin modes of exploration and evaluation, repeating the cycle as many times as they need to make a purchase decision. »

« 6 biases that influence purchase decisions
Think with Google
1. Category heuristics: Short descriptions of key product specifications can simplify purchase decisions.
2. Power of now: The longer you have to wait for a product, the weaker the proposition becomes.
3. Social proof: Recommendations and reviews from others can be very persuasive.
4. Scarcity bias: As stock or availability of a product decreases, the more desirable it becomes.
5. Authority bias: Being swayed by an expert or trusted source.
6. Power of free: A free gift with a purchase, even if unrelated, can be a powerful motivator. »

«The results showed that even the least effective challenger, a fictional cereal brand, still managed to win 28% of shopper preference from the established favourite when it was “supercharged” with benefits, including five-star reviews and an offer of 20% extra for free. And in the most extreme case, a fictional car insurer won 87% share of consumer preference when supercharged with advantages across all six biases.
The experiment showed that, when applied intelligently and responsibly, behavioural science principles — and the behavioural and informational needs they align with — are powerful tools for winning and defending consumer preference in the messy middle. »

« Although the messy middle might seem a complicated place, it’s important to remember that to consumers it just feels like normal shopping. »

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