017 Goodbye Funnel, Hello Messy Middle

The path to purchase is complex. In this episode, we unpacked what the Messy Middle means and how you can stand out even if you’re a market challenger. We will walk you through Google’s Decoding Decisions consumer research and how they used the six cognitive biases to win in the messy middle.

Links in this episode:

We often think of a marketing funnel as bringing your potential customers from point A to point B. What you do not know is that the journey between these two points can be complex. In this episode, we talked about the “messy middle” or that complicated part of the funnel where customers are won and lost.

Episode Notes:

Just because you are able to attract customers to your website doesn’t mean that they will click the Buy button in a jiffy. Instead, they will look for more information and weigh their options. This part of the customer journey includes using a plethora of resources like online search, social media, aggregators, review websites, and more.

As a marketer and business owner, your job is to ensure that your customers won’t get lost in this complicated journey.

Your Funnel is Broken

This may come to you as a surprise, but it’s nothing really new. In fact, the marketing funnel has always been broken.

If you’re basing your marketing strategy from an infographic illustration of a funnel where it seems like it’s just a simple step-by-step, then there’s a chance that you might be doing your marketing strategy wrong.

Let’s review some of these simple step-by-step from the funnel:

  • Your prospect doesn’t know your business.
  • Your prospect heard about your business, but you’re still nothing compared to the other competitors.
  • Your prospect heard things about you and they’re a little interested in what you have to offer.
  • Your prospect starts to compare you with your competitor.
  • Your prospect becomes your new customer.
  • And last step…. Profit.

This may entice the marketer since it is just easy and straight to the point. But it’s never been this easy. It’s never been a straight line, unless your product is a necessity, like toothpaste or toilet paper, then that’s another story.

But if your product is something else, like a gym equipment, then you might need to conduct research.

What is the Messy Middle?

Messy middle is basically a perspective on how customers react or interact with brands. Also the term itself is self-explanatory, the scenario becomes messy in the middle of the process when making a purchasing decision. 

In a shopping experiment conducted by the Google Marketing Insights team, they’ve invited people and asked them what their top two product choices are. They were asked to buy it to see how easy it is to persuade the consumers to buy a new product that isn’t from their top choices.

So what they did is they made up a brand that no one knows and made it appealing for the consumers. That way they could see how easy it is to persuade people from buying it.

The bottomline of the experiment: Marketers should be keen about this learning insights and they should know how to deliver the messages and target customers

The Infinite Cycle of Exploration and Evaluation

When we talk about the exploration process in the messy middle, it’s an expansive activity where you have a lot of options to consider. Meanwhile, the evaluation process is when choosing the one that you really want or need. This is where you repeatedly narrow down your options until you decide what to buy.

Say you want to buy a computer mouse, you’d search for some product options on Google, check Instagram, ask a friend’s suggestion, or browse online marketplaces. That’s what you call an exploration process.

You add more options to find the perfect product that you really want. And once you find the computer mouse that you want, this is where you start with the evaluation process. You have to choose which shop offers a good price for the mouse, length of warranty, checking other customer reviews, until you narrow it down to two options.

Then you saw an ad on Facebook, and it looks better than the two options you’ve decided to get, then that’s where you go back to the cycle of exploration and evaluation again.

How Brands Should Handle the Messy Middle

To regular consumers, they don’t think much about the messy middle since they’re already used to it. However, the goal of the brands isn’t to force the consumers to exit the cycle but instead, it’s to provide them with information they need to make a purchasing decision.

No matter if you’re a category giant or a challenger brand, how you deal with the messy middle has common denominators:

  • You need to ensure your brand’s presence. That way, your product will be on your target consumer’s mind when they’re browsing.
  • You need to use behavioral science principles intelligently and responsibility. This will make your product more enticing as the customers evaluate their options.
  • You need to make sure that you close the gap between trigger and purchase. Ensure that you’re the first thing that comes into your existing and potential customer’s mind. Doing so would shorten their time browsing other brands.
  • Build a flexible, empowered team that can work well with each other. This way, they could avoid the traditional branding and working individually. This is most likely to leave gaps in the messy middle.

Six Cognitive Biases

While there are a lot of biases that may influence a customer’s decision-making process, here are six cognitive biases that you can leverage:


Heuristics basically means that you solve a problem by using your own experiences. This shortens the decision making of the consumer and they reduce the cognitive effort by examining fewer pieces of information and relying on easy-to-access-data.

Power of Now

Power of now refers to giving customers an idea of how fast you can serve them. A good example of this is a 24-hour sale. This gives customers a sense of excitement and pressure as they’re getting a great deal on a limited time only.

Social Bias

Social bias refers to the recommendation and reviews of your existing consumers. This is where encouraging customers to leave a positive product review could come in handy.

Scarcity Bias

Despite many people believing that security bias has no influence on them, this is probably the oldest purchase trigger that customers encounter. Basically, it means that if a product decreases in quantity, the more people would desire to have it (Read:Limited stocks).

Authority Bias

Authority bias is when you take advantage of a celebrity or social media influencer’s mass appeal to boost your sales.

Power of Free

The power of free is an excellent motivator. Everybody loves anything “free” including free shipping, gifts, or an additional item. What makes customers excited about it is the fact that they get something in addition to their purchase without having to spend more.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the No Hacks Marketing Podcast. And if you learned something new today, we would appreciate it if you can leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform.

Scroll to Top