How to Show Up, Stand Out and Steal from your Competitors

beat your competitors
Paul Hunter
by: Paul Hunter
In a revolutionary piece of research, Google has uncovered how digital has completely changed our buying habits. In this research there are a number of important considerations (too many for one blog post!) that are particularly relevant for the beauty industry. One of those is the power of showing up at the right time to tempt customers from your competitor to your brand. 

The ‘Messy Middle’ Marketing Model

Whilst it’s worth reading the entire research paper, at 98 pages it’s a bit of a slog. So I’ll try to save you some time and quickly introduce the concept of the ‘Messy Middle’ marketing model:

In an extremely simple nutshell, this new model shows us that rather than move through a traditional Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action (AIDA) purchase funnel, today’s digital first consumers go back and forth in an information loop before purchasing. Quite handily, there are 4 important E’s to consider:


The first element isn’t necessarily a step in the journey, but rather an overall awareness of brands. Exposure may come from many different things – a magazine review, a mention from an influencer in a social media post or a YouTube advert. Whilst it’s difficult to say how much exposure causes or influences a trigger moment, the importance of brand recognition is already well documented, especially in beauty.

Exploration and Evaluation

This is why the model is described as the messy middle. The research showed that across many categories, after a trigger (or triggers) users flitted back and forth between discovering brands, products or services (Exploration). They then started narrowing down their options by searching for more in depth information that will make them comfortable with a decision (Evaluation).

What’s important to consider here is the change from the ‘normal’ AIDA purchase funnel that many marketers and business owners have become so familiar with. Rather than neatly move from stage to stage, users often perform a loop until they’re comfortable with making a purchase. Think about it – how many times have you browsed whilst commuting or travelling, look into a few brands and then make the exact same searches again a short time later?


A customer’s experience after purchase plays a dual role here. Firstly, their experience with a product will impact both their perception of the brand and can influence future trigger moments. For example, if a customer loves your foundation then they may be inspired to explore products in other categories. Secondly (and extremely relevant to beauty), it can positively or negatively impact other people’s exposure due to their own social media posts, reviews and videos. 

So of course, the question here is how do you get someone out of the loop when they’re looking at your product or brand?

Show Up

In the many tests that Google conducted in over 300,000 purchase simulations, one of the most important was the power of showing up at the right time. In a wide range of categories, they asked consumers to state a first choice brand preference. They then introduced a second brand and asked them again to state their preference. 

Just by simply showing up at the right time and giving the user an option, a number of people changed their purchase decision. The figures presented below show the percentage of shoppers who swapped their preference to the second brand from the first, after being introduced to them whilst evaluating.

  • Shampoo – 25%
  • Face Moisturiser – 31%
  • Makeup – 34%

When compared with other categories, beauty brands sat more in the middle to less likely to change group. However, the effect is still a substantial opportunity for beauty brands.

Stand Out

In an industry experiencing rapid growth and a DTC uprising against ‘older’ beauty companies, the term ‘Standing Out’ is a challenge we hear again and again when talking to beauty brands. So showing up is the easy bit – standing out is the thing that will help you create a much bigger impact.

To help us understand what it means to stand out, Google studied 6 cognitive biases to measure how important they are in swaying a customer away from one brand to another.

‘Cognitive biases’ is a huge topic itself, so I’ll take the short descriptions of each bias directly from Google’s Research:

  1. Category heuristics: Short descriptions of key product specifications can simplify purchase decisions.
  2. Power of now: The longer you have to wait for a product, the weaker the proposition becomes.
  3. Social proof: Recommendations and reviews from others can be very persuasive.
  4. Scarcity bias: As stock or availability of a product decreases, the more desirable it becomes.
  5. Authority bias: Being swayed by an expert or trusted source.
  6. Power of free: A free gift with a purchase, even if unrelated, can be a powerful motivator.

These biases were tested individually across all categories. Again, it would take far too long to discuss each one in detail but the main results are:

  • Social Proof (tested by displaying 3 and 5 star reviews) was clearly the strongest bias out of all 6. So encouraging reviews and comments are extremely worthwhile.
  • Category heuristics are obviously important, but their importance is impacted by displaying the information that consumers most associate with the product.
  • Authority bias is less impactful than social bias, however it can be more effective when the consumer feels less knowledgeable about a particular topic. Endorsements or features from independent sources are also more convincing than industry specific sources.
  • Scarcity bias was the least effective bias and can actually cause negative reactions to brands.
  • The ‘Power of Free’ (BOGOF deals, free upgrades etc.) was the third most effective bias and proved particularly effective with FMCG goods.
  • The ‘Power of Now’ demonstrated by rapid delivery wasn’t as effective as otter biases but again proved powerful for FMCG products.

Introducing these biases when showing up resulted in more people switching from their initial preferred brand to the second brand. Each bias had different effects in different categories, but what happens if you introduce strong expressions in ALL biases at once?

Supercharging Your Brand

Google tested this and called it ‘Supercharging’. One of the published results is with the Shampoo category, and the results are impressive:

Supercharging the second brand lead to incredible results – increasing second choice adoption by 65% to a massive 90% switch rate. These results were consistent across all categories and importantly all price points. So supercharging can work as well for a high ticket purchase as it does for a low cost everyday item like shampoo.

For Face Moisturiser supercharging improved the percentage of product switch to 75% (originally 31%) and Make Up to a huge 89% (34% without supercharge).

The Good News for Independents and New Brands

To further test the power of standing out using cognitive biases, Google introduced a realistic looking fictional brand and supercharged their messaging when introducing them at the right time. This of course is pertinent to new brands and independent brands who are looking to gain new customers and take on more established brands. 

Even when someone had no previous exposure to the brand, supercharging was still effective in making people switch from their initial first choice. In the beauty categories tested, the percentage of people who changed were:

  • Face Moisturiser – 50%
  • Shampoo – 63%
  • Make Up – 71%

Whilst this is all good news for independent and newer brands, this perhaps isn’t so welcome for more established beauty brands. It means they can’t be complacent and rely on their brand name alone. They have to be active, agile and transparent, just as the newer brands are.

How Can I Apply This To My Brand?

There is obviously a lot of information here (although cut down from the original research!) and there is often a tendency with research like this to enjoy it, but find it difficult to apply. Luckily, that’s what we’re here for! Here are just a few ways we’ve applied this research to our clients – 

Use Audience Targeting to Reach The Right Audience at the Right Time

The wealth of targeting options we have on paid digital media allows us to spend marketing budgets wisely and advertise to only the most relevant audiences. Utilising interest, affinity and custom intent audience targeting we can advertise to people who have a clear interest in beauty and beauty products. We can layer that on top of demographic information to make highly targeted audiences.

To show up at the right time, we can use In-Market audiences. These are audiences that Google have determined are in the buying phase based on the keywords they are using to search, and their browsing behaviour. Along with keyword targeting, this helps us show up in that important evaluation phase. 

There are several relevant In-Market audience targeting options available:

  • Bath & Body Products
  • Hair Care Products
  • Makeup & Cosmetics
  • Skin Care Products
  • Tanning & Sun Care Products
Brand Advertising Clearly Has An Impact in Sales

Whilst I mentioned previously that supercharging fictional brands was effective, less people switched from an unfamiliar brand compared to brands they were familiar with. This shows that brand familiarity and trust certainly has an impact on sales and needs to be a core part of your strategy. 

Again, audience targeting can be utilised to make sure you’re appearing to relevant users across search, social, shopping, display and YouTube. 

Audit Your Messaging

Applying cognitive biases clearly has a large impact on brand choice and conversion. Think about how you can apply these biases across your:

It’s important to use cognitive biases carefully and not overload a potential customer. Richard Thaler (the Nobel Prize winning Economist credited with the birth of Behavioural Economics) has written about “nudges” which are discrete points in a direction rather than a full on assault  of information (which he calls a sludge).

To work out what language and biases work for your brand, split test adverts and pages and use the performance data to continually improve your messaging. And to make sure you don’t overload your target audience and switch them off your brand, make use of frequency capping and ad rotations!

Take advantage of the Messy Middle

Whilst the Messy Middle model is a change from what we’ve known and can be intimidating, the findings from Google’s research show an opportunity for beauty brands to better connect with their current customers and target audiences. In such a competitive environment, every competitive edge counts and matching this knowledge with advanced digital marketing techniques can result in gorgeous growth. 

Want to see how we’ve done that for other beauty brands?

Get Access

To download the white paper, please enter your email address:

Get Access

To download the white paper, please enter your email address:

Get Access

To download the white paper, please enter your email address:

Get Access

To download the report, please enter your email address: