Every action creates a reaction. Research from GroupM Search and comScore reveals that 40% of consumers who use search in their path to purchase are motivated to use social media to complete their decision. Similarly, 46% of consumers who use social media in the purchase pathway are driven to use search to expand their knowledge about their likely purchase.
The analysis of online consumer engagement and purchase for leading advertisers, including Dell and others in the telecommunications and consumer packaged-goods categories, reveals where consumers begin their navigation toward a purchase. In fact, 58% of consumers start with search, outpacing company Web sites by 24% and social media by 18%.
In contrast to search, consumers who start with social media to conduct preliminary information gathering are more likely to include referrals from "friends" among social networks, a consistent and important element of the channel's influence in the purchase pathway, according to the report.
Chris Copeland, CEO at GroupM Search, says marketers always hear that search bodes well with direct-response campaigns. They should buy down the funnel because it's great for conversions. Research shows that more than a quarter of people only use search at the beginning of the purchase pathway. "That's a surprising data point to us because we would have expected it to be less than those who use it just at the end of the pathway," he says. "In fact, it was 26% of people who use it at the beginning, and 18% who use it just at the end."
The sheer volume of change that happens in the 30 days prior to purchase, which Copeland called "the late kick," is when consumers dig deep into the research. That data point is somewhat confirming, but more of a reminder of what brands should do next as an opportunity to create engagement versus focusing on a paid-search strategy.
When looking at the complete path to purchase, the fragmented funnel creates a lengthy process. For advertisers studied in the telecommunications and consumer electronics categories, the path to purchase is 60 and 57 days, respectively, from the first touchpoint, with up to 11 measured digital steps from start to finish.
Search plays a role at different points in the path to purchase, from starting point to validation after visiting an advertiser site. Consumers using search in their purchase process view it as a pricing tool throughout the buying cycle. They turn to search to research products and select a purchase location. Forty-five percent use it throughout, while 26% say they only use search at the beginning of their research and shopping process.
The research reveals that social is search's interlink companion in the selection process and has become vital in the awareness and consideration phases. In making their purchase decision, 28% of consumers admit that social media plays a valuable role in helping them become aware of new brands and products. Furthermore, social media helps eliminate brands from consideration for 30% of consumers.
"There are still many brands who haven't figured out why they're in social media," Copeland says. "We still talk to brands that are trying to determine if they should be in social media. The data suggests the two most important subsets in social are user reviews and category blogs, rather than sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube."