Social media influences purchasing decisions

With retail sales up 0.5 percent this past December, according to the US Commerce Department, a new study from the Advertising Research Foundation suggests that much of the consumer spend was surely influenced by recommendations, conversations and product introductions facilitated via social media.

Given the proliferation of digital and social media, it didn’t take long for “likes” and tweets to affect dollars and cents for brands, as the ARF’s new study found that nearly one-third of shoppers said social media either introduced them to a brand/product they were previously unfamiliar with, or helped change their existing opinion of a brand during their buying decision process.

The study, “Digital & Social Media in the Purchase Decision Process,” found there is no single path to purchase for today’s consumer, and that social media plays an increasingly important role every step of the way, with 22 percent stating that social media was “important in my final purchase decision.”

“One of the most important insights we generated is that consumers today are always on—being exposed to brands, and even engaging with them, throughout the course of their normal activities,” said Todd Powers, executive vice president, primary research, the Advertising Research Foundation.  “This state of constant interaction with brands through digital and social media has come to challenge the purchase funnel, as we have traditionally understood it. This also challenges the notion that consumers are aware of the influences on their purchase decisions, and that they always make decisions consciously.

The study found that consumers get most excited just after their final purchase, with “joy” being the predominant emotion expressed socially.

Social media is expanding the range of people we trust. It’s not just about family, friends, and colleagues now.  So not only do we go to Facebook or Google+ to connect with our friends, family, etc., and not just to ask for information, but we also go to forums, blogs, and myriad other social media sources to gather input for our purchase decisions. We essentially make our decisions regarding how, and whom, we trust in sophisticated ways. Brands enabling these trust networks will be less likely to be perceived as adversaries.

By looking at the online drivers of emotions, marketers can understand where products and marketing can be optimized in a potentially more enlightening way than just looking at things in terms of positive or negative.  So brands need to be pervasive and flexible and put great emphasis on customer relations.

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