The internet has given everyone in America a voice, and many Americans have chosen to use that voice to make noise about your brand. The emergence and subsequent mass consumption of social media has changed the way consumers make purchase decisions far too quickly for brands to keep up.
Some are playing catching up and struggling to appear savvy, most are simply standing at the corner of "OMG Avenue" and "How Did This Happen Street," while experimenting with all kinds of tactics for reaching the new consumer.
In the off chance you had anything in mind this week beyond preparing your desk for a long holiday nap, Yahoo! is making news with their latest round of insights into the human mind that just might help carry you into the New Year.
Quality vs. control
Building on the release of Yahoo's "Long and Winding Road" data, the latest round of insights comes from a combination of in-home interviews and over 2,000 comScore panelists to compare the activities of those who considered themselves brand advocates and those who did not.
Conducted in August, 2006, the in-home interviews took place in New York, San Francisco and Saint Louis. Each interviewee had also posted at least one online review and considered him or herself an opinion leader.
The overall research focused on those who had made a purchase in the Auto, Consumer Electronics, Hotels and Home Loans categories. Goals included identifying research sources, who these opinion leaders discussed purchases with, and ultimately what role online played in the process.
The advent of opinion sites along with social media destinations has blurred the line between purchase consideration points. Aside from Darwinian separation of influencers and non-influencers, qualitative feedback in the form of survey responses confirmed the consuming public's desire to move away from expert opinions in order to seek out lay people.
A battery of 30 questions was used to determine who might be deemed a brand advocate. Ultimately, seven distinct characteristics emerged. Advocates are early adopters, people who consider themselves leaders, those who people seek out when they need advice, and they are vocal about purchases decision making and sharing purchase opinions afterwards.
These drivers of internet opinion have blogs, instant messaging conversations, photo sharing lists and -- perhaps most significantly -- represent about 40 percent of internet purchasers, according to the research.
Engaging the advocates
Some encouraging patterns have emerged about these brand discussion leaders. First, they tend to search more than the average or passive purchaser. They are 21 percent more likely to use search as research tool. One interviewee put it very nicely, "I always start with search, and from there I find the good sites where it seems that a lot of real people provide input."
Advocates view advertising as yet another resource for making a purchase, so engaging them is a bit easier than die-hard skeptics. You also have more opportunities to reach out to them. Social media and user-generated content in the form of reviews have systematically destroyed the purchase funnel we used to know and love. Consumers are conducting more purchase research than ever, are considering more channels than ever, and are even gathering information after a purchase decision has been made.
The multiple-touch-point theory tells a story about how you can effectively reach out to consumers in the act of purchase. If we simply abandon the purchase funnel concept, then we can approach the informed buyer at every possible point of influence.
Unfortunately, there is no secret sauce or list of best of practices yet. However, with a combination of creative keyword selection, messaging and landing page direction, search can serve as a conduit to the informed buyers of the new millennium.
Kevin Ryan is the chief executive officer of Kinetic Results. .