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The Messy Middle


How do people make decisions? How do they decide which product to buy or try? Here’s the bad news. Marketers really don’t know. In fact, marketers really don’t know where buyers are in their journey toward your brand. You might be invisible and not even know it. Too many brands scatter their messages to the wind or throw them against the wall and hope something will stick. Hope is not a strategy.


Behavioral scientists have codified the messy middle into two distinct phases, bringing some method to the madness of marketing.


Connect. Engage. Excite. Most of our marketing efforts influence the next sale when buyers are in the messy middle, somewhere between a trigger that signals a need to the final buying decision.

Behavioral scientists break the messy middle into two distinct phases. The first one is what they call exploration. The customer has a need and begins exploring for a solution. After we bought our first home, I needed a lawn mower. My dad said, buy any brand you want. Just make sure it has a Briggs & Stratton engine. I began my search with a cognitive bias.

Connecting and engaging will propel your brand through the exploration phase. It’s where your brand is found and that’s the beginning. Consider this an expansive activity, where the search may be wide…and your brand needs to be found.


The second messy middle phase is evaluation. This is when your brand building stories have to address multiple cognitive biases that shape shopping behavior and influences why one product is chosen over another. Consider this a reductive activity.


Successful brands have to be there at the beginning and engage consumers throughout their search and excite them to consider your brand first.


Think about the messy middle and how your brand’s story building is pushing buyers to your brand.

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