Through the Web, people (the customer) are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter, and getting smarter faster than most companies. The ClueTrain Manifesto – 1998
These prophetic words have become a reality in 2016 due to the continued growth, mutually related and shared influences of:
- Social media networks
- Mobile, and
- Local Search
Combined with established hubs like forums, curated sites and YouTube channels, people share, compare and learn from others’:
- Stories and experiences
- Expertise and know-how
- Learned lessons and recommendations
- Tips & little known secrets
This had led to a quiet revolution in the business world wherein power has shifted in favour of the buying customer.
In 2016, 70% of Web users now trust peer-to-peer opinions over traditional advertising. “People don’t trust brands anymore: they trust other people because they’re ‘other people’,” said Microsoft Canada’s Director of Marketing & PR, Chitra Anand who spoke on ‘The Future of Marketing’ this past June 7th.
Opinion-sharing sites such as Facebook have thousands of groups and the subject of merchants, sales, labels, and/or makers is popular.
“Social media referrals are powerful motivators for buying decisions. 71% of people trust them.”
Google, Yahoo and Bing validate peer-to-peer influence by including social media signals in their search engine ranking algorithms.
Mobile Changing Customer Behavior
With all this data being constantly updated, how might mobile-driven peer-to-peer reviews affect consumer behavior?
“47% of smartphone users conduct product-store research on a purchase, as tools to find local deals or to do some comparison shopping in a quick and efficient way,” said Ms. Anand.
For example, people might:
- Ask their friends on Facebook for opinions
- Check out a parent-focused site for their reviews of children’s toys, and-or
- ‘Showroom’ a store or stores (visit them to examine products before buying it online at a lower price)
Smartphone User Base Growing
Catalyst.ca’s “Evolving Mobile Landscape” indicates 24% more smartphone-enabled Canadians in 2015 than the previous year and a national ownership rate of 68%, up from 55% in 2014.
Each opinion or perspective shared by a customer encourages others to do likewise, to return the favour. “When people have a nice dining experience, they go on Facebook and talk about it. When they have a bad shopping experience, they ALSO go online and tell people about it.”
News of bad customer service reaches more than twice as many ‘ears’ as praise for good customer experience (Source: Better Business Bureau). If the company being talked about doesn’t know about that comment, their business may be threatened.
Another interesting stat offered up was that 2/3’s of the North America’s workforce is now mobile. “An empowered consumer is everywhere, not just at coffee shops.”
Local Search Engine Optimization Important
With customers being connected via full-colour 4” to 6” handheld screens, being found locally is now vital. According to Search Engine Journal, four out of five mobile phone and tablet owners use their devices to search for local business information, and 80% of those searches result in a purchase.
A local profile previews your business, complete with phone numbers, photos and maps. Google My Business and Yelp are examples.
The degree to which you maximize your company’s local search visibility determines whether local find-ability becomes a competitive advantage.
Customer Power Shift Implications
Buying decisions orchestrated by instantly shared opinions and limitless choice represents an increasingly preferred mode of shopping. What must businesses do to deal with these realities?
- Stay on top of public sentiment, both off and online, and deal with any client misunderstandings in a responsive and sincere manner. Developing a social media plan for customer engagement is crucial, as is 24/7 online reputation management
- Begin thinking of social media as an opportunity to tell your company’s story, with the challenge of relevancy a constant priority
- Focus on continuous innovation in every aspect of your business. The Japanese automakers employed a philosophy of “kaisan” in the 1980s (continuous, incremental improvement) to achieve dominance in the auto sector, for example.
- Understand that it’s no longer enough to merely offer a good service and customer experience; a company needs to demonstrate thought leadership in its industry, area or sector.That might take the form of informative blog posts, videos, white papers on aspects of their services, infographics, and so on. Thought leadership develops trust and identifies your company as an authority in its field. More sales, more incoming links and impressive search engine benefits result.
- Focus on creative story telling about your brand mission, customer journey, client experiences, service elegance and so on. You’ve got a palette of social media channels to choose from and those selected can all be customized and combined.
Make it fun, make it memorable, be engaging, interesting, different. And readily find-able in your local area.
The customer power shift will only intensify, forcing change (disruption) while improving service deliverables to an increasingly savvy and connected customer.