The so-called “purchase funnel” for consumers is no longer linear, and it no longer stops, thanks to social media.
According to a new study from the Advertising Research Foundation, nearly one-third of shoppers said social media influenced their brand preference, either by introducing those consumers to brands they were unfamiliar with or changing their opinion of a brand during the shopping process.
The study also determined that, thanks in part to social media, the purchase process never ends. With constant updates from social networks (including from friends and colleagues who are talking about their own recent purchases in social networks), consumers are constantly shopping, even if they are doing it in a passive manner.
“People have a [predetermined] mental image of the marketplace even if they’re not in it. Even if you’re not a snowboarder, you probably have an image of what the market is like,” Todd Powers, executive vice president, primary research, the Advertising Research Foundation, tells Marketing Daily. “By the time you start that active search, you already have the view of the marketplace. The old image we had was using the funnel. Those stages still exist; they’re not linear anymore.”
While the study, “Digital & Social Media in the Purchase Decision Process,” determined there was no single path to purchase for modern consumers, social media plays a role on every point of the journey. More than a fifth of consumers (22%) agreed with the notion that social media played an important role in their purchase decision.
The study also found that emotion is a very important part of the purchase process, both before and after making a purchase. The study found that posting on social sites, particularly positive comments expressing “joy” doubled after a purchase as people sought assurances that they made a smart buy, Powers says.
“The digital resource of social media provides both information and emotional input,” he says. And social media is one of those things that does both of these things.”
At the same time, the wealth of information available to consumers can sometimes lead to analysis paralysis, where they can’t pull the trigger on a purchase because they want to get as much information as possible. Social media, according to the study, is expanding the range of trust for consumers, with the influencers of a decision growing beyond the family, friends and colleagues on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, to blogs, online forums, and other digital sources.
“In today’s world with the ready access to advice and information, consumers have more than they need,” Powers says. “There’s so much information that the big challenge is making sense of it.”
The study, conducted with partners such as GM, Google, Kraft, The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Motorola, Firefly/Millward Brow, comScore, Converseon, Communispace and Y&R, combined surveys with Web-listening and social media content analysis, as well as in-depth interviews, ethnography and information gathering from online communities.
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