Google study highlights the enigma, context of social media

A recent Neilsen / Google India study revealed that 70% of Indian consumers knew precisely what they wanted before they went to a brick and mortar store to make a purchase.  Unlike many surveys, the questioning was done immediately when the customers left the store (similar to political exit polling).  The results seem to indicate that there is an additional layer of customer segmentation that many businesses are neglecting.

Despite its specificity to the technology shoppers in India, this study indicates where sales opportunities are, and offers a context where social media is most relevant.

Brick and mortar POS marketing can only influence 30% of customers

When selling a computer at Best Buy India, if you haven’t differentiated your product to a consumer before they set foot in a store you will have lost over two-thirds of your potential customers.  If you’re not actively monitoring what people are saying about your product you could be jeopardizing two-thirds of your potential customers.  If your site isn’t mobile-enabled or mobile optimized you may be jeopardizing 35% of your potential customers (48% of people in the study did their research on their smartphone).  Point being, the means by which people make their buying decisions fragments customers into targets with very different paths to influence.

Despite that this is a study of specific technology products, the concepts of the study may be true and applicable regardless of product or service.  How many customers are making a purchase decision before they see anything tangible in a store?  How many are doing their research on mobile devices or tablets?  And for those people marketing an online-only business, how many decisions are being made before you have opportunity to interject yourself into the conversation?

Mind your search

Pew Research recently released a study asserting that 70% of teachers believe that students rely on Google too much for their research.   An extrapolation of that finding to online research is both crude and appropriate.  The primary place that most consumers will go to research a product will probably be Google and Bing.

What does this mean?  If a business is not on the SERP when prospects search for a product class, they should probably be paying to be there.  If we pretend that search is the only place people go to research products, failure to use Google AdWords forsakes about 45% of customers, Bing AdCenter 25%.  Also of note, one of the unintended consequences of Bing’s higher penetration in the Northwest is that searchers will be far more likely to see Facebook Likes in the social sidebar.  There may be even more opportunity for Facebook marketing in Seattle and Portland than in other parts of the country.  (Note that the mobile enabled Bing doesn’t show the social toolbar, however)

What about social?

Aside from Facebook Likes that someone in Seattle may or may not see, where does social fit into a marketing mix?

In the context of a digitally segmented audience,  social media appears to be a secondary means to interject a message.  Bing’s social sidebar notwithstanding, it’s a top of the funnel tactic and must be interjected well in advance the buying decision.   At the point that people are making a buying decision, there isn’t a clear means for brands to interject through social media.  Forrester’s recent study on digital tactics seem to reinforce this.

This is not to say that social doesn’t have merit, but it has a clear context.  These aren’t passive media channels that are going to yield beaucoup customers with little effort.  Social channels require assertiveness, and a strategy that acknowledges their context in the proverbial sales funnel.

Or put in the perspective of this study:

30% of people made their purchase decision in-store.  Multiple social messages may have influenced their purchase decision, but if you were a betting person would you bet on an option where your message may be seen 15% of the time, or an opt-in newsletter that gets seen (or at least dealt with) 100% of the time?

70% of people did research before their purchase decision.  How often does anyone do product research through social media channels?  I would guess that it is quite rare.

Does this mean that social channels aren’t valuable?  Far from it.  In fact I believe that give businesses a unique opportunity to create an meaningful direct-to-consumer connection at a very low cost.  But if you think that social media can be the primary driver to market most businesses, I would love to play poker with you sometime.

What do you think?  Where are the greatest opportunities for social in the sales funnel?  Can people be influenced by social media at the point-of-sale or in their research prior to buying?

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Robin E. Thornton

    Social media builds awareness and can offer the opportunity to build a relationship which may predispose a customer to look favourably on your Brand or product and consider it in their selection process. But no, I don’t believe social media has a direct impact on the decision – just because my neighbour loves her new smartphone, doesn’t mean it has the features and functionality which suit me – I need to do my due diligence to understand that. Unfortunately, this is something that many companies just don’t understand. It’s great that you address the issue.

    • jimdougherty

      I’m so glad you commented on this one Robin, because I thought of you. Specifically, it seems to me that people in the PR industry have a much firmer grasp on the benefits and limitations of social media. Creating and perpetuating awareness rather than expecting direct sales. It’s very difficult to articulate to people that social media is worthwhile and innovative while in the next breath explaining that it isn’t as effective of a marketing tactic as many people purport it to be. Thanks so much for reading and sharing!