How Do Influencers Contribute to the Purchase Decision Process?

by: Dustin Hawley | Wednesday February 20, 2019

What started out rather modestly as a platform for individuals to share photos of their friends and family, quickly evolved to become something much more impactful than anyone likely could have imagined. And not just society as a whole, but what it's also done for businesses in the process. Social media is now a key component of many organizations’ marketing strategies across the globe, and for good reason. Social media deeply influences the behaviors of consumers, and that trend isn't slowing down anytime soon. In fact, 74% of shoppers make buying decisions based on social media, according to Sprout Social. And this shift isn’t specific to B2C companies. Everybody is getting a piece of the pie, including B2B businesses who benefit from social media’s purchasing influence as well.

Picture the sales funnel - awareness takes up the widest part, narrowing through interest and decision, and finally coming to end with action. Based upon this structure, where do you think influencer marketing fits in? Many marketers categorize influencer marketing as an awareness tactic, which is a reasonable and logical assumption. It's true we tend to measure influencer campaigns based on metrics like reach, impressions, and engagement rather than the end sale. Plus, influencer-shared content is often used to introduce a product or service to the market.

But this is not the only best practice for influencer marketing, and there’s really no single best time to utilize it either because the path from awareness to point of sale carries many important touchpoints along the way. Today’s sales funnel process - and market in general for that matter - is highly consumer-driven. Educated customers are actively seeking information that’s relevant to their needs, typically far in advance of when they may plan on making a potential purchase.

Consumers are also relying on the suggestions and opinions of those who they admire and respect, more than ever before. And that means influencers, who have large, deeply engaged audiences, have substantial effects on the trends and behaviors of their followers. The long and short of it is, the influence is there, so that fact alone suggests that the key is to figure out how to take this influence and leverage it for your own business efforts. While there are many benefits of social media marketing, how exactly do influencers contribute to the purchase decision process? Circling back to our sales funnel analogy, we will break down exactly how they affect every layer of the purchasing decision process, and other additional effects and factors influencers have on consumer behaviors. 

1. Influencers Build Brand Awareness (Top Of The Funnel)

When it comes down to it, influencers have an incredible ability to familiarize their audience with your brand identity and persuade the opinions of their followers as it pertains to your product or service. Both their storytelling and presentation skills are effective vehicles for everything from initial product introduction to detailed, in-depth tutorials that assist consumers in understanding complicated features and benefits that may be present.

Remember, this is a top of the funnel focused benefit. Awareness tactics are far more subtle (and arguably, more effective) than in the past. Brands relying on heavy-handed sales pitches and promotional messages is frankly, an outdated model. It is slowly evolving into a more nuanced approach, with influencers who can effortlessly weave brand messaging into their own tone and language to make the promotion more palatable and authentic to a market of consumers - who already feel as if they are inundated with a constant barrage of advertisements on a daily basis.

Broad-based awareness campaigns now have a personal touch. For example, influencers will often share pictures or stories that involve their own personal experience with a product or service and do so in a fashion that comes across very authentic to their followers. According to a blog post by Simply Measured, "When done right, influencer marketing can work wonders for businesses looking to launch new products or raise brand awareness by tapping into an influencer’s already established audience and reach." This is also where having a brand ambassador program for your business can pay dividends.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how influencers shift the paradigm of business marketing and contribute to the purchasing decisions of consumers around the globe...

2. Influencers Produce The Engagement Needed To Convert (Mid-Funnel)

It's tried and true. A well-executed influencer campaign can drive engagement in all kinds of ways, whether it’s attaining video views, creating a conversation around your brand across multiple social channels, encouraging participation in a giveaway, or even driving traffic to brand websites and social accounts. Engagement is where awareness can ultimately be converted into action.

Likes, shares, comments -- all of these activities help spread the word and influence buying decisions. As mentioned in the introduction of this article, one study revealed that a staggering 74% of people will choose companies or brands based on others’ experiences shared online. So to say that a third-party endorsement is critical for today’s socially engaged consumers would potentially be the understatement of the year. Though, it's only February.

Consumers who are becoming increasingly interested in a product or service and taking steps toward a buying decision, fall into the mid-funnel territory of the sales process. And influencers can be amazing assets in helping move people from one stage to the next by offering compelling content that leads people to learn more and (hopefully) share their own experiences and recommendations. This also, in turn, typically leads to a positive uptick in your brand sentiment as well.

3. Influencers Create Action (Bottom Of The Funnel)

There seems to exist this ugly rumor - for lack of a better term - in the marketing world that influencers don’t drive direct sales straight from a blog or social post. There are a number of examples that contradict that stereotype, but even so, it's somewhat irrelevant at the end of the day. Why you ask? Simply put, because there are plenty of strategies for influencers to cut through the noise and ask for the sale on a brand’s behalf. And with some effort, a well thought out strategy, and some creativity, there are seemingly endless possibilities for ways to go about "selling" your brand on social.

While it's true that influencer campaign sales are more organic, and as a result can be more difficult to track from a metric perspective, a campaign can still include creative calls to actions like sharing a coupon or a discount to consumers who may be on the fence and need that last nudge to convert. There are even instances when influencers can boost in-store sales with 'demonstration campaigns'. One such example would be something along the lines of sharing the benefits of a personalized fitting and styling for a fashion retail brand. It creates an emotional response from the influencer's audience, as both the influencer and the brand collectively broadcast the content in a fashion that represents a genuine relationship between the two. This establishes trust with the audience, knowing that if their favorite influencer likes and admires your brand or product, they likely will as well. 

Influencers have also started to take advantage of the new direct sales features offered by their favorite social platforms. Almost any post can include a link to buy, sure, but now Instagram Stories has their “Swipe Up” feature that can send the follower directly to a purchase page, and Buyable Pins on Pinterest lets users click to buy products they’re interested in. For e-commerce - particularly that of which is now occurring through social media platforms - business is booming.

But we all know when it's all said and done that sales can and do often happen by indirect means. An influencer might publish a delicious-looking recipe sponsored by say, a sauce brand. Let's say it included a printable recipe sheet for the dish, and it gets picked up and shared on Pinterest, for example. Eventually, it makes its way to a cooking enthusiast during the holidays who was searching for new recipes to try. Then perhaps she buys the ingredients, makes the recipe, and shares the results (and shopping list) on her Instagram page. This is just a broad example of how influencers can sway the decisions of their followers.

Additional Factors

The purchase decision process isn't limited to the effects directly associated with sales funnel metrics. There are additional tactics and layers of influence that affect the psychology and sentiment around consumer purchasing behaviors as it relates to influencers. Here are some examples.

 

Reviews from Social Influencers Can Be Great For Business

Influencers have large audiences who see their posts on a daily basis, which is the reason they’re often targeted by businesses to promote products. But regardless of whether the influencers’ posts are sponsored or not, their content has a profound effect on purchasing decisions. Essentially, they contribute to what is known as the “bandwagon” effect.

Typically, it's sports franchises who are most often associated with the 'bandwagon effect. This is when a surge of fandom is produced for a team that is seeing great success and media coverage. People from a particular city or region may begin cheering for the team during this time when before this newfound success or interest, they were indifferent to the franchise. These types are considered 'bandwagon' fans, hopping on the ride when it's good and the team is successful, and just as quickly jumping off when the organization falls on hard times. Essentially, what could be attributed as a lack of genuine loyalty.

The bandwagon effect works similarly as it pertains to marketing. It basically works like this: An influencer shares a post on Instagram about her new jeans, raving about how comfortable and affordable they were. As a result, her followers are often now interested in learning about those jeans. And that interest very well can turn into intent and action over a short period of time, if the influencer's endorsement is both effective and - most importantly - genuine.

Plus, social influencers are usually pretty well-versed on social media (duh), and typically tag the store or brand of the products they use in their posts. This makes it easier for followers to become familiar with the brand and influence a purchase through increased brand visibility. Consider reaching out to influencers in your industry to ask if they’d be willing to try your products and share their experience on their social media accounts.  

You Can Take Advantage of the Algorithm Updates 

You’ve probably noticed some changes to social media over the last few years. On both Facebook and Instagram in particular, posts that receive more engagement than others will appear first in news feeds. Posts with more comments, shares, and likes are favored because they are identified as “trending” posts. This can influence purchase decisions when a particular product or service gains traction from the initial attention it receives on social media. It shows up first, getting more people interested, and creating an initial sense of validity and authority for your brand. Being top-of-mind in today's social realm is imperative for growing and maintaining your market share. And influencers can be an ideal vessel for placing your brand in a position to attain that level of viewership.

Conclusion

Plain and simple, social media influencers have a profound effect on their followers. And those effects directly relate and contribute to the purchasing journey of today's consumers. As the world continues on its path of technological advancement and social media continues to grow at a blistering pace, influencers will have gain more and more power over their audiences, and that means power over their purchasing decisions. Understanding this influence is essential in constructing your marketing tactics and overall branding strategy. And utilizing these resources while they are still essentially in their infancy can put you leaps and bounds ahead of your competition. If you still don't believe that social media personalities have substantial influence over the purchasing decisions of their audience, and today's consumer base in its entirety, be prepared to watch your competitors pass you by.

As a reminder, Influencer marketing doesn’t have to be fluff but can be a sales channel and an imperative part of every marketing strategy. Our influencer marketing agency caters to all of our clients’ needs, we aren’t simply an influencer marketing company.

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