Social media has revolutionised consumer purchasing behavior over the last few years, directly impacting the way they buy products and services. The fact that there are billions of opinions and reviews out there means marketers have to change their perception about online media from ‘fun to have’ to ‘must focus on’. The use of social media platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and Facebook among buyers has grown considerably over the last two years. Facebook, in fact, doubled in popularity from 2010 to 2011. Although Google search still leads the way in terms of influencing online shopping behavior, the steady growth of this media is opening up new opportunities for marketers to message and connect with customers. According to the 2011 Social Commerce Study:
- 2011 Social Commerce Study 58% of online consumers have ‘followed’ a retailer proactively through Facebook, Twitter or a retailer’s blog.
- Almost half (49%) of the respondents were keen on keeping a tab on product updates through social media.
- Over 1/3rd follow online retailers for information on contests and shopping events.
- 35% of shoppers are likely to directly purchase from Facebook, while 32% are willing to make a direct purchase through Twitter.
- Group-buying sites like Groupon and LivingSocial are being used to purchase non-traditional items.
Several studies show that consumers are now sharing opinions in unprecedented numbers on various social networking sites and blogs; for marketers, this growing hunger for information can easily be converted to actual purchases by understanding what factors influence buying behavior most. Here’s how marketers can influence online purchasing behavior:
1. By Understanding the Consumer Mind
Online media has changed the way marketing companies group their consumers. Online buyers can no longer be slotted into a ‘stereotypical category’. If you’re looking to convert the ‘likes’ to purchases in online media, it is vital to understand the mind of the consumer first. A simple way to do this is by monitoring this media. Age and Gender Breakup – Brand Monitor Social media monitoring is an effective way of researching and learning about your customer’s age, geographic distribution, what online media channels they use, if they are highly-engaged in social media circles (the influencers) etc. By using monitoring tools such as Brand Monitor, marketers can get a clearer insight into consumers’ mindset and know what customer types they are targeting. Such media common customer types can be broadly classified into:
- The under-30s: Our research shows that younger buyers are more open to newer channels such as blogs, Facebook etc. This age group is therefore more likely to make purchases through social media channels. The good news for brands that heavily rely on blogs for marketing purposes is that the <30 age group is three times more likely to use blogs to select products and suppliers, when compared to the +30 age bracket.
- The coupon collectors and freebie seekers: Identifying the coupon collectors and the freebie seekers and offering deals to them is a great way to drive sales and increase ROI. Recent studies from Empathica reveal that offering discounts via online presents marketers with an opportunity to connect with consumers, especially women. Empathica’s research shows that:
o 47% of people using social media to find coupons and promotions are women.
o Only 33% men look for offers on here. o While 30% of the respondents said that they followed brands
for information, 40% said that they look for promotions and coupons.
o Although, promotion hunting is a primary driver of social behavior, the survey also found this habit was
driving overall online behavior as well; 26% of respondents admitted to specifically look for more
Commenting on this, Gary Edwards, Empathica EVP of Client Services, said that brands should recognize consumer preferences and help them visit an establishment. For marketers this is also the perfect way to convert consumers into brand advocates.
Walmart – CrowdsaverWalmart uses its recently added Facebook feature called Crowdsaver to offer discounts on products. The app, which is similar to Groupon, requires a certain number of users to ‘like’ a product for the retailer to apply the discount. For Walmart, this strategy helped boost its brand image, while customers benefitted from the discounts offered.
The multicultural audience: Several studies have found Latinos and African-Americans to be the fastest growing and the most loyal brand advocates on the internet. According to a recent Ipsos U.S. Hispanic Omnibus study, U.S. Hispanics aged 35-54 are more likely to purchase products online (62%). One of the companies that clearly understood the mindset of the ‘multicultural customer’ was PepsiCo. The beverage giant launched its ‘We Inspire’ campaign in 2010, targeting African-American mothers. The home page on the company’s website featured the Facebook ‘Like’ Widget, encouraged users to blog about their experiences, and upload personal stories on YouTube. The campaign was a huge success, with PepsiCo winning the NAACP award for “advancing positive multicultural images in advertising and media.”
2. The Power of Creative Campaigns
How are marketers encouraging ongoing involvement once a consumer has ‘liked’ or ‘followed’ a brand? Instead of simply posting a banner ad on a social media site and waiting for the ‘likes’, companies should make full use of web’s unique properties like interactivity, community-building, and the ability to specialize local offers. Companies that understand the potential of social media marketing are investing millions of dollars, launching some highly innovative campaigns in the process. We believe that imaginative social media campaigns are vital and highly effective in attracting customers and influencing buying decisions, resulting in increased traffic and sales.
3. The Impact of ‘Followers’ and ‘Friends’
Social Media Influencing Buying Decisions Social networks now have a huge audience that spends a good amount of time posting reviews and recommendations related to various products and services. Besides making personal connections, Facebook, Twitter and other sites are places where buying decisions are influenced through group interactions. Trust in social recommendations has increased to such an extent that, currently, 1/3rd of social network users follow recommendations made by their friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter before deciding to buy. HubSpot’s research shows that social media conversations actively influence purchases. According to a study conducted by market research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey:
- 60% of Facebook fans and 79% of Twitter followers are more likely to recommend a brand after becoming a fan or follower.
- 51% of Facebook fans and 67% of Twitter followers are more likely to buy the brands they follow or are a fan of.
The above statistics indicate that online research is one of the key factors influencing buying behavior. As more and more people depend on online media research versus opinions from in-store sales associates, marketers can no longer ignore user-generated reviews. With ‘followers’ and’ fans’ having such an impact on people’s buying decisions, it is imperative for brands to:
- Not just have a social media presence, but listen to shoppers and find out what they are saying. * Connect with shoppers in social media: If brands want to connect with shoppers and impact their purchasing decisions, they need to devise strategies to ‘influence the influencers’ by continuously engaging with them.
- Incorporate customer feedback into their marketing strategies: Customers do not always address a brand or a company directly; sometimes they choose to post reviews (either positive or negative) or blog about their experiences. Smart marketers will monitor such online media conversations and incorporate this feedback into their marketing strategies.
What marketers need to keep in mind is the fact that social media shoppers are not always ‘actively social’. While one in four social media shoppers contribute to a conversation about a brand or product, the others view these conversations and decide if they want to make a purchase. While the ‘influencer’ group is small, the impact on those ‘influenced’ is large.Conclusion
With 95 million social-media shoppers in the US alone, the opportunity for online marketers is huge. According to Forrester Research, social media marketing budgets will see a 34% growth between 2009 and 2014, which is faster than any other form of online advertising. This data indicates that shopping via social media is poised for tremendous growth in the years to come, with product reviews and recommendations playing an important part. This is not to say that the role of traditional marketing channels in influencing buying decisions will decline; people watching and listening to marketing messages on TV and radio are more likely to consult their friends and followers before making a purchase.
While reviews can help marketers further improve products, freebies and discounts function as powerful tools in driving sales. The current trend of consumers scouting social media for coupons holds good not just today, but will also be one of the primary factors driving online shoppers in the future. That said, the smart approach for digital marketers looking to add value to their campaigns would be to understand their shoppers, study the impact of online reviews and design their campaigns accordingly. We believe this to be the perfect recipe for that ‘creative campaign’, which will ultimately translate into profitable returns.
Currently, Google is the first stop for online buyers; however, the increasing influence of social media on online shopping means the search giant could soon be looking at many ‘social’ contenders.