Reach consumers who friend before they spend

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Ever scoured the web for information about a brand of shampoo you've been considering using? Did customer reviews on Overstock or Amazon play a role in any of the purchases you made this past holiday season? Have you "Googled" a date's name before, or after, going out with them? You may be a New Info Shopper if... (read doing your best Jeff Foxworthy) you answered yes to any of these questions. And, according to a recent online Wall Street Journal article, advertisers and marketers looking to improve their bottom line may want to start paying closer attention to the way you and your fellow NISs operate.

Finding, then seeing, is believing
E. Kinney Zalesne, who co-authored the WSJ.com article, along with the book Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes with Mark J. Penn, contends that this new breed of consumer primarily trusts information it finds on its own -- not necessarily what you provide in your outreach. The Microtrends shopper's survey conducted for the January 8 article found that 92 percent of those surveyed believed information they got on their own over information they got from a salesperson or clerk. And 78 percent of the respondents felt television ads don't contain enough information to make a purchase decision.

"That's really a profound shift in attitudes towards shopping," says Zalesne, who attributes at least some of this shift to a decrease in the power of branding. "I think part of what we're seeing in the New Info Shopper is that people are not as willing to rely on brand. And they're not as willing to assume that a fancy name, or a popular name, will be the right product for them."

Andrew Monfried, CEO of Lotame, a firm specializing in monetizing social-networking opportunities, agrees that this new type of shopper is out there, adding that social media sites are one of the most fertile information-gathering grounds available to the NIS. "People are reading comments by other users or other consumers in a community to make their purchase decisions. That's why the premise of people who are doing commenting, uploading, blogging, sharing, and rating is the new metric for brands on how they should be targeting."

Are they really all that new?
But didn't this kind of shopper already exist? Certainly anyone who's purchased a new car prior to having internet access can recall poring over Consumer Reports and automotive magazines, gathering brochures, and talking to salespeople, trying to glean any information on the model(s) they were considering.

"To us, the New Info Shopper is not really new, but they were super-enabled by a lot of the tools the internet provided," says Daphne Kwon, CEO of ExpoTV, a social-networking site featuring thousands of consumer-generated video product reviews.

Penn and Zalesne acknowledge that this type of consumer existed prior to the advent of the internet, but that extensive product research was usually reserved for big-ticket items, like a house. They assert that, these days, an NIS may spend nearly as much time researching a tube of toothpaste. Sam Decker, CMO of Bazaarvoice, which hosts and services user-generated content on client websites, agrees with this assertion. He argues that not only will consumers do their homework on smaller-ticket items, they'll also take the time to review them, citing a 99-cent Petco dog treat that received over 700 customer reviews.

What is truly new about New Info Shoppers is that many of them have never really known shopping -- or other activities -- without the internet. "That's important," Zalesne says, "because it shows that this is even more likely to be a lasting trend. This is an ingrained habit for young folks, and they're not likely to drop it in favor of in-store sales people or something when this is how they're learning to shop."

But Hilary Weber, director of internet marketing for Kaiser Permanente, which markets heavily to baby boomers, doesn't think doing extensive product research before making a purchase is limited to younger shoppers. "It [the WSJ.com article] was so much in line with the description of how boomers use the web. They don't use it the way the younger set uses it, for entertainment. It's really a tool to get things done." She suggests that, since quality and value of a product/service typically rank as top considerations with boomers when making a purchase decision, ascertaining that quality and value logically requires more research -- and boomers are increasingly turning to the web to do this research.

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