messy middle

Back in the days when marketing intentions were served through print ads, infomercials and door-to-door salespeople, the traditional marketing funnel was viciously effective towards determining which message was sent to which person during which time. During this pre-digital age, marketers visualised the buyer’s journey as linear. Casting a wide enough net to get as many people into the top of the sales funnel is enough to do the trick—in simple terms, it was only a matter of time before people buy once you get their attention.

But digital commerce and the “golden age of information” seem to have disrupted the entire process. The distance between trigger and purchase may have moved closer to each other, thanks to 24/7 online shopping and cashless transactions. Yet, despite their proximity, the line connecting them has never been as squiggly as it is today.

This article will discuss how the buyer’s journey has evolved to resemble less of a funnel but more of a loop that weaves through product or service exploration and evaluation. We’ll also look into marketing practices that can influence consumers’ decision-making process while they’re engrossed in this space of virtually limitless information.

buyer journey


Is the Traditional Marketing Funnel Dead?

The first consumer-oriented marketing model was introduced in 1898 and illustrated the theoretical buyer’s journey towards purchasing products or services. The idea was to break down the customer’s journey into distinct stages and tailor marketing messages to best nurture each step.

sales funnel

For more than a century, this sales funnel has served as an immovable cornerstone for crafting marketing strategies. It has worked exceptionally well for countless marketing campaigns because it relies on human behaviour and psychology. These marketing pioneers were also quick to adapt to gradual changes in consumer behaviour and tweak the traditional funnels to stay relevant with the times.

But regardless of all the transformations, this marketing model was always visualised as a funnel that draws consumers from top to bottom in a straight line. But visionaries as they were, marketing forerunners could not predict the information outbreak that we are experiencing today. This virtually universal access to the internet is transforming consumer behaviour at an unprecedented scale. Shoppers are now more capable of discovering brands for themselves, purchase triggers take countless forms, and advertising has become personalised.

So, the question stands: Is the traditional AIDA Marketing Funnel still relevant today?

Yes and no.

The fundamental precepts of making people aware of what you’re selling before they can evaluate your product and make a purchasing decision will always be there. But the process is now undeniably at its furthest from being modelled as linear. It’s become apparent that people can choose to stay in the middle of the funnel for as long as they need to, and it’s where things get “messy.”

 If it’s No Longer Linear, what is it, and why is it Messy?

the messy middle

The linear representation of the buyer journey is not fully applicable in today’s world, where everyone is spoiled for choice. The abundance of accessible information and competing brands within industries has skewed the decision-making process from straight to unpredictable. Consumers no longer slide from the so-called top of the funnel and inevitably exit the bottom as a conversion.

Instead, the buyer journey is now more of a buyer experience. It starts with a trigger, either from word of mouth, social media, a targeted ad, or from their own volition after experiencing a problem they need solving. This last example also highlights the importance of having relevant, accessible and user-friendly organic content for your business. A good percentage of consumers no longer need to be hooked into the funnel’s mouth—they are now more than capable of choosing where their buyer experience begins and how it ends.

But again, why is it “messy?” Because the unpredictability of today’s consumer behaviour makes it so. What happens between trigger (awareness) and purchase (action) is now an intricate web of touchpoints that varies significantly between demographics and individuals.

messy middle


The internet has enabled shopping and research to run side by side. Most of the buyer experience is now spent within this complex space between trigger and action. This new representation of the “middle of the funnel” is an indefinite loop that runs through brand exploration and evaluation.

This space is where customers are either won or lost. Marketers need to pour their efforts into strategically mapping out their touchpoints to help potential customers navigate and exit the loop towards their brand.

What Can You Do to Influence Consumer Behaviour within the Messy Middle?

By understanding human behaviour, cognitive biases are decision-making shortcuts that humans use to quickly interpret relatively vast amounts of information. And while behavioural economists have identified hundreds of these biases, the research team from Google’s Market Insights identified the six most potent cognitive biases marketers can leverage upon.

cognitive bias

Category Heuristics

This bias is the set of mental shortcuts that let people make decisions and solve problems quickly and with relative efficiency. These are the personal and social rules of thumb that subconsciously aid our decision making. For example, when someone is looking to purchase a mobile phone, the concern is mainly on the storage size, camera resolution and battery life. Nobody really cares how much the phone weighs, where the capacitors were manufactured or which shades of blue it comes in.

The buyer can now do their research for “phones with the best cameras” and narrow their choices to a few.

In a way, heuristics reduce the mental effort needed to decide by decreasing the information needed to be processed. From a marketing standpoint, taking advantage of this is to use short, straightforward product descriptions. Landing pages that highlight the information people are primarily looking for can significantly aid their visitors’ purchasing decisions.

Power of Now

Most people seek products and services that can serve as solutions to their problems. This inclination is why immediate gratification weighs so much in promotions. You can observe this with offers to the likes of “same-day shipping,” “24/7 support,” and “results in 3 days or less.” The longer consumers have to wait for a product to arrive or service to take effect, the weaker the offer’s appeal becomes.

Social Proof

Customer reviews can arguably be one of the most powerful marketing tools out there today. This element provides positive reinforcement from actual satisfied customers and triggers a bandwagon mentality with more significant numbers. We all tend to follow authoritative opinions when we’re uncertain. And someone who has the first-hand experience towards the product or service you’re eyeing is already reliable in some sense.

This reinforcement is the reason why is why most commerce sites showcase their customer reviews on their landing pages and even send out their products to third-party reviewers. And any marketer worth one’s salt knows the power behind user-generated content on social media. It all boils down to us humans being a social species—if it works well for that person, it will work well for me.

Scarcity Bias

“Supplies are running out!” is a powerful motivator. The fear of missing out on a good deal can put a shopper’s decision-making process into overdrive. This bias is the reason behind seasonal campaigns and limited sale periods. In a nutshell, limited-time gives customers a deadline that makes them act instead of think.

Anyone familiar with online shopping may have probably seen “x items left” and “x people have this in their carts” on product pages. Leveraging this bias is to create the impression of “buy now or never.” We can also observe this through prominently highlighted sale prices with a countdown beside it, influencing shoppers to act quickly.

Authority Bias

This behaviour is how people tend to change their reactions and opinions to mirror those considered authorities on specific subjects. Also, this can be observed when people are unsure of how to act upon something; we tend to seek authority to guide how we react. Relying on influence is a mental shortcut people use to simplify decision making. Marketers can use trusted resource persons or experts to weigh in some positive opinions of their products or services to sway consumers towards favourable actions.

Power of Free

Now, how can anyone say no to something that costs nothing? A free incentive or gift that comes with each purchase is one of the most potent motivators. The excitement that one feels that they’re getting more than what they paid for is something that marketers need to take advantage of.

And it doesn’t have to be a physical commodity—free shipping ring any bells?

Consumers, Marketers and the Messy Middle

While marketers see the messy middle as a complicated space, consumers don’t share that sentiment. From your audience’s standpoint, it’s just a routine shopping experience. Therefore, the goal is not to push people out of the loop with overly salesy messages but to give them the information they’re looking for so they can exit the loop feeling reassured that they’d made the right decision.

KDM offers effective Content Marketing, SEO and Social Media services that can ensure that your brand is strategically in front of your market’s mind whenever they’re ready to act. Additionally, you can also turn to us for Web Design services to give your online visitors a delightful experience and narrow the gap between trigger and purchase.

Get in touch with us today!