The Role of Content In Consumer Decision Making

Some valuable insights from a study from Nielsen/inPowered MediaLab study on the lift impact of product reviews by users, experts and brands. The Research Brief is reported here in the context of the study design in order to support (and not over simplify) the conclusions.

According to the study report, since the proliferation of digital and social media, including mobile, has made information more readily accessible to prospective consumers, consumers report an increase in usage across all sources of information in the past five years, including sources such as brand websites, user reviews, and third party expert content, when learning more about new products and services. This ability to easily access information from a variety of sources has fundamentally changed the way consumers research products and, ultimately, make purchase decisions.

The purpose of this research, therefore, is to understand how consumers use different sources of information and how the sources impact them across a variety of product categories at each stage of the purchase process. The results of the in-lab study show that expert content— credible, third-party articles and reviews—is the most effective source of information in impacting consumers along all stages of the purchase process across product categories.

Information Source Usage In The Consumer Decision Process

Source of Information

Less Use

More Use

Social media

10%

54%

User reviews

11

52

Online advertising

11

51

Expert reviews

11

46

Word of mouth

10

45

Official brand websites

13

44

TV advertising

15

40

Radio advertising

24

29

Source: Nielsen/inPowered MediaLab study, 2014

 

Impact Of Content Types Across Purchase Process

 

User Reviews

Branded Content

Expert Content

Expert Content Effectiveness

Purchase consideration

6%

8%

11%

+ 83% Vs. User reviews

+38% Vs. Branded Content

 

Affinity

10%

8%

12%

+20% Vs. User Reviews

+50% Vs. Branded Content

 

Familiarity

10%

8%

15%

+50% Vs. User Reviews

+88% Vs. Branded Content

 

 

 

 

Source: Nielsen/inPowered MediaLab study, 2014

To evaluate the impact of expert content and branded (or owned) content online and its role in the purchase process, an experimental design was used to expose consumers to content and then measure the impact of that content in creating product awareness/familiarity, influencing perceptions (i.e. likeability) and increasing purchase consideration.

Content was classified as one of three content types: expert content, user reviews, and branded content. Expert content includes reviews and articles selected from third-party websites and blogs dedicated to the relevant product category. User reviews were selected from the reviews portion of major online retailers or forums. Branded content was content taken directly from the official websites for each product.

Each online source was measured with three survey metrics aligned with the three main stages of influence in the consumer purchase process. This provided a consistent measurement in order to fairly assess source influence at each stage.

                  Stage 1: Familiarity with a new product

                  Stage 2: Affinity toward a brand or product

                  Stage 3: Purchase consideration of a brand or product

Respondents viewed content providing information on nine products in different categories, ensuring a broad scope and the ability to assess if the observed effects varied across different types of purchases. Products that were included cover a wide variety of categories, including:

  • Auto insurance
  • New car
  • High-end HDTV set
  • Smartphone
  • Dryer (i.e. major home appliance)
  • Child seat
  • Digital camera
  • Video game
  • Electric toothbrush

A controlled-lab setting was critical in this experiment as the amount of information to be digested by the respondent was such that it introduced the possibility that respondents would not fully read the content or information provided if exposed in an unsupervised testing environment. A proctored setting ensured that respondents exposed to the different information sources had adequate time to read and digest the content presented to them.

The Nielsen MediaLabs facility also draws from a nationally-representative population and is the only lab facility to offer in-lab testing without relying only on locally recruited respondents. These advantages were conducive to increasing the reliability and projectability of the research findings.

An at-a-glance summary of the experiment results. While each content type had some success at increasing product familiarity, affinity, and purchase intent, content written by credible experts performed best overall. Expert content was the only content type to exhibit a strong lift in all 3 areas of the purchase cycle. It provided the most familiarity lift for 7 out of the 9 products, the most affinity lift for 5 of the 9 products, and the most purchase intent lift for 6 of the 9 products.

On average, expert content lifted familiarity 88% more than branded content and 50% more than user reviews; they lifted affinity 50% more than branded content and 20% more than user reviews; finally, they lifted purchase consideration 38% more than branded content and 83% more than user reviews.

Impact Of Content Types on Positive Lift Across Purchase Process

 

User Reviews

Branded Content

Expert Content

Expert Content Effectiveness

Purchase consideration

6%

8%

11%

+ 83% Vs. User reviews

+38% Vs. Branded Content

 

Affinity

10%

8%

12%

+20% Vs. User Reviews

+50% Vs. Branded Content

 

Familiarity

10%

8%

15%

+50% Vs. User Reviews

+88% Vs. Branded Content

 

 

 

 

Source: Nielsen/inPowered MediaLab study, 2014

There appear to be two key differentiators that help to explain why expert content was the only type that exhibited this strong lift across all three areas of the purchase funnel, says the report.

The perceived partiality of the source was especially critical in setting expert content and branded content apart. The third-party element was important to consumers: 50% indicated that they wouldn’t trust a product’s branded website for an unbiased assessment of a product, and 61% were less likely to trust product reviews paid for by the company selling the product. Expert content can provide an unbiased and honest assessment of a product, particularly important during the final stage of purchase consideration.

The other key differentiator was how informative the respondents perceived the content to be. Consumers perceived expert content to be 10% and 8% more informative than both user content and branded content respectively. Thus, expert content’s ability to provide the greatest breadth and variety of information compared to branded and user content, combined with a perspective that it was perceived as unbiased, appears to be driving its consistently high performance in all areas of the purchase process, concludes the report.

While user reviews and branded content did not exhibit the same pattern of consistency in performance across all categories and phases of the purchase cycle that was observed with expert content, there were instances where their impact was strongest, says the report.

With branded content, for example, lift was strongest with categories where product specs were a critical part of the part of the decision making process. Attributed, in part, to the importance of specs in the final decision making process for this product and the perceived trust that brands know their own product specs best

Expert Content (Percent of Lift)

 

Familiarity

Affinity

Purchase

Smartphone

22%

13 %

16 %

Smart TV

8

6

7

Video Game

30

22

11

Car Seat

28

19

14

Electric Toothbrush

3

12

9

Dryer

18

10

16

New Automobile

6

4

15

Auto Insurance

3

6

5

Camera

19

12

6

Source: Nielsen/inPowered MediaLab study, 2014

 

User Reviews (Percent of Lift)

 

Familiarity

Affinity

Purchase

Smartphone

9%

6%

2%

Smart TV

1

9

4

Video Game

25

28

20

Car Seat

11

16

19

Electric Toothbrush

2

16

0

Dryer

21

9

0

New Automobile

4

0

8

Auto Insurance

0

1

2

Camera

11

6

6

Source: Nielsen/inPowered MediaLab study, 2014

 

Branded Content (Percent of Lift)

 

Familiarity

Affinity

Purchase

Smartphone

7%

10%

13%

Smart TV

0

7

0

Video Game

17

3

12

Car Seat

19

15

16

Electric Toothbrush

11

10

7

Dryer

10

12

9

New Automobile

6

2

4

Auto Insurance

0

4

1

Camera

16

12

12

Source: Nielsen/inPowered MediaLab study, 2014

User reviews were found to be successful in categories where users tend to have a higher degree of product expertise. For example, video game affinity and purchase intent were lifted the most by user review content—possibly because video game consumers see other gamers as knowledgeable enough to provide reliable, trustworthy reviews.

Expert content was also effective at lifting these measures and was most effective at creating initial product awareness or familiarity. For car seats, for example, user content provided the strongest lift to purchase intent. Perhaps a product category, says the report, where the consumer themselves are highly regarded as expert users—and mothers perceive other mothers as “experts.”

The report concludes by noting that, overall, the research suggests that there is a higher degree of trust from consumers when they are reading content from credible, third party experts. This trust is demonstrated by the higher lift scores with regard to product familiarity, affinity and purchase intent and its perception of being highly informative and unbiased.

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2 comments about "The Role of Content In Consumer Decision Making ".
  1. Krillion by Local from Local Corporation , July 8, 2014 at 7:43 p.m.
    Jack, Nielsen/inPowered MediaLab’s data is interesting and reflective of how consumers research and make purchase decisions given the plethora of product and shopping information available. Many consumers are now doing a large amount of that pre-purchase research via a mobile device. According to our research, 72% of consumers now conduct pre-purchase research via a mobile device. In fact, there was a 114% year-over-year increase in the number of consumers conducting pre-purchase research via mobile devices. Not only have mobile devices changed how shoppers conduct this research, but consumers move from intent to purchase, or Discovery to Decision™ very quickly. Forty-four percent of consumers reported that they’ll research a purchase on a mobile device and make a purchase within an hour. Given the power that content has in purchase decisions, retailers and brands need to constantly examine how consumers access this vital content via mobile devices. Can consumers seamlessly access content about your products via mobile, and can they easily find location and availability information for those specific products? Retailers need to be prepared and be in front of these shoppers.
  2. Justin Belmont from Prose Media , July 15, 2014 at 5:36 p.m.
    Great article, Jack. It makes perfect sense that people buy into the product that is vouched for by an “expert." That's why, at www.ProseMedia.com, we're always sure to show why we're experts in the content marketing field. Consumers want to feel like they have the approval to purchase or endorse products. Expert testimonial is the holy grail of product endorsement.