Interesting points from Google’s ‘Messy Middle’ Research.

It’s not everyday that I read a research article & go ‘huh – that’s exactly how I am using the internet to buy stuff’. But Google’s Messy Middle research made me do just that. The 98 pages were packed with interesting behavioural insights, google search trends & statistics.

The New Consideration Behaviour

From cars to makeup remover, the internet can provide a crippling amount of choice to people when they are looking to purchase an item. To work through all these potential options we humans have created cognitive shortcuts to compare and select the best product for us.

Google studied this with a series of simulations & dubbed it “The Messy Middle”

They discovered that there are two sides to the decision-making process using the internet - Exploration & Evaluation.

It all starts with Exploration. You open up your browser and start looking. Google Searches, review sites, before you know it you have tons of tabs & have a list of potential products to fill your need. And maybe even the product you thought you needed changed halfway through because you found a better one.

Then comes the second stage – the Evaluation. Out of the short list of products which is going to be the best? This one is too expensive, while this one has great reviews. I’ve never heard of this one before but it looks great, this one’s website is painful to use, so I won’t pick that. Then at some point in this the trigger is fired & the purchase made.

This exploration & evaluation is constantly happening – which is how Google landed on a visual representation of this:

The question for brands is how can they be the one that is finally selected? Luckily Google also looked at this.

And the top one is to just be present – use all the data at your disposal to show products to the users while they are in the exploring phase. Give them all the relevant information, in a platform that is easy to navigate, to try and shorten the path through evaluation & onto purchase. Not convinced it’s that easy? When screened for all other variables 30% of the test subjects picked their second choice brand when offered the choice between that or their top preference brand for the product.

Always remember that your brand is not alone in the Messy Middle, and it’s all about comparisons thus it’s a good idea to regularly review your brand messaging & keep an eye on what your competitors are doing.

And there is one other interesting way to get customers to choose your product over the competition – behavioural biases.

6 Biases Used to Sell More Stuff

During this research Google ran 310,000 purchase experiments to see what effect 6 different biases had on the shopping outcomes of consumers. These 6 are:

  • Category Heuristics
  • Expert Reviews & Opinions
  • Social Proof
  • The Power of Now
  • Scarcity bias
  • The Power of Free

Out of all of these the top bias turned out to be Social Proof – with positive User Reviews having the largest effect of getting people to switch product preferences in the vast majority of categories tested

Category Heuristics had the second highest impact – with easy choice shortcuts for the product, such as the amount of data on a phone plan, highlighted clearly.

Coming in third was Expert Opinion. While closely related to Social Proof it wasn’t quite as effective in getting people to switch as we trust the people closest to us most. Who it’s coming from matters too – with impartial publications having a stronger effect than a trade publication.

The Power of Free stuff also ranks highly for swaying behaviour, across both higher and lower prices items. Buy One Get One Free was a particularly strong tactic in this space for cheaper items.

The Power of Now was less effective than the above biases, but in some categories such as FMCG people reacted positively to next day delivery. AKA this is why America loves Amazon Prime so much.

Scarcity was the least effective bias in this study – and even had a negative effect on people who were in the exploration phase. So use this power wisely.

When they ‘super charged’ the consumer second favourite brand with all the above bias, the results were surprising – in every single category they tested over 70% of all people switched brands!

With rates of e-commerce accelerating in 2020, overall this research has confirmed some things that we have known for a while, such as the power of peer-to-peer reviews & social, as well as giving us exciting insights into how internet use has changed how people shop. And as they have stated many times in the promotion of this piece – the power of just being present online at the right time cannot be underestimated for brands.

Hit the download button to grab the research for yourself, or message us today to chat about how we can get you to your customers at the right time.

Download the Research Paper here