Buyer behaviour
3 min read

Make it easy: customer decision-making

Looking for ways to rise above the noise and offer what their customer is looking for? Use these mental short-cuts to slice through complexity and give your customers the confidence that they’re making the right choice.
Written by
Will Perry
Published on
May 1, 2023

Google found it’s possible to switch a customer’s preference from the most popular brand to a brand the customer had never heard of 72% of the time when using these six biases.

Six mental short-cuts your customers use

What are short-cuts and why should I care?

Companies need to know what these short-cuts are to rise above the noise and offer what their customer is looking for. In this age of dizzying buyer choice, customers employ a set of mental short cuts to cut through complexity and give them confidence that they’re making the right choice.

"Everything we do at Apagie starts with customers: why customers buy; what customer problem are we solving and do our customers care".

The team at Google has put together a new perspective on how customers make decisions when presented with abundant choice: the Messy Middle.

What is this ‘Messy Middle’?

The traditional approach to customer decision-making describes customers in a linear step-wise progress when shopping: a problem arises, customers explore what solutions are available to solve the problem, they evaluate which one is best, and lastly they make a decision.  

However with the growth of e-commerce and the variety of options available, customers no longer move in this clear stepwise fashion when making a decision. Instead, they move in and out of exploration and evaluation in a loop. This flicking between modes provides a mess of uncertainty for the seller – hence the messy middle. Without knowing which mode your shopper is in, how can you influence them?

This presents a tremendous problem for businesses, especially those with predominant online sales.

Now that consumers can shop anywhere and anytime, and are presented with more options than ever before, consumers need a way to reduce the anxiety and be sure they’re making the right choice.

Influencing this Messy Middle

By undertaking 300,000 plus simulations, Google found that brands and businesses can influence this messy middle with powerful effect. Customers use six shortcuts (there are many more) to take the confusion and complexity out of a shopping decision – knowing what these are can help you deliver just what your customer is looking for.

Here they are again, with a short description for each

  • Category heuristics: shortcuts and rules of thumb to quickly compare different models
  • Authority bias: following the lead of a credible and knowledgeable expert
  • Social proof: what does the anonymous crowd have to say, i.e., product reviews
  • The power of now: we want it now, no delayed gratification i.e. DIFOT
  • Scarcity bias: desire increases when time, quantity or access is limited
  • The power of free: creates excitement, like an emotional hot button.

The key thing to remember here is that brands which simplify decision-making are rewarded. When customers are unsure how to compare brands A over B, great marketers make this easier for the customer. These biases can help with that.

Roy Sutherland from Ogilvy exposes the nuances of human thought through this insightful sentence.

“People do not choose brand A over brand B because they think brand A is better, but because they are more certain that it is good."  - Sutherland

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