When social media marketing was in its infancy, brands and marketers needed to do little to make an impact, standout and see results. Though the marketing platforms were new, the data quickly showed that early adopters and average consumers alike were willing to be influenced and make purchase decisions through the new medium. As time has gone on and nearly all consumers have embraced social networks at some level, their behaviors as well as shopping journey have become much more mature and integrated.

In 2015, digitally enabled brand and product experiences are now dominating the purchase journey, however the path to buying has largely been removed from the retailer and is now firmly in the hands of consumers. The Deloitte Digital study on Digital Influence reveals that “over the past 3 years, consumers have stated that digital interactions can affect multiple points along their shopping journey, and the steps in the process may not be directly attributable to the eventual purchase.” In other words, brand and marketer digital influence has some impact, but it has dwindled and become part of the process, not just the click to buy influence it once had.

Digital and Mobile Influence By CategoryNot only has the general purchase journey changed from one dominated by social media marketing, the path taken varies dramatically by product category, device used and more. In other words, how people are consuming digital content along their purchase journey is different depending on what product the consumer is considering AND which device they are using. Therefore marketers must invest in understanding the deeper consumer behavior at the category level, not just the retail or wholesale level. This is likely the most significant and complex change facing digital marketing to date!

Digital Moments Within The Shopping Journey

What the recent data is showing is that digital influence now has as much to do with creating impactful content and experiences as it is about when it is in front of the prospective buyer. The trifecta of timing, position AND content are where brands now need to focus. Here are some of the digital moments retailers need to better understand.

Inspiration – The most informal part of the shopping journey can be called the inspiration stage. This is often sparked by the discovery of a new product or service the consumer has not heard of before. Inspiration typically comes from trusted sources like family, friends and co-workers through informal conversations, social media posts or trusted blogs.

70% of consumers are now finding purchase inspiration and interest OUTSIDE of brand marketing, while only 30% say their purchase interest comes directly from brand marketing. (Deloitte Digital)

Brands need to find new ways to get trusted sources to share support of their products and services. This is key to influencing consumers purchase journey early and will often push them to move to the later stages fast. Marketers need to understand this process as it relates to their market category and develop platforms, strategies and content that consumers can plug into easily.

Research – In the research phase, consumers tend to gather information about a specific product group or groups that would fit within their needs. Options, brands and pricing are investigated at a cursory level. While 76% of consumers are using brand sites and information during this stage, nearly 61% are also using search (Deloitte Digital). Though social media can also play a role during the investigation moments of consumers, Pay Per Click and organic SEO through content is playing a much larger role.

Select and Validate – While narrowing down the options, consumers make choices and then validate their selection before making the final purchase. A massive 76% of consumers state that they investigate product reviews during this process on both retailer and third-party sites (Deloitte Digital).

Though there is little data on the validation process, it is my belief that social can play a huge role in this function. Brands need to create experiences and stories that connect consumers to the emotional elements of ultimately owning the product or using their service. When a brand makes the emotion connection with a prospective customer by helping them imagine the feeling they will have, the validation of their decision is all but complete.

Purchase – Once a consumer has completed their unique shopping journey it culminates in the ultimate purchase.

It is important to note that consumers are now making their own shopping journeys, which are curated from various digital components. Trusted connections and sources are by far the most important to most consumers and therefore brands must determine the best ways to compete for their attention as early as possible. Fitting into the specific buyers journey for your product segment is key to the future success of your brands digital marketing success.

By now you may be starting to realize that retailers are not going to be able to affect influence through social media marketing alone. Though social must remain a part of the overall influence strategy, it lacks the ability to personalize to a specific consumer and their moment within the shopping journey. Social media marketing now plays a much larger role in inspiration and research than it can in selection and the ultimate click to purchase.

Other digital marketing components that assist and influence consumers are becoming more and more important. But I want to be very clear, to be most effective marketers need to strategically create and deploy many types of content across multiple channels that account for each journeys stage. Providing consumers ways that uniquely aid them within these different moments with things like staged email campaigns, helpful videos, text content and search marketing will increase the odds of influencing them at the right time.