All connected consumers are not created equal. While it is clear that the balance of power between brands and their customers has shifted to the latter, a new study of digitally connected consumers shows that some buyers wield far more influence than others.
Just who might surprise you.
For starters, Millennials are more like their parents than conventional wisdom would have you believe, according to “The Social Consumer Study,” authored by Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, and Don Bulmer, VP of communications strategy at Shell, in conjunction with The Society for New Communication Research. Instead, the study found greater differences in consumer behavior between genders than between generations.
For example, women are more influenced than men by a company’s public profile–its social responsibility programs, press coverage, customer reviews, and advertising. They also are twice as likely to use social channels in making a purchasing decision, and are more likely to become an advocate for or against a brand.
What’s more, while digital advocates represent a relatively small percentage of all consumers, their influence can be outsized. Only 24 percent of people share online one or more times per month, but 67 percent of respondents rely on online sites to make purchasing decisions, most frequently seeking consumer ratings or commentary.
That’s why, while building loyalty among increasingly more discerning social advocates is harder than ever for brands, getting it right can create a lasting impact, DiMaruo said.
“Companies now have multichannel opportunities to interact with their customers–and, quite frankly, customers expect to be heard,” she said. “The better a company is at listening and connecting on a human level, the more likely they are to gain loyal customers and advocates.”
With so much consumer choice–and such low barriers to switching–loyalty can be elusive. That said, the benefits of earning loyalty also can be compounded in this environment. Once a company earns a consumer’s trust, the consumer depends less on the opinions of others, the study found. As for digital advocates, companies that win their loyalty can count on them to share positive experiences, defend their companies when others share negative experiences, and even help informally with customer service.
So how do you win a customer’s loyalty? The old-fashioned way: by giving your customers a positive experience. That experience–pleasant, easy, responsive–trumps even price in building loyalty, the study found. Get that wrong and be prepared to pay a price: Seventy percent of survey respondents reported that they’ve shared a negative experience online.
“Consumers are more discerning about the companies they choose to do business with and support,” Bulmer said. “We are now in a “so what,” “show me,” or “can I trust what you say” business, political, and social economy.”
The study underscores just how much the relationship between consumers and brands has changed, and yet how much the fundamentals still apply. The margin of error, however, is getting smaller every day.