Social Media and the Path to Purchase

Social Media and the Path to Purchase

Jaime-Lee Mills explores the role Social Media now plays in the irrational world of buyer purchasing decisions and analysis.

Much of today’s marketing and advertising is still based around the path to purchase. Traditionally this involves; problem awareness, consideration of alternatives, intent, purchase and finally post-purchase evaluation. This path to purchase is still widely adopted, and generally seems to give some rationality to the irrational consumer’s decision. BUT does the addition of social media change this path to purchase, or more importantly offer a short cut to the end goal?

There is no denying that the rise of social media makes targeting easier as people openly provide their location, education, interests, likes, age and much more. It is possible that this specific targeting can be used in the awareness stage to predict consumer’s needs or wants based on their likes and interests. For example, if they have ‘liked’ multiple beauty blogs, targeting can be used to make them aware of a new product and the beauty ‘problem’ that has now been solved with this product. To an even greater extent social media has changed the consideration stage; with consideration now being based on peer reviews, friends recommendation, Instagram/Facebook bloggers or simply putting the question to their social media community. As a result consideration is no longer controlled by brands in the safety of their owned media channels and so product and service is more important than ever, as people seek authenticity when considering alternatives.

It is possible that an understanding of how your consumer operates on social media could unlock a measurement metric that can lead to a better bottom line for brands. Research shows that one-week after a sharing a product on social media, roughly half of these purchases have been made. Three weeks after sharing that figure jumps to 80%. This is probably an example of how important social media is during the intent stage of the path to purchase. By the time a consumer has shown favouritism towards a particular product on their social platforms (as a result of the consideration stage), they have already slightly committed to the purchase of that product. As humans have an innate desire to achieve consistency, these purchases are made out of a need to be consistent with what they have portrayed (shared/liked) on their social media platforms.
How effectively this actually impacts the bottom line can sometimes be a matter of which social channels are being utilised. It has been shown that Pinterest is the most likely to drive people to purchase impulsively but of course has a lower reach. Platforms like Pinterest are brilliant for high frequency, high engagement and likelihood to purchase due to the nature of the platform and ability for brands to appear organic in this environment. Facebook on the other hand has a huge reach, and is utilised for larger considered purchases more than any other channel.

Once a consumer has intent to purchase this is where social media can really impact the bottom line for B2C brands. The convenience of social media paired with the strong targeting means that impulse purchases and upselling are more likely to occur. This works in particular with the case of the abandoned cart. Many online shoppers particularly women will know the feeling of shopping online and filling the cart with things way beyond their means. It takes a huge amount of self-discipline to walk away and abandoned cart without purchase. Only to find the next day, through advertisement banners, the things you abandoned in said cart would follow you around like the ghost of unpurchased product. Your Facebook has most likely by now become your worst enemy, as you know you had the strength to walk away from those really expensive shoes once, but you aren’t sure you can do it a second time or in some cases a third, fourth and fifth time. This is where social media can infiltrate the intent stage of the path to purchase and push you impulsively into the purchase.

Whether or not social media produces a short cut on the path to purchase, I think is a matter of brand. Knowing and understanding what role and purpose is appropriate for a brand on social media is paramount. Not all bad things are bad, not all good things are good and not all brands belong on your newsfeed.

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