In Target's electronics section, smartphone in hand, I put my apps to work while shopping for a gift for my father-in-law. On the shelf - and at the top of my list - was a pair of Bose earphones. RedLaser gave me a rundown of prices at rival retailers. A mile away at BestBuy, I could get a higher-end brand for essentially the same price. Turning to Slifter, I discovered the same Bose pair was being sold a local mom-and-pop for five bucks more.
I'd be intent on making a purchase before entering the store. But now, I had more data - and more decisions to make. Should I support my local retailer, get the deal-with-purchase at Best Buy, or simply take what was in front of me?
Five years ago - pre-really smartphone days - this wouldn't have happened. I'd have bought the familiar brand at the familiar store and moved on. Today, with so much data and so many online deals, loyalty to brands (whether product brands or retailer brands) is taking a beating. Apps are just one aspect of this.
Where do I turn for a recommendation for a big-ticket item like a lawnmower or major appliance, something I haven't bought in years? I post on our local list-serv and poll my friends on Facebook. Each online reply, endorsing or dissing specific brands, read by many, may influence consumer purchase behavior or loyalty, positively or negatively.
This "one to one to many" model has huge implications for how brand loyalty is created and maintained today. It's no surprise that the vast majority (84%) of consumers trust the recommendations of their friends, but researchers at Alterian recently found that an astonishing 70% trust online recommendations of complete strangers. As for advertising, only 5% trust it. Marketers are the least credible person to be talking about their companies. Who is the most credible? Their customers.
Brand loyalty today doesn't even necessarily require an actual purchase. A friend with a pre-teen daughter is a huge fan of Dove's Movement for Self-Esteem, which promotes positive self-image for young women by encouraging them to see beyond the idealized, airbrushed, stereotypical images that appear in most beauty and fashion ads. She doesn't use the products, but signed on to the cause nonetheless because she wants to expose her daughter to broader thinking in the media about what's beautiful.
Marketers' end goal was once to capture customers through advertising and retain them post-purchase. Today, the marketer-consumer relationship doesn't end at retain. Successful brands must now work hard to build relationship with their consumers that will transform them into brand advocates - people who convince others to like it, too.
Consumers are consistently barraged with choices and tend to reconsider brand affinity throughout their purchase process. Brand awareness ads - by themselves - can't be expected to retain customers. Recently in the Harvard Business Review, David Edelman of McKinsey &Co. observed how the old "build awareness/drive consideration/inspire purchase" model of consumer purchase behavior has been dramatically revised. Today, the consumer "decision journey" is more nuanced. It begins with consider, then goes to evaluate, buy, enjoy, advocate and bond.
Back to those earphones. I logged on to Facebook. Updated my status, shared my conundrum: familiar brand versus low price versus local business versus limited time. An audiophile friend nudged me back on track: "It's the thought that counts. I've got the Bose. Great. He'll like them." And she told me about a discount available that day on Amazon.com. Sold!
This article first appeared in MediaPost Marketing Daily February 9, 2011.
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Engauge is a full-service marketing agency for the digital and social age. We help grow our clients' businesses by leveraging creativity and technology to connect brands and consumers through the most relevant content and channels. The proliferation of content and channel opportunities for both consumers and brands has forever changed the communications landscape. But - what haven't changed are the fundamentals of marketing: The ability to richly understand a consumer, to derive a thoughtful insight, and to create a big idea. For years, Engauge has helped lead its clients by staying true to those fundamentals, while focusing on talent, technology, innovation and building a dynamic range of capabilities - from the tried and true, to social, mobile and whatever's next. Today's marketing is assuredly more complex, but to us the premise is still quite simple: Listen to the client, listen to the consumer, and deliver big ideas at the right time and place. And, most importantly, engauge.