The Importance of Social in the Shopping Process

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ADOTAS – A consumer’s path to purchase has been “non-linear” for some time now. Consumers no longer follow a traditional step-by-step process from awareness to a sale. Access to digital media provides them with all the research and comparison shopping tools they could ever need.

And now that social media has become a pervasive activity, that process has become even less predictable. Consumers jump from source to source and friend to friend in a disjointed sequence to learn about products. Whether they are soliciting opinions on social networks, reading reviews on Amazon or watching consumer videos on blogs, consumers ar e tapping social media as a critical part of the discovery, consideration and research phases.

But the purchase isn’t the end of the path. In fact, this can be where the biggest impact on a brand can occur. After using your product, consumers go back to the same places they learned about your product to share their opinions and contribute to the pool of information. This candid and authentic advocacy influences the purchase decisions of everyone around them and it can spread quickly from person to person. Positive advocacy can make or break your product, especially if it’s new to the market.

Non-Linear Shopping Requires Non-Linear Marketing

In a non-linear world, marketers need to take a non-linear approach to marketing. With social playing such a big part of the shopping experience, it should be where marketing plans begin. Not an add-on after the other media is planned. A social shopper marketing approach has more moving parts than traditional marketing and it doesn’t try to control the process. It encourages social influence at the very beginning and throughout the entire shopping process.

This is a significant shift for many companies, and significant shifts don’t always come easy. You live in a world where reliable data and financial metrics are required to make a business decision. Here are several key trends you can take to your next planning meeting.

Media Consumption Is Shifting. Marketers have to put their product message where people spend their time and make their decisions. Television may be the great “reach machine” but marketers can’t rely on it entirely given its lack of cost efficiency. When a marketer needs to drive profitable sales quickly, digital is the way to go. Digital media is the second most viewed media after television.

Moreover, behavior in the digital world has undergone a profound transformation in recent years. Social networking now eats up twice as much of our online time as any other activity. This time is coming from almost all other online activities, especially email, which dropped 28% between 2009 and 2010.

Social Blurs the Lines Between Marketing and Distribution. With all this time spent on social networks, consumers have the world at their fingertips throughout the entire day. They expect brands to have a presence in social media, and they want everything at the speed of a mouse click. Consumers can change course in just a click, and the paths to purchase are almost unlimited.

This has changed the way brands look at social communities. Sites like Facebook have become both a marketing and a distribution channel for CPG companies. P&G has built commerce into many of its Facebook fan pages to capture people when they are most engaged with the brand. Orders are fulfilled by Amazon, and this has become so popular that Amazon is now a Top 10 retail account for Pampers.

Says Alex Tosolini, P&G’s VP of e-commerce: “All of a sudden the traditional model of ‘marketing does this’ and ‘sales does this’ is blurred. This is an amazing change in the way we go to market.”

Consumers Buy Grom the Brands Active in Social Media. A study by the Altimeter Group confirms that deep engagement with consumers in social media correlates to better financial performance. 100 of the most valuable brands on the BusinessWeek/Interbrand Best Global Brands list were evaluated for the depth and breadth of their involvement across social media platforms.

The most active companies in social media, categorized as “social media mavens,” grew revenues an average of 18% over the previous 12 months. The least engaged companies saw an average revenue decline of 6% during the same period. This is more than a coincidence. Consumers clearly respond to brands that have an active presence in social media.

Social Media Is Killing Impulse Shopping. While a lot of marketing focuses on in-store experiences to promote impulse purchases, most shoppers already know what they are going to buy when they walk into a store. A Yahoo/McCann study finds that very few purchases are made on impulse, and social media is responsible for killing it.

Why? Because consumers are bringing friends, family and strangers from their social networks into their decision-making process. Social tools have created solidarity among shoppers and made finding the best products and the best values a game.

Many think impulse shopping happens all the time in the grocery store. Who could resist the giant display of new crème-filled treats at the end of the aisle? Most people, it turns out.

Impulse-buying in the grocery store isn’t as prevalent as many think — especially for moms buying for their family. A study by UPenn-Wharton found that only 20% of supermarket buying is unplanned. And most of that is driven by the young and single. Those visiting the market on a regular basis to buy for the family make impulse purchases 13% less than the already low average.

When a shopper is tempted by a display to make an unplanned purchase, an average of only three products are purchased on impulse. Seems like a lot of effort to try to be one of those three products. There is a better way.

Build Advocacy Among the Right Customers to Influence Shoppers

Make no mistake, people use social media to connect with other people. They aren’t going to Facebook to see what’s new with the latest shampoo brands. But the brands we use are part of our experiences every day. Some brands can even become part of our identity. It’s not unusual to see people at the gym with a Nike swoosh on their hat, shirt, shorts, as well as on their feet.

We all like to share our thoughts about new products so we can help others make better decisions. But it’s important to know that not everyone discusses products the same way. Most of us will share a product experience with a group of friends in person, by email or on Facebook and Twitter.

The problem is that most of us don’t do this very often. And when we do, we reach only a limited circle of followers. The average number of followers for a Facebook user is just 130 people.

However, there is a group of people who talk about brands habitually. They are dashing off descriptive blog posts, rating products on Amazon, tweeting comments day and night, sharing offers on Facebook and creating YouTube product demonstrations that can attract a larger audience than some cable TV shows.

They are called brand advocates. This is what they love to do, and they are very good at it.

Others regularly seek out their opinions, and their recommendations have a direct influence on purchases. Now more than ever you need to connect with these brand advocates and encourage them to share their opinions about your products. After all, it’s not what you post on your brand’s Facebook page that influences others; it’s what consumers put on theirs. It can be easy to tune out messages from brands, but when a friend says her hair looks and feels so much better because of a new shampoo brand, people listen.

This article is the first chapter in a new eBook from BzzAgent, the social marketing arm of Dunnhumby. Download the whole book here.

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