What Triggers a Purchase Decision?

I finally bought a portable speaker last week. I’ve been thinking about it for ages – browsing the electronics sections in stores, sporadically looking online for reviews and recommendations, noticing what other folks were using, and thinking about how and when I might want to use a speaker instead of my headphones. The thought of adding one more gadget to my already overlaoded travel case has kept me from pulling the trigger and actually buying one for probably two years. Until last week. And, being a marketing geek, my experience got me thinking: What was it that caused me to finally decide to make a purchase, and how was I influenced along the way?

As marketers seek to maximize their return on advertising invesment, there is a lot of ongoing discussion about attribution. We would like to put our marketing dollars where they are most effective – and so we would like to understand how the various tactics we use influence consumer behavior. Most people recognize that it doesn’t make sense to give all the credit for a “purchase trigger” to the last thing that happened just before the actual purchase. Lots of things could have influenced my purchase:  It might have been an ad delivered on Facebook, or a recommendation on Amazon, delivered to me because of prior browsing behavior. It could have been a helpful sales person; I remember looking a a display of portable speakers in a Verizon store a few months ago while my husband was buying his new phone - if a salesperson had started talking to me, I might have bought one then (or maybe not). It could have been seeing a speaker used by a collegue during a presentation.

In my case, the final trigger was a print ad in an airplane magazine. The ad emphasized a extra feature that I hadn’t even considered in my thinking: it added a microphone so it could also be a speaker phone. And that was the trigger for me – it pushed me over the edge of indecision and I made the purchase. I didn’t even bother to  look for other speakers with the same feature – I just typed in the URL in the ad and bought the darn thing. (By the way, I bought a  JBL® Flip Bluetooth Speaker – and I love it.) So should that ad get all the credit for my purchase? Should JBL move all its advertising dollars to print ads in airplane magazines?

JBL will know where that purchase came from, because the ad included a specific URL. They were  in the right place at the right time with the right message. But it would be a mistake for them to give all the credit to that ad, because of all the other factors that influenced my ultimate choice. A recent study from the Advertising Research Foundation highlights this challenge for brands. As digital and social media have become part of daily life, consumers are constantly in a state of what the ARF calls “passive shopping”; opinions and ideas about brands and products are being formed constantly and unconsciouosly, and often in ways that are not in the direct control of the brand.

This study is consistent with findings by McKinsey a few years ago: we should no longer use the model of a purchase funnel, but move to a model they call the Consumer Decision Journey. CDJThe purchase funnel implied that consumers systematically narrow their choices, and that marketers should push messages to consumers during each stage. McKinsey’s model emphasizes that consumers may actually expance the number of brands they consider during each phase of this journey, and are influenced but sources beyond the brand’s control.

The EVP in charge of the ARF study study summarized the findings: “digital and social media have fundamentally changed the purchase process – our sources, our view of markets, our emotional response, everything”.  All marketers have limited budgets, so it is impossible to truly be everywhere. So what can we do to adapt to the changing purchase process?

1. Be everywhere. Study your consumer’s behavior, and identify all the possible ways they develop opinions about your brand. The ABF study found that 78% consumers end up purchasing the brand they had in mind when they began active shopping, so it is critical for the brand to be thinking about how they can connect to consumers before they are actively shopping. There was no one

2.Surrender control. Amplify your reach beyond paid media channels. Embrace channels that the brand can’t directly control; be as intentional about your owned and earned media plans as you are about your paid media plans. Your objective is no longer to directly deliver your brand message to a large number of people. Rather, your objective is to have others talk about your brand – hopefully in a way that you want them to, but recognizing that they won’t always say what you would like them to say.

3. Make it matter. Brand content must be meaningful and impactful – this is what stimulates a reaction in the recipient. Give your consumers a piece of shareable content that expresses their own thoughts, but in a way that is better than they can do it themselves. And that means that there is no longer “one” message, but many messages, some of which are not even created by the brand. customized for situations and needs that are meaningful to small segments of our consumer base. React to consumer social behavior in real time to the greatest extent possible.

4. Connect the dots after purchase.  The ABF study showed that for grocery items in particular, post-purchase consumer behavior was most influential to the overall purchase decision process. Brands should identify ways to encourage consumers to talk about their brand and product experiences in a way that can be seen by other consumers. Even when feedback is negative, the brand builds trust with its consumers by allowing them to see the brand listening and responding.

5. Make online and offline work together. As my own purchase shows, consumers use whatever channel for purchase that makes sense at the time. For immediate needs, and in some categories, the consumer must go into a physical store to buy a product. For other products, consumers can make their purchase in either a virtual or physical store. By understanding all the touch points a consumer may encounter along the way to purchase, the brand can increase its chances of triggering the final purchase decision.

I”m a bit surprised that I haven’t heard anything from the JBL folks since I bought the speaker. I bought it directly from the URL in the magazine ad - not through a third party retailer – so they have my name and email address. It would have been so easy for them to send me an email asking about my experience with my purcahse, and perhaps encouraging me to write a review or make a comment in one of my social channels. They missed a chance to hear my opinion about how the the product could have been better for me (the carrying case only holds the speaker and not the charger). They missed the chance to make a connection with me. It’s not that I will rule them out in future purchased, but they have missed the time to establish that loyalty loop.

It’s for Me! EMail that Matters

At this time of year, almost everyone is giving and receiving gifts. Some approach this as an obligation or a chore, while others take great joy from carefully selecting gifts that seem “just right” for each person on their list. Research shows that the giver actually gets more satisfaction from a gift exchange than the recipient – which probably explains the common practise of “re-gifting”. But many of us may still have a (somewhat useless) gift that was made by a child years ago – it means something special because someone made it just for us. In my case, I have a necklace that was made for me long ago by a 3-year-old in a class I taught: I’m sure he no longer remembers me, but I remember him.

presentAnd then there are the holiday cards. Some show almost no sign of human intervention: names and addresses are all printed ahead of time. Those are my least favorite. Some include a long letter about the families adventures during the year. (Some people hate those, but I personally love to get them, especially from folks that I don’t see often.) Others have a short, but hand written note. I tend to remember the ones that include some sort of message that makes me feel that the writer was thinking specifically of me.

It was in this frame of mind that I started to notice the emails that I have been receiving from brands during the holiday season. I always do a lot of my shopping online, so there have been the usual transactional emails. And I’ve also been getting all sorts of “Happy Holidays” greetings from brands to which I subscribe. Some of them are like the pre-printed christmas cards, or the generic gift – I appreciate the thought, but it doesn’t really make a strong impact in my mind. The best of the messages I have received demonstrate that they know me, and are paying attention to the sorts of things I respond to, and when. The tone of voice sounds like a real person wrote the message. And these are the ones that I remember – because they make me feel special.

So, what are some of the best practices for making your brand emails feel special to their recipients – so that they will keep your brand at the top of their mind when making purchases?

1. Personalize the email. Sure, it seems obvious, but I am amazed by how fe emails I receive actually put my first name in a salutation line. Of course I know that my name is there because it is stored in a database somewhere, and another 200,000 folks may be getting the same email. But studies have shown that including the recipient’s name in the email subject line increases open rates, and including it in a salutation increases recall. As Dale Carnegie said way back in 1936: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

2. Keep it simple. Remove the clutter and make the message really clear. Don’t try to communicate a lot of different ideas; keep it to two or three. And use pictures!

3. Create different messages for different people. The people who open your email messages regularly deserve a reward for their loyalty. Over time, you should be making it more and more easy for them to do business with you, as you observe their behavior over time. You don’t want to be creepy about it and say something like “thanks for reading all 14 of our last emails”. Pay attention to the sorts of things that people are clicking on, and begin to develop more of the content that people are spending time with. Develop different streams of content that can be mixed and matched. Develop automated messages that are triggered by a given behavior. Put yourself in their place and think about what you would expect to receive next – and then deliver that and more.

4. Create groups of different people and send them appropriate messages. Just as you need different content for different people, divide your email audience into groups of like-behaving people. Even a simple segmentation between people who always open and people who do so rarely will allow you to tailor your content appropriately. You may not be able to change everything, but something as simple as a different subject line can make a huge difference in the results.

I Recognize that Voice

Over Thanksgiving weekend, by husband and I watched lots of movies – it’s part of our tradition, since we aren’t football fans. As we were watching Wag the Dog, I started noticing the soundtrack, and thought “that sounds familiar – who is it?”. Of course, the internet makes it easy for these kinds of questions to be answered, so I quickly learned it was one of my favorite guitarists, Mark Knopfler. The music was created for the movie, so I wasn’t hearing immediately recognizable songs, but I recognized that the “voice” sounded familiar.

This got me thinking about how important it is for a brand to have a recognizable voice when it communicates, particularly in social channels. After all, we are hard-wired to recognize voices: a baby recognizes family voices almost immediately after birth. And research shows that familiarity helps to establish a better connection: people are more likely to listen to a voice they recognize.

I’m sure the same thing has happened to you; if not with music, then perhaps with a commercial that is being voiced by an actor often you’ve seen – and heard . You may have been watching an animated movie with your children and thought “well, of course, that’s Tom Hanks I’m hearing.”. That spark of recognition immediately creates a reaction, and adds context and understanding to the movie or commercial. There’s a reason that Tom Hanks is the voice of Toy Story’s Woody and not Sid, the mean kid next door.

To develop a recognizable voice over time, a brand must do at least three things:

  1. Speak regularly and consistently. It’s easier to recognize someone’s voice when you hear it at a time and place where it is expected, and when you hear that voice frequently. You don’t want to speak so much that you become annoying, but tweeting or posting once a week won’t cut it.
  2. Clearly identify your brand’s personality. We recognize people’s voices because of the timber, the rhythms, the accents of their speech. Before you can speak in a consistent voice, you must be able to articulate the complete personality of your brand. One approach that I have seen be very successful is Social Symphony’s Social Archetypeing™ approach, which helps a brand develop a “fully formed personality”. However you get there, it is essential for you to be able to articulate your brand’s personality in a way that will allow brand teams and agency partners to express that personality in a consistent manner.
  3. Bring the personality to life in words and pictures. Brand communications don’t always have an audio “voice-over” component, and in those channels, you must find ways to create a tone – a “voice” – through words or pictures. Think about what your brand’s personality would answer questions like:

- should the grammar always be perfectly correct? Would it be OK to use a phrase that isn’t technically correct (like Apple’s “think different”)?

- does the brand have a sense of humor? If so, is it a “laugh out loud” sort of voice, or is the humor more subtle? Would the humor have a poisitive tone or be more ironic?

- would it make sense to use colloquial expressions? Does the brand have a regional or national “accent”?

- should our photos include people? If so, should be people be reflective of only our target market? Would we use employees in our photos?

- should our imagery look professionally produced? Would it make sense to have photos look more informal, like snapshots?

- does our brand have a reason to be part of the conversation about things that are happening in the world: holidays, political or cultural events,  sudden trends or events?

By clearly understanding the brand’s personality, the answers to these questions become easy, and you are on your way to having a distinctive voice that people will recognize.

Facebook’s Page Post Targeting: What it Means for Brands

Facebook recently added a powerful feature for brand page administrators and community managers: Page Post Targeting. Before this feature was introduced, the only message segmentation available to brands was based on location: posts could be geotargeted to a specific country or city. Now, commmunity managers have many more options at their disposal: posts can be targeted by age, gender, interests, and more. So, what does this mean for brands?

- Messaging can become more relevant. By developing content for specific segments and subsets of the community, the brand can be more like a true friend, and talk about things they know will be of interest.
- Costs for Content Development and Community Management will increase. Because a brand will be developing several different streams of content, the number of posts will increase, along with the variable costs associated with developing those posts. Community Management and monitoring costs will also go up, both because of the increase in the total number of posts being made, and because of increased rates of response and engagement with the more targeted posts.
- Editorial Calendars may become more complex. If brands are already using segmentation strategies in their email communications, the same editorial calendars may be able to be adopted for Facebook. But for brands that are not already developing segmented messaging, the work will get more complex and the management tools will need to evolve. Community managers are already working with social Editorial Calendars that include multiple dimensions such as channel, georgraphy, time of day, and day of week, and will now need to add the additional dimensions chosen for segmented messages.
- Interaction counts may go down, but rates may go up. It will be important that Social Dashboards emphasize interaction rates rather than sheer numbers, as each of the segmented folks will be targeted to a smaller number of individuals. However, if relevant content is being created and the segmentation strategy is working, engagement rates should increase, resulting in increased overall reach. Community managers will want to spend time with those who read the dashboards to help them anticipate and understand these changes.

With these new tools available to them, brands that are large enought to have multiple consumer targets should modify their content strategies to include a a mix of content. Some posts should continue to be developed to be appropriate for the entire audience of brand friends. Messages that reference brand values, features, and attributes experienced by all consumers should continue to be delivered to everyone. New categories of content should be developed that will be focused more on the consumer and the lifestyle connection points they are likely to have with the brand. A producer of premium meats may want to speak differently to a 25 year old single man compared to a 35 year old married one – because they will likely be using the product in different ways and have a different path to their purchase decision.

The incremental costs for adding segmented content may pose a challenge to brands and digital managers with already tight budgets. Demonstrating the ROI for community engagement will become even more essential as brands seek to gain additional funding for these efforts. The linkage between rates of engagement and a consumer’s increase in purchase intent or sales volume will becomoe even more critical to quantify.

This enhanced targeting capability gives community managers and Facebook content editors powerful new ways to increase the rate at which the brand’s friends interact with brand content. By working closely with market research and consumer insights collegues to identify the targetable characteristics of the most influential members of the community, community managers can augment their existing general content with relevant posts that will result in higher rates of engagement with the brand’s friends.

I Get By with a Little Help from my Apps

At the IAB Expo yesterday, Melanie Varley and Andy Wasef of MEC made the case that the only way to be creative is to put mobile first. The growth and ubiquity of mobile devices require brands to consider mobile experience first. As we do so, we will build better user experiences in all channels.

Designing for mobile means designing for utility and fun; considering the user’s mindset and making the interface as intuitive and transparent as possible. This morning, as I was on way to the airport, I experienced a great example of how brands build their brand by building great mobile experiences.

I was on a hotel shuttle to LaGuardia, and folks were going to all different airlines. @Delta flies out of several terminals there; a couple on the shuttle knew their flight number but not the terminal, and were worried about missing their flight. I used the Delta app (already on my phone) to look up their flight and find the gate number within a few clicks. They were relieved, the driver was glad to be able to take them to the right place, and I enjoyed being able to help someone.

I’m not flying on Delta today, but I had a great brand experience with them anyway. It was one of those “frequent lightweight interactions” that the folks at Facebook often mention. This is how a brand builds a relationship with its consumers: by giving us something that makes our life easier, makes us smile, lets us express ourselves or help someone.

Thanks @Delta!

What’s the Point of Facebook?

Last month, the Australian Advertising Standards Board ruled that the comments of fans published on an brand’s Facebook page are actually advertisements and must comply with industry self-regulation and consumer protection laws. This ruling created a lot of discussion among social media managers and digital marketers. It felt like the common consensus was “how can they expect this of us? There is no way we have the resources to read every single post on our Facebook page!”

I beg to differ. Whether or not it is required by regulations, I firmly believe that if a brand is going to create and maintain a social presence on Facebook, the brand SHOULD be reading every post. That level of listening is the reason for having a social presence in the first place: Facebook allows a brand to humanize itself, to express its personality, and to be a “friend” to those who want a relationship with the brand. It allows us to hear what people care about – and the folks that have decided to “like” our brand on Facebook are possibly our most important customers. Why wouldn’t we want to listen to everything they have to say?

For Facebook to be effective with consumers, the brand’s comments need to feel “at home” in the news feed of those who have decided to “like” the brand. The brand’s posts should be like a lot of the other content that shows up in an individual news feed: things that make you smile, make you wonder, help you learn something, or give you a way to bear with a long line at the DMV. The comments posted by a brand’s friends on the page matter just as much as what the brand creates.

I often liken a brand’s Facebook presence to a cocktail party, and the brand is the host of that party. As a host, you don’t want to talk too much about yourself, and you want to help your guests to enjoy themselves. If you are hosting a party, and someone obnoxious is destroying the atmosphere for everyone, you would do something about it; inappropriate comments on your Facebook page can have the same effect as that obnoxious boor. They spoil the party for everyone. It’s the host’s responsibility to handle the situation.

I’m not saying that I agree with the Advertising Standards Board’s view that consumer comments on a brand’s page are “advertising”. But I am saying that the brand has responsibility for them, even if we didn’t write them. They are on our page – a page we created to build a community. We must treat our brand’s Facebook pages as a two-way street. It is not simply a vehicle for us to deliver our brand message to a flock of sheep. It is a place to get acquainted with real people, build friendships, have some fun together. We can’t allow ourselves the excuse of saying we don’t have the time to listen to our friends, or even those who are “posing” as friends: if that’s the case, then we should simply shut down the Facebook page. Unless we treat our friends as more important that the brand, we won’t be able to generate real consumer engagement anyway. We must find the time, the resources, the social management system – whatever it takes to allow our brand to be a real friend. Otherwise, what’s the point?

The Three Essential Elements of Your Brand’s Video Strategy

Video is an increasingly important element of brand communications. We all naturally are drawn to moving images – it is probably part of our DNA to keep us safe from saber-toothed tigers. Brands can develop all sorts of video to provide content that provides value to their customers and consumers. This post is intended to help you think about how to incorporate video into your marketing strategies.

Key Elements of Video Strategy

A brand’s video strategy must incorporate three elements of consumer behavior:

  • Discovery: Identify the mechanisms by which consumers will find and discover video content. Develop plans for the use of paid advertising, search engine optimization, and brand social and email communities to help consumers find the brand’s video content.
  • Content:  Develop a content calendar that provides value to the consumer, in the form of utility (making life easier), entertainment (making life more fun) or education (making life more interesting). In some cases, the content will integrate with the brand’s promotional calendar, but there will also need to be content that is relevant at any time of year. The catalog of content needs to be deep enough to allow for repeated and in-depth consumer engagement, and it needs to be portable, should users wish to consume it across different sites, devices, or platforms.
  • Context: The brand’s video content should be relevant to the channel; not all video belongs in all channels. The content calendar should be designed to entice consumers from larger-reach and/or paid channels into a deeper brand experience on a brand-owned property. Video content should be integrated into brand paid, owned and earned communications with consumers.

Who and Why?

Video consumption is growing at breakneck speed around the world; consumers see all video as content, and are more than willing to embrace and share content they find useful or relevant, regardless of source. This gives brands the opportunity to build affinity with the consumer by meeting their needs, rather than simply delivering a message. Statistics from ComScore and Forrester Research:

  • 181 million U.S. Internet users watched nearly 37 billion online content videos in April 2012.
  • US video ad views totaled nearly 9.5 billion, representing 1 in 5 videos viewed online in April.
  • More than 200 million people in the EU7 (UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia and Turkey) watch an average of 20 hours each of online video every month .
  • Duration of average video content was 6:20; average video ad was :24.
  • digital video ad spending in the US is projected to balloon by more than 250% from $2 billion in 2011 to $5.4 billion by 2016

“Online video” is becoming a misnomer. People watch video anywhere and everywhere, on whatever device and through whatever platform is most convenient. According to Forrester Research, 37 million US households currently own a connected device that enables them to watch digital video on their TV screen, up from fewer than 25 million in 2010. Media companies are beginning to package TV and online video buys together, and Nielsen and others are developing cross-platform tracking tools. As video ad networks begin to partner with TV manufacturers and cable providers, the lines between “TV” and “online” video will continue to blur, and brands will need to ensure that all brand, creative and media partners are collaborating very closely.

Where and When?

Google’s YouTube channel continues to be the #1 site, far outpacing other channels for number of viewers and the number of videos watched. Globally, YouTube has 3 million views per day with average time on the site of 20 minutes. Over 48 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute.

Top   U.S. Online Video Content Properties Ranked by Unique   Video Viewers, April 2012, Total U.S. – Home and Work Locations; Content   Videos Only (Ad Videos Not Included)
Source: comScore Video Metrix
Property Total   Unique Viewers (000) Videos   (000) Minutes   per Viewer
Total   Internet : Total Audience 180,785 36,848,001 1,307.7
Google   Sites 157,663 17,022,226 434.8
Yahoo!   Sites 53,604 741,995 73.7
VEVO 49,479 674,183 57.9
Facebook.com 44,298 264,903 27.0
Microsoft   Sites 42,833 486,567 42.4
Viacom   Digital 41,247 501,100 58.9
AOL,   Inc. 38,925 496,400 54.3
Amazon   Sites 30,168 104,581 17.4
Hulu 28,233 901,060 228.5
News   Distribution Network, Inc. 27,005 186,956 75.2

Video content is now being consumed in “prime time” –  a big change from just 3 years ago, as shown in the solid line below.

Video viewing on mobile devices has tripled during the same time period. Using TV and online video together greatly increase the brand’s frequency of exposure to brand messaging.

What?

Video content will be seen by the consumer as one of the brand’s products, not as an advertisement.  ComScore research (March 2012) has shown that professionally produced video content and user-generated product videos are highly synergistic, driving higher levels of sales effectiveness when used in tandem.  “In the campaign examined, professionally produced content and product videos drove strikingly higher lifts when used together than when either was used individually.

While marketers may already be familiar with the effectiveness of professional video content alone, these results suggest that even greater returns can be had by combining their use with authentic, user-generated content.” “We found that consumers perceived feature benefits as more believable when coming directly from the brand through professionally produced content, while the unbiased user-gen videos were more believable in verifying specific product claims, such as superiority and convenience. When used together, all of the perceived gaps get filled in and consumers become more confident in their purchase decision, resulting in better sales effectiveness from the advertising.”

The Road Map

Forrester recommends a process of content creation that is channel-agnostic until the end of the process. By thinking about all the places where a person might view content, and their frame of mind when they are within that particular environment, the same video shoot can yield several different angles for the same message, and create different “entry points” that can draw people deeper into the story.