3 min read

The Messy Middle - How People Make Buying Decisions

People in your industry make purchasing decisions every single day. And what they do is, they fire up Google or ask their trusted friends for their opinion on how they should proceed.
The Messy Middle - How People Make Buying Decisions

I recently gave a presentation about "80/20 Content Marketing for Startups". And the following concept around how consumers make purchasing decisions seems to have struck a cord specifically.

Pre-amble: People are making decisions with or without you

Here is a fact: People in your industry make purchasing decisions every single day. And what they do is, they fire up Google or ask their trusted friends for their opinion on how they should proceed.

And depending on the complexity of the purchase, dozens or even hundreds of micro-decisions need to be made, objections cleared, and doubts mitigated.

What exactly is happening in buyers’ minds is very individual and difficult to decipher (aka the messy middle). What we do know is this:

They will get their information somehow.

So it's fair to assume:

You need to help your potential customers navigate the messy middle, or your competitors will.

Sorry, It's not really a funnel this time!

So here's the issue, most marketers use funnels to represent the stages of their customer journey. This is great to represent a strategy on a meta level, but it does not depict reality. We do not make purchase decisions in linear fashion.

Google came up with a really useful chart to show how we make decisions in a continuous loop of exploration and evaluation:

Inevitably your customers will go through the stages depicted above.

Let's quickly go through them:

  • Exposure: This is the background noise. The brands in your niche that a buyer can name on the top of their head do a good job here. They are omnipresent.
  • Triggers: When a person first recognizes that she has a problem or need that needs to be satisfied. If you know what those triggers are for your product or service, you have a huge leg up, because then you can be at the right place at the right time and offer a solution for the problem.
  • Exploration and Evaluation: This is the messy middle. Consumers explore their options, expand their consideration sets. Then, they evaluate those options, narrowing down their choices. If they make no purchase decision, then more exploration is required. Customers are off for another journey around the loop. With each lap of exploration, followed by evaluation, we get have new things to consider, more information to process.
Customers will continuously flip-flop between exploration and evaluation until one lucky brand emerges victorious.
  • Experience: How well designed is the purchasing process with your business? If you deliver an unpleasant experience, there might be doubts resurfacing if the right decision was made.

You need to show up! With Content.

As I mentioned earlier. Every single step above is a chance for you to show up and help your potential customers make the "right decision" (aka your product or service).

So what I recommend you to do, is to sit down and think about where in the journey you have content gaps. Because remember, if you don't fill them, your competitors will!

I have drawn the following chart to help you determine where you are showing up already and where your brand has a "content gap":

Starting from the bottom...

One important thing to note before we wrap up: To the right of the graphic you see that the further down the chart we go, the cheaper it gets to fill the content gap (aka provide the information your customer needs to get to the next stage). So try to fix your content gaps on the bottom first before your move up.

Meaning: No you don't need to start a podcast or put up a billboard (exposure) if your sales presentation (evaluation) or onboarding process (experience) suck!

So in closing, the one thing I want you to remember from this is: It’s a messy process. All we can do as a brand is to find out what the major objections, decision criteria and challenges of our customers are and then show up when and where they are doing their research.