The Consumer Buying Decision in the Digital Age: How Social Media has altered the marketThe buying of a product is an evolutionary process. In earlier times the process was this:A consumer starts with many brands to choose from The original number is whittled down A final choice is made Buying decision is madeIn the new social media world, the buying decision has evolved to this:Consider the product Evaluate the product A choice is made-closure Post PurchaseThe source for much of the material in my article comes from two places."Branding in the digital age" which appeared in 12/10 issue of The Harvard Business Review, was written by David C. Edelman. A second source was "The consumer decision journey" written by David Court, David Elizinga, and Susan Mulder, which appeared McKinsey Quarterly, June 2009.In a modern market consumers connect with brands in fundamentally new ways. Much of the information that consumers get is through social media platforms that marketers many times cannot control. There is an explosion of products and product information from sources of information that organizations can't influence, but which have a great impact upon if a product is going to be purchased. The paradigm has changed from a "push" world, in which products are produced and pushed upon consumers, to a present day "pull" market place in which consumers pull products from the shelves. In old media, a consumer was given a choice of products in a category and a choice was made. In a new media age, a consumer interacts a great deal on digital platforms, which provide a wide array of products and alternatives. The consumer now remains engaged in the product, through social media, after the purchase is made. In today's market a major influence in the purchasing of a product is someone else's advocacy.The buying decision is a journey: the journey is made up of 6 parts. (1)There is a consideration of brands. (2) There is an evaluation of the brands through the input of peers, reviewers and others. (3) A product is bought. (4) The product is enjoyed. (5) A bond is created between product and consumer. (6) The consumer becomes an advocate. The goal of marketing has always been to influence consumers at just the moment that a purchasing moment is going to be made. Marketing is about touch points, places where the consumer is open to influence. Social media platforms have created newer touch points for a consumer and a marketer must adjust to that reality. Customer loyalty has changed. Customers aren't loyal to brands; they are loyal to their friends. Modern organizations must learn how to "friend" their customer if a brand is going to be effective. Knowing how to "friend" a customer is something that marketer must learn to do for a customer buy their product.Brand awareness is the first important step in both old and new media. In old media, a consumer begins with knowledge of a group of brands, and then whittles that roster down. In new media, he becomes aware of a few brands, and then new information is given to him through the internet, and the number of original alternative brands increases. The awareness stage is a distinct paradigm change in marketing. Instead of a few products that can be pushed on the consumer, there are a great many products that a consumer can choose from. The market is now a pull environment.Traditional marketing is important, but the new touch points (social media) mean that branding has to be done in a different way. The adoption of a brand is now through "influencers" friends, family relatives, and peer groups. In the awareness stage, with many offerings in each category, a company has to build trust with individuals. Marketers and consumers must become friends. Products must have a significant purpose for a consumer to purchase them. A personal relationship is the means by which this is done. Another big change between old and new media is that the post purchase experience shapes the opinion of the consumer and this influences subsequent purchases.In today's marketplace, with the advent of social media platforms, brand loyalty for a product is not strong. Social media gives a marketer constant opportunity to convert a consumer.Social media allows a marketer to create loyalty in a way that awareness and loyalty couldn't be achieved before. Recently, Ford created awareness for the Fiesta, a year and half before it even came on the market. By having dedicated agents tweet, create posts and blogs large numbers of people wanted a relationship with the car before it even exited. This allowed Ford to create a "friendship" with its customer and to have a "conversation". Consumers are more influenced by their friends than with big brands. A comparison between the Fiesta and the Fusion can be example of this. At the end of Ford's social media campaign, 38% of Ford's target group was aware of the Fiesta. This is the same amount of awareness that market had for the Fusion that had been on the market for over two years and Ford had spend millions on conventional advertising.This is why Ford's Fiesta campaign was a case study for contemporary marketers to follow. When the Fiesta did come on the market, 12,000 were sold, the closure stage. It will be interesting to what happens next. Will there be loyalty. Ford and Fiesta buyers had a lot of experiences together. During the campaign there were 5 million engagements of social networking sights, 11,000 videos were posted, and 15,000 were made, 13,000 photos taken. Ford created a lot of "friends" during the Fiesta campaign. It will be interesting to see if this translates into strong loyalty for the car or for continued buzz on social networks and if this influences the purchasing of the car.
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