The internet and social media have triggered changes in consumer buying behaviors. The marketing funnel has become a circular marketing circle with implications for brand messaging.
— By Joshua Ferdinand
By now, social media messaging is widely recognized as marketing strategy. All sizes of companies and entrepreneurs use Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Pinterest, and a host of private forums and chat rooms to promote their products and services and connect with consumers. Integrated with content marketing and search engine optimization, companies have never had it so easy to stay tuned in to what is happening in the marketplace, but they have never had it so hard either. Creating “buzz” is one thing, while aligning the social media message with how customers are shopping and making buying decisions is another thing all together. Marketing funnels have shifted to circular marketing, and that has changed the way businesses can most effectively enter the conversation to build brand loyalty.
Market researchers regularly track how people get from the desire to purchase to brand loyalty. Before the internet and social media, the consumer research and purchasing process was linear. Advertisers reached out to consumers with a message intended to create desire for the products and services. It was a passive process for the consumer who moved from the initial advertising awareness to product familiarity to consideration for purchase to making a purchase. If the product proved to be a good one, product loyalty developed.
Sifting Through the Clutter
Traditionally, the messaging (advertising) and buying process occurs one step at a time, and the model was called a ‘marketing funnel’ in which advertising at the widest point funneled down to customer loyalty at the narrowest point. When the internet became common technology, and social media appeared, consumer buying behaviors changed. First, they moved from being passive to being proactive. They no longer had to wait for advertisements on television or in direct mailings to find out what is available or to better understand the company. They are now bombarded with constant exposure to available products and services. Search engines list multiple businesses offering a host of product and services versions. Consumers calling up websites find advertisements in banners, links, pop-up boxes, and so on. They also are exposed to products through social media, which may include the same types of advertising forms such as links, but has another critical feature. Social media connects people on a more personal level, serving as a technology-based word-of-mouth.
Technology has made it possible for a consumer to move from desire to actual purchase at any time and in any direction with the process starting with the consumer and not the advertiser. The desire for a certain product leads to more research and an increase in the brands considered. In a marketing funnel, consumers continue moving along a linear path towards buying a particular product. Once they see the product in the store, use it for a while, and decide it is a good product, loyalty develops. In circular marketing, the consumer actively evaluates multiple brands before deciding to purchase. The purchasing process leads to more choices, and not less. The consumer may decide to be loyal to a particular brand or may be open to buying one of the other brands.
It is a mistake to look at social media as a stand alone marketing strategy. The messaging on social media offers the perfect opportunity to attract consumers and to retain them during their internet experience.
No Pushing Allowed
Marketing in this environment does not push consumers through advertising; it pulls them through messaging. The messages on social media need to be aligned with how consumers are buying. One way to accomplish this is by making it easy for the consumer to decide to use the brand. The complexity and sheer volume of choices today presents opportunities to simplify the decision process. For example, honest testimonials, answering frequently-asked-questions, or accumulating social media posts by topic and then addressing them with targeted messaging, turns social media into a ‘touch point.’
A touch point is any point where consumers can learn more about a brand from friends, other consumers, connections, and so on. Social media messaging can help consumers get through the incredible clutter of advertising and product information that makes deciding to purchase so difficult today. Consumers are exposed to particular products or “solutions” on social media, triggering the purchase process. The difference is that social media provides companies opportunities to build loyalty before actual purchase, if the messaging is right. For example, some businesses use Facebook posts on a regular basis to share solutions to problems or answer general questions. Consumers begin to see the business as an expert in the industry and develop loyalty. When it is time to buy, much of the “noise” has been removed already. This explains Sephora’s decision to create its own online community where people can find expert advice, and peer reviews of brands and products, and then go directly to the purchase stage. Sephora is the largest prestige beauty retailer in the world.
Looking at Social Media through the Funnel
Though the internet social media has changed the marketing funnel or the consumer purchasing process, it is important to not get lost in the clutter on the business side either. Social media is networking through technology that offers various methods of driving consumers towards becoming loyal customers. In The Network is Your Customer by David Rogers (Yale University Press, 2011), the circular process involves specific networking activities leading to brand loyalty and even further to advocacy.
For example, consumer awareness is raised through blogs and social media posts. Consideration of possible purchases is reflected in online research and user reviews. Preferences for products are expressed on social media. Purchasing action can take place online, in-store or via mobile technology. Loyalty is reflected in the “friending” process. Advocacy is seen in the online product reviews, links, “likes,” and postings around social media. The process then starts over with more blogging and more social media posts, attracting more followers and more input and more research and more networking, and so on.
It is a mistake to look at social media as a stand alone marketing strategy. The messaging on social media offers the perfect opportunity to attract consumers and to retain them during their internet experience. The important point to keep in mind is that consumers can now enter and leave the marketing stream at any stage of the buying process. Messaging must be aligned with those consumer behaviors in order to effectively compete for their attention.