The future according to the consumer? Relevant conversations!
It is not so long ago that we were convinced that the end of mass media had arrived, since mass media generated irrelevant advertising messages that are not important to anyone. Furthermore we all noticed that the word-of-mouth principle gained in impact since the arrival of the social web. Consumer decisions are rather based on feedback by other (even unknown) consumers than on information obtained from a well-known brand.
However, these conclusions are only partially correct. Indeed, more than ever do consumers make decisions based on conversations between them. We haven’t said goodbye yet to mass media (nor will we do so soon). More importantly: the largest mass medium that we currently know and use has been created by consumers. The Internet is the most outstanding medium consulted by the largest number of people. It is the medium where the amount of information increases at the fastest rate. There is an exponential increase in the number of social media users and the amount of content posted on the net by consumers.
This trend will have severe consequences on the future usage of the web by consumers. Conversations between consumers will always be the base of purchase decisions. Conversations will always influence perceptions of brands. The relevance of the average consumer conversation decreases however, because of the increasing number of conversations. It is correct indeed that we choose a hotel based on feedback by previous guests of that hotel. But as soon as more than 1000 people have evaluated the same hotel, the relevance decreases, since everyone has different expectations where a hotel is concerned. Personally I think delicious food is an important criterium when choosing a hotel. I can imagine that other consumers handle other decision criteria. In other words, when I want to choose a hotel, I am actually looking for feedback from consumers who use the same decision criteria as me. I am only interested in relevant conversations (posted by people whose expectations are similar to mine). Those conversations only will allow me to make the right decision.
Consumers will spontaneously look for new methods in order to see their number of relevant conversations increase. The easiest way to do so is ‘defriending’ on a social network. A recent InSites Consulting survey has shown that about 6 out of 10 social media users defriend. In fact, defriending means: increasing the number of relevant conversations.
Mobile Internet increases the pace of the evolution
The rapid increase of mobile Internet will speed up this evolution. Worldwide a quarter of internet users has mobile access to social networks. The Netherlands and Belgium are lagging behind on the rest of the world, since only 1 out of 10 Dutch or Belgian web users can access social network sites via mobile Internet. The InSites Consulting survey has shown that mobile users of social media are twice as active on these sites, compared with the non-mobile users. In brief: the increase of mobile Internet increases the speed of irrelevance to the consumer.
The advantage of mobile Internet is that it offers immediate solultions to the consumer to increase the relevance again. You can obtain feedback about a restaurant from people in your network who have been there. This makes conversations a lot more relevant again, since the source is reliable. This also entails opportunities for a retail environment. Consumers can scan barcodes at supermarkets and get feedback on that specific product from people they know.
The next step is to get feedback from people whose profile is comparable to yours, but who you don’t know. If you want to try a new snack, the most relevant feedback will come from people who like similar snacks as you.
The future for the marketeer? Facilitate relevant conversations
This trend makes it even more difficult for marketeers and advertisers to influence consumers. Once a consumer manages to get input solely through very relevant conversations with other consumers, this will without a doubt become the main purchase influence in history. A brand that exists today should prepare for that.
As I describe in my book, The Conversation Manager, it is possible to do conversation management. Conversation management entails a higher conversion of your brand. If you manage to facilitate your brand into increasing the relevance of consumers’ conversations about your brand, you will move up quickly. You as a brand can make things easy for consumers. If you start creating a possibility where consumers obtain only relevant feedback about your brand, you are taking a head start.
Brands that are creating consumer communities should manage them within the consumers’ need for relevance. Communities gathering thousands of people offer plenty of options to create applications that will increase the relevance for the members of that community. Imagine that you are a major food producer and you have a large, active consumer community. That means that you have a lot of information on those people, and that you can work with them to obtain an increase in relevant conversations.
Managing conversations should be a part of brand management for every self-respecting brand. Observe what consumers say about your sector and your brand, and you will gain insights into the degree of relevance that already exists today. Facilitate a relevance increase in your target group. Participating in the conversation yourself allows you as a brand to create a higher relevance. You can show consumers where to find the relevant information, for example.
These days companies enthusiastically search for the options of the current conversation revolution. The challenge however is to start preparing ourselves today for the next steps the consumers will make in this revolution: the quest for relevance!