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Andrew Haughton, strategy consultant, Deolitte

Deloitte’s third annual State of the Media Democracy report, based on a survey carried out by Deloitte and YouGov of more than 2,000 people, examines what influences consumer decisions, and sheds light on what doesn’t.

The complexity of consumers’ decision making is clear from the start. Three out of four respondents said they research products both online and in store before deciding where to buy. This was most pronounced among 35-44-year-olds (81%), but it was consistent across all age groups. It was also consistent across socio-economic groups, where 79% of ABC1s and 72% of C2DEs said they conducted online and offline research before purchase.

Within that decision-making process, recommendations continue to be a powerful influence. Overall, 53% of respondents said they had decided against making a purchase based on an online recommendation, but among 18-24- and 25-34-year-olds this proportion was much higher (see graph). Clearly, as consumers research products online, negative recommendations can have a substantial impact on them.

In fact, half of respondents agreed that online reviews and ratings influenced their buying decisions more than any other form of online advertising, while only 26% disagreed (the rest had no strong opinion).

This level of support for recommendations compares starkly with advertising on social networks. When asked if ads on social sites influenced their buying decisions more than other types of online advertising, only 4% of respondents agreed. As many as 72% disagreed, prompting a serious question about the effectiveness of standard ad formats on social networks.

The opportunity with social networks, of course, is less in formal advertising and more in creating interaction, developing a conversation with consumers and thereby building engagement. But this means advertisers moving away from the formats and measures that have characterised online advertising for the past decade and developing more interactive and tailored campaigns.

To engage social media users, some form of quid pro quo is needed to generate interaction. It’s not yet clear what works best, and 2011 is likely to be a period of experimentation for brands, agencies and media owners as they seek new ways to engage the web-savvy consumer.

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Published 10 February, 2011 by NMA Staff

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