How Online Influence is Shifting the Sales Process
By this point it is safe to say the buyer’s journey has changed. Consumers do more of their own research, and they engage with more content to support their decision-making. In fact the numbers look something like this:
- 70-90% of the buyers journey is complete prior to engaging a vendor (Forrester)
- Consumer engages with 10.4 pieces of content prior to making a purchase (Google ZMOT)
- Consumers are 5x more dependent on content than they were 5 years ago. (Nielsen)
So we know the information pool is tremendous and consumers are picking and choosing content to support their purchase requirements, but this raises another question that may be the key to businesses unlocking the power of content:
Why are consumers choosing certain articles over others?
With literally hundreds of pieces of expert, brand and user generated content being published to the internet at any given minute, online consumers have more than just information asymmetry, they have information overload which means they need a way to find the signal through the noise.
On March 25, Inpowered, a company that focuses on the new influence-marketing category released a study that they deployed the resources of Nielsen to perform. The goal of the study was to determine which type of content was most instrumental at various purchase stages of the consumer journey in terms of driving a purchase decision.
In this study Nielsen looked at the three different types of content mentioned above to determine which was most impactful in the buyer’s journey across the three best known stages defined as brand familiarity, brand affinity and purchase intent. Here is a brief rundown of the three types as defined in this study.
- Expert Content (3rd Party Content which they defined as credible)
- Brand Content (from the brand or brand employees)
- User-Generated (Reviews such as Yelp or Amazon)
What Did The Study Find In Terms Of Contents’ Impact on Influencing a Purchase?
If I ever sought to find a study that validated influence marketing (consider the source) this would be the one.
While all three types of contents showed some uplift for the consumer at various points in the sales process, expert generated content proved to be the most effective for giving brands improved sentiment across all three phases of the buyers journey. The results in simplest form across the various stages of the buyer’s journey read like this.
Brand Awareness: Expert content had an 88% greater impact than brand content and 50% better than user generated reviews.
Brand Affinity: Expert content had a 50% greater impact than brand content and a 20% better response than user reviews.
Purchase Intent: Expert content lifted intent over brand content by 38% and 83% over user reviews.
Influence Particularly Powerful At The Onset And At The Point Of Purchase
The study without a doubt revealed the strength of expert generated (influencer) content, but if you read between the lines I believe a stronger correlation can be found. This is in the relationship between the experts and the buying cycle vs. other types of content. Here are my observations.
- Experts are critical at the onset of a purchase cycle. Since readers trust this group their content often introduces new products and services to readers who may otherwise not be aware.
- Brand content becomes more powerful the further you get into the sales cycle. While expert content is always preferred, likely for its neutrality, as customers become closer to buying they tend to gravitate toward greater trust in a brand delivered message.
- Influencers (experts) are far and away the most trusted at the point of sale. Many tend to think reviews can deter purchased but it appears that once a buyer is close to making a purchase they are more willing to overlook negative reviews.
As content continues to become more and more intimately part of the buyer’s journey, brands will continue to need to find the right-mix of influencer (expert) and brand content. Of course more content generally offers more potential visibility, it is more important that brands place content that buyers will trust in front of them at the right time in the cycle.
This article was originally featured on Forbes, entitled The Role Of Influence In The New Buyer’s Journey, and can be found here.
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