Bias behaviour: How marketers can navigate the ‘messy middle’

There’s a lot that influences consumers between their first moment of awareness and the final purchase. Yet these influences can lead to the ‘messy middle’ where paths to purchase are anything but linear. Here, we explore a study by Google and the Behavioural Architects to better understand how marketers can use behavioural bias to sway purchase decisions.

For the past two years, Google alongside the Behavioural Architects studied over 250,000 online shopping journeys across 25 categories, drawing on decades of behavioural science to learn, discover and now share surprising findings around how marketers can show up when it matters most, especially during times of uncertainty. 

Rachael Powell, head of consumer market research at Google AuNZ, says the study highlighted the misconceptions about consumer decisions.

“Historically we’ve always thought about the path to purchase as being quite linear. In today’s environment where we have so many sources of information that’s not the case.

Rachael Powell

“The path to purchase is quite convoluted, it’s quite messy. When we start to dig into that a bit more, there were two distinct mindsets we saw emerge, exploratory mindsets and evaluation mindsets, these can happen simultaneously or subsequentially.”

These mindsets lead to the messy middle where marketers need to move to the next stage to push purchase decisions; the emotional drivers.

“The new model understands that logical reasoning often gives way to our emotions. So, we end up making decisions that surprise even ourselves.”

The study highlights that this is good news for marketers, who can draw on universal behavioural principals to help understand how biases influence the purchases people make.

“When we make decisions, we’re not rational people, we’re far more emotive. In marketing we’d talk about this as left-brain vs right brain, but to simplify we’ve got a logical brain which process information and a emotive brain that almost just reacts using these behavioural science principals.”

Powell says that although we are irrational creatures, that irrationality is usually predictable.

“There are principals that explain those decisions which means marketers can leverage their offerings in terms of how they show up and the messages they use to be able to have influence over that decision-making process.”

These biases can nudge consumers out of the loop of the messy middle.

Mike Daniels founder of Behavioural Architects says the seven behavioural biases can be use by marketers to help with purchase decisions.

“One of the strongest emotional drivers is the power of ‘free’. Free items have the power to overcome any discount no matter what it’s applied to.”

“What this research has actually proved is something that is incredibly meaningful to anyone working in branding or advertising who hasn’t before applied behavioural science. Because what it has proved is it is possible to build brand value and sustaining it. What it showed is in some circumstances you can use intelligent defined behavioural principals to overcome brand values.”

Mike Daniels

Daniels expands that if you’re a leader brand and you’re not using behavioural insights to secure your current position; you are putting your brand at risk.

“Similarly, if you’re a challenger brand, what we’re shown is that you can use behavioural science principals to overcome the kind of disadvantage you may have. It proves that in the messy middle, brand equity is not going to be enough.”

The study highlights the actions markets can take to reach out of the messy middle.

  1. Be there; maintain a brand presence
  2. Be compelling; small tweaks in language can nudge consumers to take action
  3. Be Experimental; Re-evaluate, test and learn to drive innovation.

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