Marketers have been striving to understand how people make buying decisions for decades. In fact, the earliest formal description of the buying process - Elmo Lewis' famous AIDA model - is now more than 100 years old. The effort to decode how people make buying decisions - and to identify what can influence those decisions - has been the marketing equivalent of the quest for the Holy Grail or the search for El Dorado.
A paper recently published by Google provides several fresh insights on this vital topic. Decoding Decisions: Making Sense of the Messy Middle is based on an extensive research project conducted by Google in association with The Behavioural Architects, a research and consulting firm that focuses on the application of behavioral science to marketing.
The objective of Google's research was to answer what is probably the most important and most perplexing question in marketing: How to people decide what they want to buy and who they want to buy it from? Much of the recent research about the "buyer's journey" has focused on the actions people take along the path to purchase and on what sources of information and communication channels they rely on. In contrast, the Google research focuses on the mental processes that people use when faced with a purchase decision.
Based on this research, Google and The Behavioural Architects created a new model of the buying process and identified several mental shortcuts (heuristics) that people use to help them make buying decisions. While this research focuses on consumer buying decisions, the buying process model works equally well for many B2B buying decisions, and some of the heuristics also apply to B2B.
I'll describe Google's model of the buying process in this post, and I'll discuss the heuristics in a future post.
The Google Buying Process Model
The diagram below shows the buying process model that emerged from the research by Google and The Behavioural Architects. This research involved the observation of 310,000 simulated purchase scenarios across 31 product categories. Individuals participating in the study were asked to research a product they were actually in the market for. All the product research was performed online.
The study revealed that between the event or events that trigger a buying process and an actual purchase, there is what Google calls the "messy middle." The researchers concluded that there are no "typical" purchase journeys, but they also found that most people do engage in two distinct mental processes that are key to understanding what happens in the messy middle.
- Exploration - This is an expansive group of activities during which people explore their options, learn about products or services, brands, and companies, and expand their consideration sets.
- Evaluation - This is an inherently reductive group of activities during which people evaluate their options and narrow down their choices.
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