Messy Middle Of The User Journey

Messy Middle Of The User Journey

The Messy Middle is a model that Google developed and released to describe how consumers make decisions. It stands for a new paradigm for funnel definition, to put it another way. Although they differ from the established conventional models, the phases of digital marketing are quite constant and well laid out.

By: Sanya Bhargav | 7 mins read
Published: Feb 21, 2023 12:19:30 PM | Updated: Feb 22, 2024 12:54:19 AM

The user which makes the decision to go through with a particular decision, has to go through a lot of phases of chaos and issues which is known as the user journey. Google created and put out The Messy Middle, a model that describes the users' decision-making process. In other words, it represents a fresh paradigm for funnel definition. Digital marketing's phases, while varying from conventional models to which we are familiar, are relatively consistent and well defined. 

How to overcome the 'messy middle' —

We go through the traditional purchasing funnel from higher stages of comparison and in-depth investigation to lower stages, which include the actual purchase. The messy middle causes everything to change, the contact points to diversify, and the chaos to grow. Between the initial stimulation, or "trigger," which acts as a push factor, and the purchase decision, what happens is not linear and varies from person to person.

Chaos And Mess Determines All

As much as we hate chaos and want everything to be organized, chaos never leaves us. Chaos controls user decisions throughout the Messy Middle, or more specifically, the path from the stimulus to the ultimate purchase. When defining this stage, Google researchers use the words "confusion" and "overwhelming" for the users. Basically, you learn about products, brands, and merchants from various sources, and then you analyze all of your possibilities.

People's decision-making processes are messy, and they're just getting messier. We do, however, know a few things about buying habits. We are aware that -

  • Each person has a unique set of touchpoints 
  • How consumers interpret all of the information  
  • Options they come across along the route 
  • How that process affects what consumers finally decide to buy 

What is the Messy Middle Model?

We all know that the process leading up to buying decision-making is not simple and never linear. Processing activities, or the exploration phase, take place on the one hand, while evaluation, or the reductive phase, occurs on the other. Although not wholly new, this updated model captures the complexity of human decision-making, particularly in the Internet age, and contributes to a growing body of investigation into consumer behavior and cognitive bias. Additionally, it offers some crucial upgrades to how we currently comprehend the consumer buying process.

This model rethinks the conventional marketing funnel. The user experience is usually described as taking a fairly linear course, but reality is far messier, more complicated, and unexpected. Any online user's activity can be divided into one of these two periods, whether it takes place on social media, search engines, or other types of websites. 

The Future of SEO Lies in the "Messy Middle" of the Purchase Journey


However, as was already indicated, the process is not linear, and the two phases are not related to one another. The cycle is ongoing and keeps repeating in response to both the evaluation activity and fresh stimuli (triggers). 

Consumers are either widening (exploring) or narrowing (evaluating) their options during the purchase journey. And the frustrating thing for marketers is that it's possible that people may switch back and forth between the two ways of thinking several times before deciding and converting (or not). They make judgments while looping using online tools like search engines, social media, and review websites.

The Marketing Funnel

It begins with a trigger and then repeatedly alternates between exploration and evaluation in an almost limitless cycle. The user then breaks out of the cycle by choosing or buying something. As marketers, you need to be aware of how people are influenced and biased during the discovery and evaluation phases of the process so they can ultimately be swayed in our favor.


Consumer Shopping Behaviour Study - The Messy Middle (Part 1) |

Instead, the consumer's journey starts with a trigger of some kind. The trigger is an element that makes a potential buyer want to buy, turning them from passive to active. What prompts someone to go look up information on something they need? Usually, they have a problem to solve. This effort led them to start looking for a solution online, which was their first interaction with your brand.


How does the user move?

Instead of faithfully moving from awareness to thought to action, the user engages in a protracted cycle of inquiry and evaluation of all the potential solutions to his issue. Since this process should be the primary focus of much of our work as marketers, it is worthwhile to go more into it.

Google describes the "messy middle" as a place where consumers have learned to navigate by employing a variety of cognitive shortcuts since information and options are abundant. The Messy Middle, a challenging area between triggers and purchase, sits in the middle of the decision-making cycle and is where clients are gained and lost. The marketing funnel may continue to spin round and round once a prospect enters this stage. There are two steps involved in this infinite loop:

  1. Exploration
  2. Evaluation
  3. Repeat Exploration
  4. Repeat Evaluation

In the "Messy Middle," exploration is a broad activity where people look for and find new possibilities. They assess the best possibilities and reduce their list throughout the evaluation process, which is a reductive action. Before people leave the loop and make a decision, these steps are frequently repeated several times and in various sessions.

What actually occurs in the confusing middle?


To put it briefly, this means the majority of your potential buyer's purchasing process. There are many ways for brands to position themselves so that they are not only discoverable to potential consumers but also allow consumers to become familiar with the brand. Although having so little control over your consumer's purchase journey may seem demoralizing, there are plenty of ways to do so.

It is crucial to incorporate a frequency bias into your marketing because the messy middle encompasses a consumer's own research, discussions, and interactions on dark social in addition to involvement with your brand and many others. The "yellow car" illusion is an example of a frequency bias. The likelihood that you will notice yellow cars increases as you see more of them. 

We are aware that people are more likely to trust a brand they have seen more of. Additionally, because all of us have biases that influence our decisions, marketers must employ the buyer's journey's discovery and assessment phases to leave a lasting impression on their target audience. They will be able to develop a favorable bias as a result, which should persuade the customer to buy.

Behavioral biases that affect buying decisions

Cognitive biases influence people's buying behavior and the reasons they favor one product over another as they investigate and assess the confusing middle. Even though there are hundreds of these biases, we focused on six in our research:

How To Deal With The Messy Middle —

1. Category heuristics : 

This bias is a collection of mental shortcuts that people use to solve problems and arrive at judgments relatively rapidly. These are the social and personal guidelines that influence our decisions unconsciously. For instance, when considering a mobile phone, the storage capacity, camera quality, and battery life are the major factors to consider. How much the phone weighs, where the capacitors were made, or what blue hues it comes in doesn't actually matter. 

Now that the customer has more information, they may focus their search on "phones with the finest cameras" and select a select few. Heuristics, in a sense, lessen the mental work required to decide by reducing the amount of information that needs to be digested. Utilizing this in marketing terms means writing succinct, unambiguous product descriptions. People's purchasing decisions can be greatly aided by landing pages that showcase the information that they are primarily seeking.

  2. Power of now: 

The majority of people look for goods and services that can help them solve their difficulties. This propensity explains why promotions place such a high value on instant satisfaction. Offers like "same-day shipment," "24/7 support," and "results in 3 days or less" are good examples of how this is demonstrated. The appeal of an offer decreases the longer customers must wait for an item to arrive or a service to take effect.

Kunden überzeugen: Die "messy middle" der Customer Journey - Lichtblick  Digital GmbH

3. Social proof: 

Testimonials and recommendations from others can be compelling. Customer evaluations can be among the most effective marketing tactics available right now. With more significant numbers, this component fosters a bandwagon mentality and offers reassuring feedback from genuinely satisfied customers. When unsure, we all tend to believe the experts. Additionally, a person who has first-hand knowledge of the good or service you're interested in is already trustworthy in some ways. 

The majority of e-commerce sites feature user reviews on their web pages and even send their products to outside reviewers as a result of this reinforcement. Furthermore, any marketer worth their salt is aware of the influence user-generated content has on social media. It all comes down to the fact that humans are a social species, therefore if something works for someone else, it probably will too for me.

4. Scarcity bias: 

The more a product's supply or availability declines, the more coveted it becomes due to the scarcity bias. The motivation "Products are running out!" works well. A shopper's decision-making process may go into overdrive out of concern that they may miss out on a good deal. Seasonal advertising and short sale periods are a result of this prejudice. Simply said, limited time offers customers a deadline that prompts them to take action rather than think.

5. Authority bias: 

This is the tendency to be persuaded by reliable sources. People frequently alter their responses and viewpoints to reflect individuals who are regarded as authorities in particular areas. This is also seen in the tendency for people to seek authority figures to direct their behavior when they are confused about how to respond to something. 

People utilize the mental shortcut of relying on influence to make decisions more straightforward. To persuade customers to take favorable actions, marketers can enlist the help of reliable experts or resource people to provide some unbiased assessments of their goods or services.

6. Power of free: 

Even if unrelated, a free present with a purchase can be a strong motivator. Now, how could anyone refuse something that is free? One of the best motivators is a free bonus or present that is offered with every transaction. Marketers need to capitalize on people's excitement when they feel like they are receiving more for their money.

The study demonstrated that, when used wisely and responsibly, behavioral science principles—as well as the behavioral and informational demands they correspond with—can be effective weapons for securing and protecting consumer preferences in the complex middle.

How to work as a marketer in the confusing middle

While the chaotic middle may appear to be a complex area, it's vital to keep in mind that to customers, it feels like regular shopping. The objective is to provide people the knowledge and assurance they need to make decisions rather than forcing them to leave the loop depicted in the model.

Fortunately, the strategy is the same whether you're a category powerhouse or a challenger brand:

  • Make sure your brand is present so that when customers are exploring, they will think about your product or service first.

  • Use ethical and intelligent behavioral science ideas to strengthen your argument when customers weigh their options.

  • Reduce the period between the trigger and the transaction so that your current and future clients aren't exposed to rival brands as much.

  • To avoid traditional branding and performance silos that are prone to leave holes in the messy middle, create adaptable, empowered teams that can collaborate across functional boundaries.

Understanding the user and making the best of it

It is important to understand the messy middle and the user journey. When you understand the user and what features pull and push away the customers, understanding the consumer and whatever the user likes can turn your business into a success and increase user satisfaction. We all know that rarely are user journeys sequential. 

You can easily gain visibility into complex user conversion behavior with the help of Analyticodigital,  reach out to our experienced team to get the guidance you need to successfully create a better user journey with the messy middle.