Marketing has changed. Over the past couple of decades, new forms of messaging, new message delivery vehicles, and indeed, new types of messages have infiltrated the buyer’s experience. From the mom shopping on her smartphone while waiting at the soccer game to the executive researching a major software purchase, the ways buyers gather information prior to a purchase have grown exponentially.
In pre-internet days, the buyer’s process was fairly straightforward: stimulus, shelf, experience. A stimulus sparked a buyer’s interest in a product, they went to the store or called a salesperson to buy it, and then they experienced the product. There were very few places where a brand could intersect with the buyer: an advertisement, which may have been the stimulus; the packaging and display, which spurred the purchase; and, possibly, after the sale in customer service – though if it came to that, it was inevitably because something had gone wrong.
A New Purchasing Journey
Today’s purchasing journey, whether for a consumer product or complex business purchase, has infinitely more touchpoints where a brand and buyer might intersect.
Buyers get information about a brand, product or service through an ever-increasing number of sources: as many as 10.4 sources in 2011, vs. 5.3 only a year earlier, according to Google research. These sources are comprised of both brand and non-brand touchpoints, including advertisements, product reviews, recommendations from friends, family and colleagues, mentions in mainstream media, and brand social media.
While company-driven marketing can have a significant impact on the consideration of a purchase, brand marketing loses effectiveness in the evaluation and closure stages of the purchase journey. The most trusted touchpoints are socially-driven: recommendations and other consumers’ opinions are more highly trusted than any brand, or even editorial, content.
A New Buyer’s Journey
So how can a company increase the likelihood that a buyer will find and develop trust within a touchpoint?
We suggest making them Trust Points™ instead.
We believe Influence Marketing can significantly upend the buyer’s journey, again, by giving brands the ability to create more, and more trusted, points of contact between a buyer and brand information. These points, which we call trust points™, are the moments when buyers encounter an influencer’s opinion or endorsement of a brand, product or service. A trust point™ can enable the buyer to leapfrog over one or more of those 10+ touchpoints and accelerate the purchase process. Buzzfeed recently found that content reaching its target through sharing from a credible third party created a lift in consideration of 200-400% over similar content delivered directly from the brand.
These influencer moments, these trust points™, happen when an influencer:
- Mentions a product or service in an interview in mainstream or online media
- Writes about a product or service on their blog
- Uses a product and is captured doing so in a public photograph or video
- Mentions a product or service in their social media channels
- Appears on behalf of a brand at an event, tradeshow or conference
- Writes a review
Each time an influencer engages in one of these activities, they expose their friends, followers and fans to a trusted point-of-view on a product or service they appreciate.
A Shorter Journey
It’s easy to see why influence marketing is so powerful, and becoming increasingly more important. Influence marketing gives brands the ability to identify and create relationships with influencers; those influencers will provide the validation that we identify as trust points™ to help a buyer through their journey. According to McKinsey, word of mouth recommendations are the only factor that is key in all of the critical phases of purchase, from awareness through shopping and purchase. And in fact, word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20-50% of all purchases across categories.
Whenever a buyer experiences too many choices, an uncertain future due to an economic crisis, or simply a long, complex purchase process, the result is often stagnation, delay, and an elongated purchase process that may never reach its conclusion. For most buyers, a lack of trust in the brand, product or company slows you down.
The kinds of products and services where trust points™ are needed most are:
- New products/services because new is inherently risky
- High ticket or luxury items where the risk of capital or social embarrassment is substantial
- Business-to-business purchases, which are usually complex, and also fraught with politics
Influencer-driven trust points™ resolve these obstacles and put the buyer back on the path to purchase.
Back to a 3 step journey?
The way we see it, there are really only three steps in the purchase process that matter:
- I’ve heard of you but don’t trust you (because I haven’t encountered a trust point™)
- I trust you (because someone I trust said you were good )
- I bought you and know you are good/not good, and am now an advocate/detractor
Note that the power inherent in each of the three phases is geometrically more potent than in the stage before it. The stakes get high quickly, so it is essential to provide a positive experience all the way through.
Good news/bad news
The good news about influencers is that most of their commentary about brands is positive. The bad news is that when it is negative, the results can be devastating. Influencers are too powerful today to be left to their own devices. Appinions provides all the data and analysis you need to create trust points™and proactively manage your brand and corporate reputation.
Image credit: The Legacy Project, Cornell University