Search and social key in consumer purchase cycle

Combining the two can lead to increased spending and stronger brand advocacy

Consumers who use both search and social media during their shopping activity are likely to spend more and actively promote the brands they like, says a new study from search and social marketing agency Catalyst.

Catalyst commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct an online study of 999 U.S. consumers between March 2015 and January 2016 in order to evaluate the role that search and social media play in the customer life cycle.

The study by the GroupM unit found more than half of consumers (52%) who utilized both search and social in their purchase journey spent more than $250 online in the past three months, and are 9% more likely than the typical consumer to become a brand advocate.

“Search and social channels are key ways customers relate to the products and services in their lives, and they should be considered an important part of [a] marketer’s product mix,” the study concluded. “Customers actively use search to help efficiently access the information they need to make informed purchase decisions and interact with social content.”

Respondents included online consumers who had shopped (defined as researching, purchasing or discussing a product) in the previous three months across key verticals including CPG, automotive, entertainment, consumer electronics, telecommunications and financial services.

The resulting study, Why Search + Social = Success for Brands: The Role of Search and Social in the Customer Life Cycle, found search is a leading tool at all stages of the customer journey, used by 90% of consumers to discover, explore and engage with brands.

Search is a fundamental part of the consumer journey, with 95% of respondents indicating they use at least one search channel – such as a search engine or the search function on a retailer’s website – during the discovery phase, compared with 50% who indicated they discovered a product via TV advertising.

Nearly all consumers (94%) also use search during the consideration/purchase phase of the cycle, with the study saying it acts as a “launch-pad” for people seeking additional information on products and services.

The study said search plays an important role in this stage because consumers trust the results of their queries. Seventy-two per cent of respondents who used the search function on retail sites said they trusted the results, trailing only visits to a physical store location (80%) and speaking with people they know (86%).

Search is also an important tool in post-purchase engagement for consumers, with 93% of respondents indicating they use it to keep in touch with brands after their initial purchase. Among individual channels, 64% turn to a brand’s website to keep in touch during the “relationship” stage, while 51% conduct searches via search engines.

Social channels also play a key role in making consumers aware of products and services, with 87% of respondents indicating that they visited a brand-managed social media channel during the discovery phase.

Online customer review sites are used by 32% of consumers during the reach stage, ranking ahead of personal social networking sites (29%). Both channels out-perform other marketing vehicles including direct mail (28%), a physical store location (27%) and general online advertising (27%).

The activities of consumers’ social connections is the primary awareness driver for consumers in social media, with the vast majority of people who credit social media for making them aware of a recent purchase saying they either saw a friend’s post (52%) or actively solicited advice about a product or service from their connections (27%).

The study said a company’s social activity could also be a key awareness driver, with more than half of consumers (43%) who use social media to gather information on a product or service doing so through a company’s post or a sponsored post. Nearly one third of respondents (30%) said ads on social media sites were responsible for their discovery of a recent purchase.

Eighty per cent of respondents use at least one social channel to obtain more information on a product or service they are considering buying, with 38% reporting they use a customer review site (matching the number of respondents who relied on visiting a brick-and-mortar store).

Nearly three quarters (71%) of consumers who accessed online customer review sites for information considered the information to be either trustworthy or very trustworthy, compared with 64% of people who obtained information by visiting an online store, 69% who did so via search engines, and 60% who visited a brand website.

Social engagement can drop off after purchase, with two thirds of respondents saying they used at least one of the social channels available to them at this stage. Previous research indicated that customers typically favour channels like email, traditional mail and loyalty programs in this stage.

However, the study also said customers who were willing to engage through social channels were either the brand’s best customers, or want to be. “When brands get the chance to engage with customers through social media channels, their efforts often pay off,” the study concluded.


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