How to Influence the “Messy Middle” of the Buyer Journey

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It’s about time we redefine the classic marketing funnel. It describes the user journey as a rather linear path, while the reality is a lot more messy, complex, and unpredictable.

Let’s scrap the dated marketing funnel and try to map out the real user journey.

It starts with a trigger, and then it goes into an almost infinite loop between exploration and evaluation – over and over again. And finally, the user exits the loop by making a decision or a purchase.

What we need to understand as marketers is what influences and biases affect people in the middle of the process – the exploration and evaluation phases – so they eventually get out of the loop in our favor. Let’s dive a bit deeper into this.

Redefining the Customer Journey: From Linear to Non-Linear

The buyer journey has been described as a straight path from awareness to consideration to action. This concept does not apply too well to the digital world that we’re living in – not anymore.

The way people make decisions is not linear in nature. They don’t move in a predictable way from the so-called top of the funnel – awareness stage – down to the middle of the funnel, consideration, to the bottom of the funnel, where they take action.

Instead, this journey that the consumer goes on begins with a trigger of some sort. The trigger is a factor that prompts the desire to purchase, moving the potential customer from a passive to an active state.

What is it that triggers someone to go find information on something they need? Usually, it’s a problem they need to solve. Their first touchpoint with your brand is the result of this effort – searching online for a solution.

Instead of obediently following the path from awareness to consideration, and then to action, the user goes into a long cycle of exploration and evaluation of the various options that could solve his problem.

This exploration and evaluation process is worth exploring in more detail, as most of our work as marketers should be focused on it.

The “Messy Middle” Loop of the Buyer Journey

As Google puts it: “The ‘messy middle’ (is) a space of abundant information and unlimited choice that shoppers have learned to manage using a range of cognitive shortcuts.”

In the center of the decision-making process lies the Messy Middle – a complex space between triggers and purchase, where customers are won and lost.

Once a prospect enters this part of the marketing funnel, it could go round and round for quite a while. This infinite loop entails two processes:

  • Exploration
  • Evaluation
  • Repeat Exploration
  • Repeat Evaluation

The exploration process in the “Messy Middle”  is an expansive activity, where people search for and discover more options. The evaluation process is a reductive activity – they compare top options and narrow down their list.

More often than not, these processes are repeated multiple times and in different sessions before people exit the loop and make a decision.

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