Study of leading brands, including consumer electronics manufacturer Dell, show search and social media prompt a virtuous circle of channel engagement
The role of search and social media in a consumer’s path to purchase is a virtuous circle, where activity in one channel fuels engagement in the other, says a new study released by GroupM Search and comScore, Inc.
The research, which included analysis of online consumer engagement and purchase for leading advertisers including Dell and others in the telecommunications and consumer packaged goods (CPG) categories, revealed that 40 percent of consumers who use search in their path to purchase are motivated to use social media to further their decision making process. Similarly, 46 percent of consumers who use social media in the purchase pathway are driven to use search to expand their knowledge about their likely purchase. These findings demonstrate the emergence of search and social media as essential channels in the online path to purchase for consumers today.
“Advertisers continue to make big bets in search and social media. The insights taken from this research help us go beyond just the consumer’s initial click to better understanding their purchase,” said Chris Copeland, CEO, GroupM Search. “When looking at the role these two channels play in conversion, we see a virtuous circle of interaction between search and social. Consumers are giving clear signals and the opportunity is greater than ever for brand marketers to shape the journey to purchase as a result of these new findings.”
The Path, Search, and Social Media
Where do consumers begin their navigation toward a purchase?
- Fifty-eight percent of consumers start with search, outpacing company websites (24 percent) and social media (18 percent).
- Quality and scale of information, ease of use, and the fact that they always use it are the top two reasons consumers start with search.
In contrast to search, consumers who start with social media to conduct preliminary information gathering are more likely to include the referral authority exercised by their “friends” among social networks – a consistent and important element of the channel’s influence in the purchase pathway.
When looking at the complete picture of the consumer’s path to purchase, the funnel is fragmenting and the process is lengthy. For advertisers studied in the telecommunications and consumer electronics categories, the path to purchase is 60 and 57 days respectively from the first touch point, 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. Among consumers who utilize search in their purchase process:
- Search is seen as the “pricing” tool throughout the buying cycle.
- Consumers turn to search to conduct product research and select a purchase location.
- Forty-five percent of people use it throughout, while 26 percent say they only use it at the beginning of their research and shopping process.
This statistical suggestion that a quarter of people only use search in the early stage of their purchases signifies the enormous opportunity for advertisers to create engagement versus focusing on a paid search strategy that centers around buying only direct response, brand-centric keywords to capture sales at the end stage.
Specific to social media, the research revealed social is search’s interlinked companion in the selection process and is vital in the awareness and consideration phases. In making their purchase decision, 28 percent of consumers said social media plays a valuable role in helping them become aware of new brands and products. Further, social media helps eliminate brands from consideration for 30 percent of consumers.
This is where the importance of a brand’s visibility in social media – and most notably the impact from earned social media (presence in social media forums by the natural community mentioning or engaging with your brand), becomes strikingly clear.
Additional key findings are:
- The top motivation of consumers to use social media in their purchase process is to get other people’s opinion (31 percent).
- The role brand-controlled social media and earned social media play in this is varied.
- Category-specific blogs have a reach of 16 percent among consumers who use social media in making their purchase decisions. This earned social media vehicle stands out in that it plays a valuable role in influencing perception with most visits occurring early in the purchase funnel.
- Further illustrating the importance of a brand’s visibility in social media are the social networks consumers are using to find information.
When it comes to purchasing, the top-performing social option for consumers is user reviews (30 percent), followed by social networking, such as Facebook (17 percent), video sharing, such as YouTube (14 percent) and Twitter (9 percent).
Consumers show strong potential for brand loyalty through social media with 64 percent of consumers saying they are likely to follow a brand post-purchase, and in doing so, feel more connected to a product or company. Of note, 74 percent of consumers use a Facebook brand page as the desired format for following a brand for future engagement.
“Consumers continue to struggle with added steps in the digital purchase pathway. The ability to sequence messaging and put up digital signposts as understood via this research is a potential breakthrough for many brands,” added Copeland. “We now have an understanding of the virtuous circle that is happening between these two channels and the motivations for consumers throughout their path to purchase. The consumer environment has never been more prime with opportunities to utilize search and social to create connections that are meaningful not only to your brand, but also to your consumer.”
A white paper providing methodology and comprehensive insights from the new study, titled The Virtuous Circle: Understanding Search and Social Media’s Role in the Purchase Pathway, can be found at www.groupmsearch.com/research.