Remember friendship bracelets? Those colorful, woven (sometimes knotted) bracelets we used to make for our friends in elementary school?
I had forgotten about them until this season of giving, when I’m on alert for gift ideas. A beautiful image caught my eye in my Facebook News Feed one afternoon. I clicked to my friend’s page, where she had posted a link to an Etsy seller who makes friendship bracelets made of swarovski crystal beads. A sudden flood of fun memories came to mind as I reminisced about exchanging the bright bracelets with my best friends in school. VOILA! What a great gift idea for my girl friends!
The Buying Decision Process
Taking into consideration a traditional look of what influences purchase decisions, companies now have a greater opportunity than ever to influence what we buy leveraging social media platforms. The level of influence increases with the strength of their online communities and the strength of word of mouth marketing based on fans' sharing content to their social graphs (friends recommending products to friends on social networking sites). The Buying Decision Process has five steps:
- Need Recognition
- Information Search
- Evaluation of Alternatives
- Purchase Decision
- Post Purchase Behavior
In my case with the friendship bracelets I didn't realize I “needed” the bracelets as Christmas gifts for my friends until I discovered the product in my News Feed on Facebook from another friend. This in and of itself illustrates a shift in need recognition from active searching on search engines like Google to passive discovery on social platforms like Facebook. It's not the only way I rely on coming up with gift ideas, but having the endorsement of my friends for a product definitely helps me filter through gift ideas out of the many websites that recommend top gift ideas for the season – a trusted friend's endorsement will almost always trump a commercial website's recommendations (although if my friends have bad taste, I may look to review sites and bloggers who I trust for recommendations too as they still have third party credibility!).
Information Search and Evaluation of Alternatives
Once we realize we need something, the research begins. In my case, I realized I needed friendship bracelets. Historically, people turned to their family and network of friends to help make a buying decision. If you were looking for a fishing pole, you would ask your avid fly fisherman uncle for advice. If you wanted to buy the perfect red lipstick, you would visit your best friend who works in the cosmetics department at Nordstrom.
The key is that we ask people who have the knowledge to help us, and whom we trust. See our post, It’s That Time of Year: A Guide to Holiday Marketing on Facebook, for an example of how consumers reach out to their social networks for help with purchase decisions.
Millions of people now turn to online resources during the research and evaluation phases of the purchase decision process. The following online channels influence various purchases, from baby products, to sports equipment to electronics and yes, even to friendship bracelets:
- Search Results
- Brand Websites
- News Articles
- Product Review Sites
- Online Advertisements
- Forum Comments
- Blog Posts
- And more
Savvy brands will have a presence on the social media channels most in line with their product and audience. This will ensure the necessary touch points are available during the research process and it will also ensure that content is available to be shared from one fan to that fans' friends in turn further circulating the content beyond the initial streams the brand publishes to and has a presence on.
After the consumer has read a few blog posts, looked on the brand website and read some product reviews, the researcher may turn to their social networks to help them decide between a couple of different options, as was the case with the two baby dolls on our Guide to Holiday Marketing on Facebook.
Final Purchase Decision
There are many variables that go into the final purchase decision, however, a bigger bank of knowledge, specifically from people in your circle of trust, may have an even bigger influence than simply knowing the facts. I followed up with my sister about her baby doll purchase. Here is what she had to say:
Post Purchase Behavior
The post purchase behavior can take many forms on social networking sites: reaffirming the purchase decision (sometimes to overcome buyer's remorse) to part of the consumption experience. Tysha, my sister, frequently posts to her blog, and plans to post about this purchase after her daughter opens her gift. She may even upload a picture to the American Girl page on Facebook of her daughter with her new doll. She consistently shares her new blog posts to her Facebook page as well, so the purchase she made will be shared on a couple of different social channels as part of her full purchase experience.
In some cases, a purchase decision will be made and social platforms will be used to reaffirm the purchase. In this case, it may be more common for items bought for oneself than as gifts. For example if I spent a lot of money on say a new laptop, I would more than likely look to review sites even after I charged the credit card to make sure I made the right decision. I may even post the news on Facebook to have my friends comment and affirm that I bought the right laptop as well.
Recommendations through social media have great reach and come from a trusted source when a brands' fans are sharing content to their social graphs. Companies are thrilled when they generate this type of word of mouth marketing, as the recommendations have an exponential effect upon circle upon social circle in the News Feed- the company just needs to initiate the spark, be present for the conversation and allow the fans to spread their brand like wildfire online.
My experience with the friendship bracelets shows that sometimes you don't even know what you “need” until it is right in front of your eyes. Mindful marketers will use social media to keep you engaged throughout the purchasing process.
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