shopper research: social influencers and purchase decisions

by: Sarah Kneebone

Consumers are 71 per cent more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals and according to the PwC Total Retail Survey, 45 per cent of global respondents said that reading reviews, comments, and feedback influences their shopping behaviour 

The reality is that social influencers are affecting your shoppers' purchase decisions on a daily basis. So how can your brand leverage influencer marketing to boost sales, business growth and customer engagement?

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What is an influencer?

Kissmetrics classifies an influencer as “... the mutual friend connecting your brand with your target consumers."

Or, according to Shelly Horton, an influencer is “... someone who has bought 50,000 followers on Instagram and poses in a bikini with a green smoothie.”

In our view, an influencer is simply someone who can affect purchase decisions.
User-generated content (rather than brands tooting their own horn) ticks the psychological boxes of a purchase decision. It’s trusted, provides social proof and establishes an emotional connection with a product or brand.
Whether you’re a fan of influencer marketing or not, it’s clear to see that outbound marketing is going out of fashion.
Leveraging recommendations and storytelling is an opportunity to bring potential customers in to your brand - helping them feel informed enough to make a purchase decision and confident enough to do so.

social influencer in the city

Who's influencing who?

Travel bloggers, chefs, nutritionists, PTs, celebrities and Insta-celebs are all influencing shoppers' purchase decisions and Bridget Lorimer (chefsINK) says each type of influencer brings different reach to different audiences: A celebrity brings you mass reach, they have generally come through traditional media and they have cut through in a very noisy market… An influencer is more targeted and some of them have huge followings… The experts are more defined, they have the credibility, they’ve worked and studied in an industry so they have earned their reputation."

According to Katrina Foster (Choosi), social media is a driving force in mainstream food trends. Australians are more and more influenced by social media when it comes to choosing their food, with Generation Y leading new eating trends.

Deloitte found that 47 per cent of millennials say their purchase decisions are influenced by social media (vs. 19% across all other age groups).

But baby boomers should not be ignored. According to the Social Media Marketing Institute, this generation “...take action based on what they see on social media, and most of the time it’s focused on finding more information. More than half of them will visit a company website or continue the search on a search engine after seeing something on a social networking site.”

Baby Boomer influencer

Why are influencers so effective?

Let's look at some psychology behind purchase decisions.

1. Crowd mentality.

If shoppers can see that thousands of their peers are into something via social media reviews or a recommendation by a popular social media personality, they’re likely to follow suit.

Brands can demonstrate how their product has benefited thousands of other people, and shoppers end up feeling like they need to purchase it, in order to be part of the latest trend.

2. Trust.

Credibility and trust are formed when brands tell personal stories through the mouth-piece of a trusted blogger or Instagram star.

According to Business2Community, 44 per cent of social media savvy women say their buying decision is influenced by a trusted blogger.

If the product is endorsed by someone your shopper looks up to, respects or knows is popular, the decision feels less risky and is much easier to make.

3. Emotions.

As highlighted in our 'Mind Hack Your Shopper' report, purchase decisions are driven by emotion.

People buy things they’ve seen a celebrity wear or a health blogger rave about, on impulse, all the time. In fact, 41 per cent of people who purchase a product say they just happened upon it and hadn't thought about buying it.

Shoppers may know they don’t rationally need another pair of gym leggings or some fancy protein drink but if a Gym Shark model says those products will make you look like them, then you feel driven to buy them.

Do you need another eyeshadow palette which contains almost the same colours you already own? No, but Rihanna designed it and it makes her eyes look sparkly - so hell yeah.

woman shopping making purchase decision

How are influencers affecting brands?

As I mentioned in the blog last week (Packaging research: the e-commerce difference), today’s consumer journeys are completely different to the classic text books once sold to us.

Incorporating social influencers into your marketing strategy provides opportunity to connect with shoppers at new touch points in the consumer journey.

Thanks to social media, branding cycles today are much shorter. Consumers now discover and engage with brands very quickly and easily.

As you would imagine, millennials, as the 'digital natives', have adapted quickly to this buying behaviour.

Millennials are more engaged, more vocal and more visual. They’re not merely passive readers—they post, pin, view and blog. And, they’re willing to experiment and go onto the next innovation in social media." Paul Donagher (Market Strategies).

However, the down side of this shortened cycle for brands is that they can also be forgotten and put into the fad’ bucket much more quickly.

In an era where people are watching less TV, ads are often distrusted by consumers and ad blockers get in the way of showcasing your brand online, influencer marketing can increase brand awareness and build trust for your brand.

Social influencer making online purchase

How are FMCGs and retailers using influencers?

Coca-Cola’s latest Cascade mixer range campaign is centred around inspiring people to try something new: Given the propensity for influencers to change the behaviour of their followers to try new things we decided to partner with a handpicked select few to support the idea. Each of the seven influencers we have chosen can speak authentically to their followers and inspire them to ‘change it up’ using Cascade as the catalyst.

Global beauty brand Sephora works with local influencers in Australia in a number of ways:

…staging branded events to give them easy access and face-to-face contact with our international brand partners but also by regularly sending them products that we’re soon to launch and believe they’re going to love. If a brand is highlighted on social by a credible influencer, it can be the thing that moves the dial for them when it comes to sales.”

Libby Amelia (Sephora).

Social influencer holding mug

Incorporating influencers into your strategy.

  • Partner with influencers and foster in-house innovation in a co-branding’ effort. This approach can help large companies create a personal feel and raise awareness via social channels.

  • Try opting for micro influencers’ with smaller social media followings to increase authenticity and make your brand feel more relatable (they’re also more affordable to recruit as they’re building their following).

    These influencers have good reach but also nurture their audience and have a loyal following who will engage with reviews.

    We’re now tapping into influencers with followings of 5,000 to 200,000. They’re people in your area, they’re a lot more relatable, they’re seen as a good friend rather than a brand ambassador.”

Victoria Harrison (founder of Australian influencer marketing agency, The Exposure Co).

  • Choose influencers who have a natural fit’ with your brand and a targeted audience. It’s not just about awareness generated by someone with thousands of followers, your brand needs to align with and be relevant to their audience - otherwise you are unlikely to generate leads and customers.

    “True influence drives action, not just awareness.” Jay Baer.


A word of warning.

Of course, there are moral discussions around the use of influencers, and there’s also less control for brands around the content which is produced about their products.

Using influencers is making an investment in branding, but it can be hard to measure how this translates to sales. The influencer market is also becoming increasingly competitive and saturated.

However, if brands focus on quality campaigns Detch Singh (Hypetap - Australia’s first invitation-only self-service social media influencer platform) says "...signs are strong that influencer-based marketing will be a growing part of the marketing landscape".


Over to you.

Want to check out some other key ways to drive brand growth? Download The 7 Secrets to Brand Growth. 


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about the author

Sarah Kneebone

Sarah is PLAY’s go-to content writer with a passion for marrying creativity and communication with clever strategy. A former marketer with PLAY and for international brands such as QBE Insurance and General Motors, Sarah moved home to the UK to raise her little family and start a health coaching business. Luckily for us, she continues to share her talent for the written word with the team in Australia.

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