While conducting some research for one of our clients, I came across a fascinating study published by GroupM Search that outlines the relationship between consumers’ search engine activities, social media activities and purchasing power. While the study concentrates on consumer electronics and consumer package goods, there are some insights applicable to virtually any line of business. “The Virtuous Circle:  The Role of Search and Social Media in the Purchase Pathway” is posted on their blog and while it is a long read the implications are very thought-provoking. Essentially the study found that

“…the research clearly indicates that search plays a dominant role at the beginning of the purchase process to establish a consumer’s consideration set. Furthermore, category blogs and earned social media in the form of user reviews are very influential and sought out by consumers to solidify purchasing decisions.”

As alternative forms of advertising – especially free (or relatively low-cost) online mediums like blogs and Facebook – become more mainstream we are beginning to see that they have a measurable impact on the buying behaviours of consumers. This study talks about the purchasing journey of a consumer and the impact that search and social media have on that particular consumer. Some highlights of the study include:

1. “In nearly 60%of all consumer journeys that end in purchase, the starting point is a search.”
The clear implication here is that search engine optimizing the content on your website is absolutely vital to reaching your potential consumers.

2.”76% of consumers who are starting with either search or social media are signifying intent to explore and potentially buy without commitment to a brand at the outset.”
How encouraging is that?!?! Whether you are an established brand or a start-up, three-quarters of the time you stand an equal chance to attract your potential customer at the onset of their purchasing journey. Your brand isn’t necessarily what is going to pull them in – but what will keep them there is up to you.

3. “A consistent finding throughout the study is that consumers are having brand perceptions shaped and altered through social engagement.”
Companies and entrepreneurs need to realize that their branding has become a 24 hour, 7 days a week process that is happening at work, at home and anywhere in between. This affects business and marketing strategy immensely in that “as brands think about how and from where to best provide content, search continues to make a compelling case as a valid recipient for initial investment of ad dollars and ongoing optimization efforts.”

This report is full of practical insights applicable to virtually every business and is definitely worth a read.