BOSTON, July 14 /PRNewswire/ -- American consumers are no longer taking the recommendations of family or friends at face value, according to the latest Cone research. Before deciding whether to purchase recommended products or services, more than four-out-of-five consumers (81%) will go online to verify those recommendations, specifically through researching product/service information (61%), reading user reviews (55%) or searching ratings websites (43%). These are among the findings of the newly released 2010 Cone Online Influence Trend Tracker.
As consumers have become increasingly impervious to traditional media, marketers have realized that consumers are turning to their personal network of friends, family and acquaintances to confirm their opinions prior to making purchase decisions. Heeding this behavior shift, marketers began targeting consumers' inner circles with word-of-mouth then social media campaigns as the new marketing tipping point for purchase decisions. Today, these campaigns are no longer enough. Data from the 2010 Cone Online Influence Trend Trackerreveal consumers have added yet another step prior to reaching for the credit card – online verification.
"Consumers have become extremely savvy about how brands are marketing to them," explains Bill Fleishman, Cone's president and head of Brand Marketing. "Partly due to an increased skepticism toward brand marketing, consumers have elongated the decision-making process to seek additional sources of affirmation before making up their minds. As marketers, we have another step to take before we close the loop."
Online Verification: The New Consumerism Norm
Increasing skepticism of traditional media, technology advancements and growing online connectivity have all combined to give consumers ultimate control of their research volume before deciding what, when and how to buy. Thus, personal recommendations alone are no longer enough to guarantee a purchase, as three-quarters of consumers (77%) agree they are more likely to purchase products or services when they can find additional recommendations about them online. Among 25- to 34-year-olds, online verification is even more vital; 91 percent will go online to verify recommendations before making a purchase and nearly the same number (90%) are more likely to purchase products or services after finding additional online recommendations.
Cost Not a Factor, Consumers Verify Product Claims
This information-seeking behavior is not exclusive to high-cost purchases. Consumers will verify recommendations online for products or services at a range of price points, including:
Low cost: 72% of Americans would go online to do additional research about recommended movies or restaurants;
Moderate cost: 85% would go online to do additional research about recommended computer equipment; and,
High cost: 82% would go online to do additional research about a recommended car.
Cost may not be a factor, but the tone of online information plays a powerful role in the purchase decision, often outweighing the initial recommendation. More than two-thirds of consumers (68%) agree negative product or service information found online can be a mitigating factor in deciding whether to purchase. Conversely, positive information reinforces purchase recommendations for a full 80 percent of Americans.
Online verification does take on a more crucial role for certain purchase criteria. For example, two-thirds of consumers will go online to verify recommendations about products or services they'll own for many years (66%) or those that have an unfamiliar feature (65%). Product claims are also fair game, as Americans will verify recommended products or services with health and safety claims (66%).
"While online verification may not be required for every product category, our research shows that there is a wide range of products and services that will be scrutinized via the Internet regardless of price point," says Fleishman. "Online verification is now the deciding factor to drive consumers to that final purchase. Marketers who ignore this behavior shift will miss out on a golden opportunity to influence purchase decisions. Reaching influencers online is no longer a nice to do – it is a must do."
Singling out this new step in the purchase behavior spectrum can be a significant shift in thinking for brand marketers. Although traditional marketing efforts will not be replaced by online influencer identification, marketers must consider including an approach to reaching online influencers in every integrated marketing strategy. Even more key to finding the right influencers in the right forums (blogs, user review websites, social networks, etc.,) is the timing of the outreach to them. Since consumers will be searching online for opinions as the last step in their decision-making process, these cyberspace influencers will need to be in place prior to when paid and unpaid media reaches its saturation point. Cone's new Verify influencer service is a customized approach to identify the right people, social media platforms and communications strategies targeted toward consumers engaging in online verification.
"Cone's new Verify influencer service creates online brand advocates by identifying key online influencers with authority, audience and applicability within any given industry, issue or space," says Fleishman. "Verify will single out those online influencers consumers look to for verification and help ensure the right messaging is in place before a final purchase decision is made."
The 2010 Cone Online Influence Trend Tracker presents the findings of an online survey conducted June 7-8, 2010 by ORC among a representative U.S. sample of 1,055 adults comprising 513 men and 542 women 18 years of age and older. The margin of error associated with a sample of this size is +/-3%.
Cone (www.coneinc.com) is a strategy and communications agency engaged in building brand trust. Cone creates stakeholder loyalty and long-term relationships through the development and execution of Cause Branding(sm), Brand Marketing, Nonprofit Marketing, Corporate Responsibility and Crisis Prevention and Management initiatives. Cone is a part of the Omnicom Group (NYSE: OMC) (www.omnicomgroup.com).