Maximizing the Return on Social

A New Study Looks At the Reasons Shoppers Turn Social

By Published on .

The industry continues to struggle with how to quantify the efficacy of social-media marketing efforts. One place to begin should be through developing greater insight into the ways social media impacts how and why people buy what they buy.

For many, shopping has always been a social experience, but the proliferation of social-media tools have expanded exponentially the depth and breadth of social opportunities along the path to purchase. In fact, a full 42% of Americans 18-49 currently use social media as part of their shopping and buying process.

To gain deeper insight, Arc Worldwide and Leo Burnett recently completed a study of the intersection between social media and shopping behavior that uncovered several keys to maximizing the effectiveness of social tools in marketing programs.

shopper needs chart

1. People first: It should come as no surprise that people are motivated to use social media in different ways based on their relevant requirements, expectations and desires. Interestingly, the study identified eight core categories of needs at the intersection of social and shopping behavior that play out to varying degrees across product categories, shopper segments and media channels. They range from the practical (such as obtaining the information necessary to make a product selection) to the emotional (such as the pleasure of unexpected finds), and span the entire purchase process from initial brand identification to the sharing of one's experiences. Understanding these needs and the role they may play in a given segment's decision-making process will help guide and focus a brand's social-media efforts for greater effectiveness. The function and priority of each, however, was shown to vary from category to category.

2. Engagement by Category: The study revealed that the specific needs most relevant to a brand's shoppers depend on the involvement, approach and mindset that people have toward the category.

Categories can be understood when mapped using two familiar dimensions: Risk -- how much is at stake (often cost) with a brand choice in the category; and Reward -- how rewarding (usually emotionally) the category is to engage with. The various combinations of these two dimensions began to divide the world of product categories into quadrants, with each representing a different type of purchase mindset and corresponding needs.

For example, consider categories in which risk dominates. High risk/low-reward categories, such as appliances and investment services, drove a more "functional" mindset, where complexity often forced people to shop in order to know what to buy. Low-risk/low-reward categories, such as batteries, detergent and gasoline, correlated with a more "routine" mindset, in which one shopped to get the task over and done with.

The higher the risk, the more importance shoppers placed on research and the greater their perception of the opportunity to save money. Emotional needs typically played a lesser role, but could be activated in more socially based post-shopping experiences.

By contrast, reward-dominant categories, such as high-reward/high-risk categories like fashion, vacation destinations and jewelry, and high-reward/low-risk categories, such as ice cream, greeting cards and quick-service restaurants, fueled mostly emotional needs. The higher the risk, the higher the emotion, moving shoppers from an "entertainment" mindset to outright "passion." More practical shopper needs still played a role, albeit a reduced one.

3. Not all channels are created equal: Understanding where a brand falls on the risk/reward map not only provides a greater level of insight into shopper needs, it also sets the stage for determining which specific social-media channels will be most effectively received.

The social-shopper data revealed that from the sea of sameness implied by the way "social media" is referred to en masse, each channel actually fulfills different needs in different combinations. From Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to FourSquare, Groupon and review sites, the needs mapping revealed greatly varied strengths and weaknesses by channel.

Facebook, for example, proved to be very strong in meeting the needs of connection and conversation, but was not nearly as effective in efficiency. Twitter, on the other hand, showed greater strength than Facebook for staying in-the know, but review sites delivered more efficiency than both. Review sites also maxed out in comparison shopping, but couldn't deliver the savings of geo-location or crowdsource deal services.

Integrating shopper-based insights into social-media planning can help brands understand the unique roles that different social channels and tools can play in the purchase process, enabling each to leverage its strengths and develop its purpose. It can also help brands create real value and participation by seizing the opportunity to meet people's needs, and as a result, deepen their affinity for and relationship with the brand. Brands that get that right will improve not only their shoppers' experiences, but also their marketplace results.

William Rosen is North America president and chief creative officer at Arc Worldwide, the marketing services arm of Leo Burnett Group. He may be reached at [email protected]
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