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Marketing Academy.

"Messy Middle": how to intercept Customers beyond the Funnels

In recent years, Google coined the term "Messy Middle" to describe thecentral and most complex part of the customers' purchasing journey. This is a critical phase in which the customer evaluates different options, does research, compares similar products and makes difficult decisions before arriving at the final purchase.

Understanding and intercepting these steps can make the difference between a successful marketing campaign and a failed one. That's why it's such an important concept for small businesses and communications professionals, consultants and corporations.

In this article we intend to explore the Messy Middle in its main aspects and give you some ideas on how to manage it in a practical way and without falling into the unscientific recipes of the gurus.

What is the "Messy Middle"

In the past, the customer purchasing journey was described as a simple funnel with well-defined and linear phases, such as:

  1. Awareness (Awareness): phase in which the customer becomes aware of the existence of a brand, product or service that can solve his problem or need.

  2. Evaluation (Consideration): step in which the customer carefully evaluates and compares different solutions to choose the one that best meets his needs.

  3. Conversion (Conversion): when the customer decides to purchase a certain product or service, effectively becoming a customer.

  4. Loyalty (Loyalty): phase following the purchase in which the customer continues to use the product/service, becoming loyal to the brand.

Some models added additional phases such asinterest and the desire, halfway between awareness and evaluation, but the four phases listed above are the most commonly used and cited by sources.

However, Google research and the practical experience of hundreds of thousands of professional marketers around the world have shown that this model no longer reflects reality. In truth he never thought about it, as it was a theoretical and didactic scheme. But today more than ever the simplification of the "funnel" it's on another planet compared to the real world and customer behavior.

Today the purchasing journey is much more complex and has several intersections and loops.

The "Messy Middle" represents precisely this chaotic part in which the customer:

  • Does extensive research online and offline

  • Compare different alternatives

  • Change your mind and preferences

  • We inform ourselves through word of mouth and reviews

  • Postpone the decision

  • Connects to all "touch points" of the brand well beyond simple navigation of the site from mobile or computer

This is a long and complicated phase, full of opportunities but also risks for brands. This is where the fate of a marketing campaign is decided.

Chaotic lines
The real customer purchasing journey is not as simple as a funnel. It's chaotic

Why the "Messy Middle" it's important

Intercepting the Messy Middle is essential for several reasons. Among these:

  1. Guide the customer in the decision-making process: in the confusion of this phase, customers need to be guided with targeted content and information that helps them orient themselves and make the best decision. The brand that manages to satisfy this need will have a much better chance of being chosen.

  2. Answers doubts and objections: it is in the "Messy Middle" that the strongest doubts and objections arise regarding a product or service. Being able to intercept them and respond to them in a convincing way is essential.

  3. Creates trust and credibility: guiding the customer through this complex phase communicates competence, generates trust in the brand and strengthens its credibility in the eyes of the public. In these twists and turns it is essential to provide quality content that helps the customer orient themselves and make the best decision. The brand that satisfies this need will have a much better chance of being chosen.

  4. Increases conversions: obviously, being able to take the customer out of the "Messy Middle" and towards the purchase decision leads to much higher conversions and sales.

Simply put, mastering this chaotic stage of the funnel determines the success or failure of a modern marketing strategy.

What are the challenges of the Messy Middle?

If we have guessed the matter, it is clear how incredibly difficult it is to identify when a customer has entered this chaotic phase in which he evaluates options, changes preferences and postpones decisions. Identifying the signs of the intermediate phase is the first obstacle. Let's see why:

  • The overabundance of information and options makes consumer decision-making complex. It is very difficult to find your way through the noise to provide tailor-made guidance.

  • Brands have very little control or visibility into the mass of searches and decisions that happen in the middle zone, between dark social, conversations, etc.

  • Customers can easily switch from one brand to another and from one product to another during this evaluation process. Holding their attention is a huge challenge.

  • Creating messages and content that persuade and encourage purchase requires understanding individual customer needs at scale, which is extremely difficult.

  • Guiding customers out of confusion and towards clear purchasing decisions requires establishing trust and credibility in a crowded marketplace.

To put it simply, the key challenges of the Messy Middle for businesses - especially SMEs - include identifying when a customer enters the middle stage, providing helpful guidance despite limited control and visibility, maintaining customer attention in the event of fluctuating preferences, creating tailored persuasive content and building an authority that guides final purchasing decisions. Overcoming them is fundamental but difficult.

In the next paragraph, we will see how to overcome these problems, at least in part.

Mountaineer
There are no impossible challenges in marketing, just a lack of preparation and understanding

How to win in the Messy Middle

But how do you actually intercept and guide customers in the "Messy Middle"? Here are some practical suggestions:

1. Optimize the site for the most relevant keywords

You must first identify the keywords and key phrases most used by customers during the evaluation and research phase. By optimizing your site content and meta tags based on these terms, you will increase your chances of appearing in the results and attracting visitors to the "Messy Middle".

2. Focus on quality content that guides the decision

Articles, ebooks, guides, FAQs, explanatory videos, webinars. They are all ideal contents to guide the customer towards the purchase decision by satisfying all their questions, doubts or objections. Investing in valuable content must be an absolute priority.

Our advice is not to fall into the tragicomic mistake of wanting to calculate exact flows of customer behavior through these tools. And please, please, please, DO NOT subscribe to expensive funnel automation tools that draw very complicated decision trees, actions and evaluations hoping to be able to route people on your preferred path and deluding yourself into "stealing" how people move and what they will do. This is profound statistical ignorance (typical of marketing gurus), overfitting, over-optimism. You will make a very expensive disaster.

We see clients who, in the past and with other agencies or followed by marketing gurus, have spent from 10 to 40 thousand euros to set up funnel and marketing automation monsters in a naive attempt to do just that. Wasted money. Almost bankrupt companies. They can't work.

3. Monitor questions and reviews

Analyzing the questions asked on social media, in forums and in groups, in addition to customer reviews, allows you to quickly identify recurring doubts and objections that need to be urgently addressed through new targeted content.

Quora is extraordinary in this sense, as is the analysis of searches on Google.

4. Communicate strengths in an incisive way

When comparing similar products and services, communicating your strengths and differentiation points in a clear, concise and convincing way is essential to guide the customer's choice.

Note that humans are not rational and precise, much of customer evaluations are done in a superficial, detached, emotional way. People must be involved but without expecting too much. The best marketing doesn't look like marketing (Deep Marketing motto) and is always a mix of accompaniment, reassurance and entertainment.

Do not overdo persuasion, manipulation, commercial pushing. It's always an own goal.

5. Follow up with customers even after the purchase

The relationship with the customer does not end with the sale. Following up with him afterwards, resolving any problems that confirm his initial doubts, is the best way to avoid returns or negative reviews.

Relationship. Relation. Relation. In summary: respect and attention. Even after the wallet has closed and the transaction is completed.

Successful cases in the management of the "Messy Middle

Inspiration in these contexts is everything, and looking carefully at what those who managed to exploit the Messy Middle did instead of being crushed by it, is in our opinion the first phase of great marketing.

  1. Googlefor its Pixel phones has always focused on presence throughout the evaluation and purchasing journey. The ads and content address the most common questions and comparisons shoppers actually make when evaluating options.

  2. Nike's YouTube video campaigns, which feature athlete stories, leverage the mindset of exploration, entertaining viewers while conveying the brand's values . Their ads arouse interest rather than sell directly.

  3. Amazon positions its brand, its products and its content to be present in a wide range of purchasing occasions. For example, the "Compare with similar items" function helps the evaluation phase.

  4. Red Bull content reaches consumers when they passively consume information. The materials are creative, fun and on-brand, which pays off when the purchase is triggered later.

Guys dressed in Nike
Nike, as always, leads the way, its contents come into contact with customers especially in the Messy Middle

The typical errors of Messy Middle strategies

In our experience and in the literature, the common mistakes that small or large companies make in implementing a Messy Middle management strategy are usually quite predictable and always stable:

  1. Forgo fresh ideas andgo for what is safeand familiar rather than embracing innovative thinking. We must always be on guard against succumbing to society's gravitational pull towards the common. SMEs in particular often play it too safe.

  2. Lacks the patience and self-awareness to gather meaningful data to inform strategic decisions in an uncertain environment. In today's world, processes and customer flows can change rapidly. Companies have less and less time and desire to wait for a statistically significant amount of data, they over-adjust, over-optimize, over-react. Serious errors.

  3. They fail to adapt messages and offers to different customer segments. Unfortunately, one-size-fits-all content doesn't work, because the middle of the funnel is complicated. The way forward is to continue creating material that speaks to different client psychologies and demographics, avoiding falling into the illusion of "knowing" who will benefit from what. In the book Digital Deep Marketing Remastered you will find an excellent approach in this sense .

  4. Doubts are not adequately addressed, trust is not built and friction is not eliminated in the purchasing process. Superficiality is an ugly beast, especially in marketing.

The importance of a structured strategy

As you can see from these tips, effectively managing a "Messy Middle" complex and chaotic is not at all simple for a small business with limited resources.

You need skills, time and a well-planned and structured strategy to:

  1. Identify the right keywords

  2. Create effective content

  3. Analyze data and insights

  4. Optimize advertising campaigns

  5. Measure results

  6. Create tons of great content across multiple channels

  7. Understand your competitors

Avoid all errors and oversights typical of non-experts.

Relying on a professional digital agency is often the best solution. Delegate to real experts the creation of a solid purchasing path that intercepts and guides the customer in the "Messy Middle" can make a huge difference in terms of sales and ROI.

In fact, the risk is to concentrate all efforts only on the lower part of the funnel, neglecting the "Messy Middle" decisive, or adopt funnels that are too complicated and less performing.

In brief

The "Messy Middle" describes the most complex, broad and chaotic part of the online customer purchasing journey. Intercepting this phase is essential to guide the customer's decision and increase conversions.

For a small or large business, getting help from a professional, full-service digital agency in creating a tailor-made structured strategy is often the winning solution to avoid making costly mistakes and obtain maximum ROI from digital marketing campaigns.

If you want a free comparison with a large agency like Deep Marketing, simply contact us< /a>.

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