The Messy Middle - How People Make Buying Decisions

The Growth Report #49

Happy Friday!

Another 21 beautiful people joined since last week!

Give them all a warm welcome 👋

News from the GrowthBay front I am recording the second season of the podcast over the coming weeks and you are the first ones to hear about some of the new guests:

  • Phil Nottingham (ex-Wistia Head of Brand) on Video Marketing

  • Ross Simmonds (CEO at Foundation) on Content Distribution

  • David Spinks (VP Community at Bevy) on Community Marketing

  • Liam Boogar (VP Marketing MadKudu and 360 Learning) on The 5 pillars of Growth Leadership

  • Tara Robertson (CMO at Teamwork.com) on Building, Scaling and Leading a Marketing Team

And five more that are to be announced :-)

On another note, I just came off a webinar recording this afternoon (check out the replay) with the folks from The Happy Startup School.

We talked about content distribution and how I structure my content creation process.

Buuut now, without further ado……🥁🥁🥁……


...Today's topics

📈 Marketing Strategy:
The Messy Middle - How People Make Buying Decisions

🧰 Tools of the Trade:
Articles, Tools and Inspiration for Marketers

⛑️ Reflections from the Trenches:
The Voice Inside Your Head


📈 Marketing Strategy

The Messy Middle - How People Make Buying Decisions

I recently gave a presentation about "80/20 Content Marketing for Startups". And the following concept around how consumers make purchasing decisions seems to have struck a cord specifically.

Pre-amble: People are making decisions with or without you

Here is a fact: People in your industry make purchasing decisions every single day. And what they do is, they fire up Google or ask their trusted friends for their opinion on how they should proceed.

And depending on the complexity of the purchase, dozens or even hundreds of micro-decisions need to be made, objections cleared, and doubts mitigated.

What exactly is happening in buyers’ minds is very individual and difficult to decipher (aka the messy middle). What we do know is this:

They will get their information somehow.

So it's fair to assume:

You need to help your potential customers navigate the messy middle, or your competitors will.

Sorry, It's not really a funnel this time!

So here's the issue, most marketers use funnels to represent the stages of their customer journey. This is great to represent a strategy on a meta level, but it does not depict reality. We do not make purchase decisions in linear fashion.

Google came up with a really useful chart to show how we make decisions in a continuous loop of exploration and evaluation:

Inevitably your customers will go through the stages depicted above.

Let's quickly go through them:

  • Exposure: This is the background noise. The brands in your niche that a buyer can name on the top of their head do a good job here. They are omnipresent.

  • Triggers: When a person first recognizes that she has a problem or need that needs to be satisfied. If you know what those triggers are for your product or service, you have a huge leg up, because then you can be at the right place at the right time and offer a solution for the problem.

  • Exploration and Evaluation: This is the messy middle. Consumers explore their options, expand their consideration sets. Then, they evaluate those options, narrowing down their choices. If they make no purchase decision, then more exploration is required. Customers are off for another journey around the loop. With each lap of exploration, followed by evaluation, we get have new things to consider, more information to process.

Customers will continuously flip-flop between exploration and evaluation until one lucky brand emerges victorious.

  • Experience: How well designed is the purchasing process with your business? If you deliver an unpleasant experience, there might be doubts resurfacing if the right decision was made.

You need to show up! With Content.

As I mentioned earlier. Every single step above is a chance for you to show up and help your potential customers make the "right decision" (aka your product or service).

So what I recommend you to do, is to sit down and think about where in the journey you have content gaps. Because remember, if you don't fill them, your competitors will!

I have drawn the following chart to help you determine where you are showing up already and where your brand has a "content gap":

Starting from the bottom...

One important thing to note before we wrap up: To the right of the graphic you see that the further down the chart we go, the cheaper it gets to fill the content gap (aka provide the information your customer needs to get to the next stage). So try to fix your content gaps on the bottom first before your move up.

Meaning: No you don't need to start a podcast or put up a billboard (exposure) if your sales presentation (evaluation) or onboarding process (experience) suck!

So in closing, the one thing I want you to remember from this is: It’s a messy process. All we can do as a brand is to find out what the major objections, decision criteria and challenges of our customers are and then show up when and where they are doing their research.


🧰 Tools of the Trade:

Articles, Tools and Inspiration for Marketers

💬 Be willing to change your mind.

Anybody who doesn’t change their mind a lot is dramatically underestimating the complexity of the world we live in.

  • Jeff Bezos

👨‍🎓 Marketing & Leadership Education

  • Integrator vs Aggregator Growth - We all talk about aggregator growth, because Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google all grew that way. But this is very often not the right approach for your business. Knowing the distinction will help you make the right growth decisions.

  • Write Like Your Audience Talks - Fio is a terrific content marketer and her newsletter is stellar. This article shows you why and how you should write like your audience.

  • How to Launch a Product or Feature To Maximize Growth - An oldie but a goodie from Brian Balfour. The concrete examples from successful companies will make you think differently about your next product feature launch! They designed the growth into the feature.

🤩 Brands and (digital) Products that caught my eye

  • Unstack - No-code landing pages, websites, A/B testing, and integrations that help you build your marketing collateral without developers.

  • ProductShot - Simple tool to make your product screenshots look better. You know the ones you slap on your product landing pages. No sign-up, just a nifty online tool.

  • Zencastr - A podcast recording tool that captures HD video and audio on both sides of the conversation. Will probably start using them for my podcast after a successful test last week.

📚 Interesting reads

  • How to Decide - A guide to decision making for entrepreneurs. But really applicable to everyone. Talking about how we can use data to decide and the common pitfalls we all make.

  • High Score (Netflix) - Okay not a read for once. But if you were a video-game-playing child of the 80s and 90s you will appreciate this 6-part documentary series.


⛑️ Reflections From the Trenches

The Voice Inside Your Head

Do you know that voice in the back of your head that constantly replays conversations you had and what you could have said differently? The voice that reminds you of all the dreams you haven’t realized yet? The voice that is hell-bent on making sure you don’t forget all your past failures and current shortcomings?

Of course you do. We are all too familiar with it.

Following is one of my favorite quotes on the root of that voice, from Eckhart Tolle:

The mind is constantly looking for food for its identity, its sense of self. This is how the ego comes into existence and continually re-creates itself.

When each thought absorbs your attention completely, it means you identify with the voice in your head. Thought then becomes invested with a sense of self — this is the ego, the mind-made me. Fearing and wanting are its predominating emotions and motivating forces.

When you recognize there’s a voice in your head that pretends to be you and never stops speaking, you’re awakening out of your unconscious identification with a stream of thinking.

When you notice that voice, you realize that who you are is not the voice (the thinker) but the one who is aware of it. Knowing yourself as the awareness behind the voice is freedom.

Momentary Freedom From Mind

When we are all wrapped up in our daily trivialities, it's good to remind ourselves once in a while that all the drama is a fictional story created by a mentally constructed self.

And the mere fact that you can observe and listen to it means it's not you.

So we learn to see the inner voice for what it is — a story loop stuck in the past, fearful of the future, desperately looking to escape reality. And we recognize what an unreliable narrator we all have doing our voice-over.

The truth of this statement is a hard pill to swallow, but creates a (momentary) feeling of freedom that is hard to match.


That's it for this week.

Talk soon,

Sandro