Although I’ve spent much of my professional life as a marketer, it’s safe to say I — like most of us — have spent much of my personal life as a consumer. Recently, a colleague asked me which brands I was loyal to, and I had to really think about it. Finally, I recalled a particular coffee brand that I always buy.
It’s not due to their advertisements or their purposeful role in society. I buy it because a friend told me that it has the most caffeine. For all I know, “my brand” may not be more caffeinated, but I believe that it is because the person who told me is credible. Now, that coffee company doesn’t know who I am or what “activated” me or why I keep coming back. I’m just an anonymous uptick on the sales curve, and a source of brand spend inefficiency because my consumption is driven by a product feature that the brand never mentions.
How Marketers Act When We’re Consumers
This exercise got me thinking: How does the way I act as a consumer align (or not) with how I allocate spend as a marketer? As a consumer in an active purchase mindset, I usually start with online research. But when it comes to the actual purchase, I want validation. I can’t think of the last time I tried a new restaurant or booked a hotel without checking reviews. Habitually, I turn to friends and family, especially when buying in a category for the first time. Those inner-circle recommendations are the ones that go the longest way.
How We Act When We’re Marketers
Something happens to us marketers when we separate our professional selves from our consumerism. We manage our brands incongruently to the way we make purchase decisions. We spend on research to find the largest population of consumers to develop into a target — looking for the most promising chunk of a large pie. Then we drill down, aware of but ignoring nuances in an attempt to isolate the most common mass themes of demographics or psychographics.
If market research shows (and it often does) that previous purchase experience or the impact of influencers (whether friends or family, doctors, or experts in their field) is what weighs most heavily on purchase decisions, why do we as marketers focus so heavily on interrupting consumers? Continually chasing broad-based awareness, knowing that the defection risk is high, is like attempting to keep a leaky bucket full. We hope for the best and that there aren’t forces out of our control that will speed the leak like competition, pricing pressures, regulations, or consumers steering their friends away from us.
Yet, the rate of adoption among companies varies when choosing to spend on one of the oldest ways of doing business — word of mouth. To drive conversion, retention, and ultimately loyalty, this approach is how you win.
If You Want to Drive Consumption, You Must Drive Influence
For marketers wanting to harness the power of influence, they can begin by enabling their brands with technology that serves as a “town hall” destination for influencers to gather. This fuels the brand’s ability to foster a constituent community around a brand as the common cause. And like a community center, it’s a place for brand fans to listen, learn, engage, influence and be influenced. Here the brand and the consumer interact one-to-one, at scale, and in meaningful context. It’s not a one-way brand broadcast, but a place for everyone to connect and most importantly interact. Through authentic and relevant engagement, community members become champions for the cause and blind to competitor marketing. We will further explore the blinding power of the influencer community in our next MediaPost installment. Stay tuned.