Sponsored feature

The digital emperor's new clothes

Illustration by Adam Larkum
Illustration by Adam Larkum

When is a friend, not a friend? When it’s a faux Facebook friend.

As social media becomes a bigger part of consumers’ lives, brands are exp­anding communication into this digital environment and looking for new ways to engage shoppers. But in the rush to gain online traction there is a risk that the real value of social inter­actions has been con­fused with meeting arbitrarily set targets for volumes of followers or "likes". Indeed, new research conducted for Nexus Com­muni­cations shows that in the grocery sector, real friends beat faux ones and "likes" are a shallow level of engagement.

In the "Shopping Centred" study, 82% of people credited information from their trusted circle of friends and family as a key influence on their grocery purchases, compared with only 4% who cited social-network discussions as influencing them. This falls to just 1% for Twitter.
Face-to-face conversations are also the most likely place for discussions about these products. More than three-quarters of them (78%) take place face-to-face, while 8% of product-sharing advice occurs in the digital arena.

These findings offer important insight for grocery brands, and beyond, when it comes to the direction and weight of their comms strategy. Because if the impact of face-to-face, word-of-mouth recommen­dation is the greatest, marketing activities leading to them must be prioritised.

Richard Medley, managing director, Nexus Communications, says: "When so many social communities still lead on ‘products’ as the driver of their content, it highlights the lack of listening to what the audience wants. Did the channel register as a lead driver of product sales in our study? Barely. Does that mean it has no place in the mix? Of course not.

"It’s a space for building brand rele­vance and affinity, and so should live on an editorial curve, with ‘thinking like an editor’ the critical pre­requisite for a suc­cessful community. Stealth storytelling and relationship-building is far more likely to have commercial impact than begging for ‘likes’. If you think about what you share, it will come down on the side of the theatric­al over the functional," he notes.

Sophie Griffiths, head of digital at Nexus, adds: "There is no reason for any traditional/digital silos. It’s imperative that a brand drives valuable conversation that influences purchase and sharing across channels. It’s also increasingly the consu­mer’s online/offline joined-up expectation and what will drive proper sustained value over shallow surface measures."

There may be a tendency to dismiss grocery brands as not stimulating much conversation via any medium, but don’t be fooled: more than a third of those surveyed talk face-to-face about these at least once a week, rising to more than half of those either 34 years old or younger.

The research also identified four clear types of shopper: Researchers, Planners, Habituals and Spontaneous. Planners (40%) shop with a clear knowledge of what they want, while the Spontaneous, the next-biggest group at 26%, are inspired by what they see in store. They are closely followed by the Habituals (25%), who stick to what they know and always buy. Researchers (9%) want to know more before they shop.

The latter are the most interesting for communica­tions specialists, as they are the biggest sharers of what they discover: 65% of them find information to pass around at least once a week. They are most likely to feature on a brand’s data­base, leave comments on a website and share brand informa­tion. They need a high level of discover­able content that helps them feel like insiders and celeb­rates their influenc­er status. Authentic story­telling and editorial can be very powerful in micro-targeting them via the right suite of digital tools.

But no matter what type of shopper a person is, the research also clearly identi­fies a hierarchy of influence. Family and friends at the top, followed by PR and advertising. While advertising through mass reach wins on awareness (34% compared with 26% for PR), PR comes out top on trust and reassurance (23% compared with 17% for advertising).

The use of celebrity endorsement is a common marketing tactic, but the research challenges assumptions about how this translates into propensity to buy endorsed products. As a driver of pur­chase, celebrity scrapes a meagre 4% level of influence. If the celebrity has a level of expert status, it helps – and then is best achieved with appropriate PR rather than advertising – but messages need more sophistication than merely attach­ing a famous name if they are to work.

Professor Paul Baines from the Cran­field School of Management says of the research: "It flies in the face of the belief that companies should trans­fer their spend to social-media marketing alone at the expense of traditional communica­tion methods in the grocery sector. In fact, very few comp­anies have developed genuinely success­ful and effective online communities through social-media mar­keting. The point is not to denigrate it – it has an important role, done well, in build­ing brand awareness, and some­times chall­enging inept brand communications.

"But there are myths, including the ideas that celebrity in itself sells, virtual friends who ‘like’ products on Facebook are the only people who matter, advertis­ing is more persuasive than PR and more people shop on impulse than plan it.

"So, don’t believe the hype – traditional and personal marketing communications are not dead yet, and social media is not the only game in town."

Discussion

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now

Latest

Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message