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Marketing Ecommerce Customer Journey

The messy middle and infinite choice: hacking the complex new consumer journey

By Annie Little | Senior Strategist



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May 30, 2022 | 7 min read

With the Covid-19 pandemic transforming shopping habits, journey orchestration matters now more than ever before. Digital commerce has shifted the journey stage balance. Annie Little, strategy director at agency Initials, asks whether there is, now, such thing as 'the' consumer journey for any given category and explains the complex maze of touchpoints that brands must carefully navigate.

Initials on how to navigate the consumer journey and make it as intuitive as possible.

Initials on how to navigate the complexities of modern consumer journies

The stakes have never been higher.

Brands need to get a firm grip on how the consumer journey has evolved and update traditional linear purchase funnels from their marketing agenda as a strategic priority.

Here, we’ll look at the evolution of the purchasing journey, the impact this has on consumer behavior, and how to ensure that (in a sea of endless consumer choice) your brand gets chosen first.

Decision paralysis

The ease with which consumers can access product information has changed the landscape forever.

Gone are the days of a linear purchase journey. With more options and far greater accessibility than ever before, consumers today are spoiled for choice.

While this new world offers countless benefits for brands and retailers, it also adds a new layer of complexity to consumer decision-making. When this complexity reaches a tipping point, it can spiral into 'decision paralysis': too much choice, too many options, too hard to decide.

Such an overwhelming wealth of information for consumers to wade through has done the opposite of streamlining the consumer journey. In many ways, these extra touchpoints and decision-factors have created a more complex and cumbersome path to purchase.

A new model for the consumer journey

Some of the savviest brands and retailers have quickly pivoted their consumer engagement strategies, adopting prevailing shoppable touchpoints to remove any immediate friction or pain points for their target audience.

Creating a high-converting omnichannel purchase journey can’t be a checkbox exercise. A more holistic and strategic approach is required, spanning the entire consumer journey and incorporating reciprocal actions at every experience encounter.

This requires, first, an understanding of how the consumer journey has evolved; and, second, insight into how consumers are navigating their way through it.

Let’s start with the former. The ‘messy middle’, coined by Google, is a space of abundant choice and unlimited content. Here, consumers explore and evaluate product information, research brands, and weigh up their options. This is happening across an ever-expanding digital ecosystem, from online channels to social media to search engines, aggregators, review website and much more.

This exposure is not a stage or step in the buying process, but an 'always-on' experience. Consumers will traverse the loop between exploration and evaluation many times before making a purchasing decision.

So, how can brands show up at the right moment and win consumer preference?

How to address cognitive biases and win consumer preference

While the initial trigger and purchasing moments still stand in today’s journey, the middle area between the trigger and purchase has become messy and complex.

Due to the constant bombardment that consumers now face, they are turning to a range of coping mechanisms (including cognitive biases) to shortcut indecision and make purchase conclusions.

Cognitive biases are often a result of the brain’s attempt to simplify information processing. In this case, they help consumers make sense of the world and reach decisions with relative speed.

These cognitive biases shape shopping behavior and influence why we choose one product over another.

By responding to the cognitive biases at play intelligently, responsibly, and at the right moment in the consumer journey, brands can effectively shorten the gap between trigger and purchase and emerge victorious at the point of conversion.

But how do brands pinpoint which biases are at play during a typical purchase journey in their category?

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At Initials, we've developed a strategic model to help brands hack the consumer journey and win the moments that matter. Since the path to purchase is no longer linear, we can’t afford to think in linear terms.

Our Consumer Journey Hacker is a data-driven and behavioral science-based strategy that helps brands plan for the right stimuli that will impact buyers in key moments.

Understanding behavioral biases does more than just increase advertising effectiveness; it can encourage a deeper psychological understanding of consumers and their cultural norms and nuances. It can inspire new business strategies and products.

These behavioral science principles (and the behavioral and informational needs they align with) are powerful tools for winning and defending consumer preference in the new complex consumer journey.

The goal is close the gap between trigger and purchase. This means consumers spend less time exposed to competitor brands and transition to your basket faster and with greater confidence.

In a sea of overwhelming choice, this is how your brand can emerge victorious.

Marketing Ecommerce Customer Journey

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