I know for a fact that I have influenced several people to buy an iPhone in the past 4 years. I also know that I have convinced friends to stay at Hilton hotels and sign up for Hilton Honors. I was a champion of these products, extolled their virtues, and saw people act on my consult.
I influenced my friends to spend hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars on these things.
Or did I?
When you suggest a product or service to someone close to you and then they go and buy it, are you responsible for making that purchase happen?
No, or at least not as often as we think.
We Are Influence Foragers
More often than not your interaction with friends and colleagues is the tip of an iceberg when it comes to influence. The iceberg is a database of information that will ultimately convince them to buy something or take an action. Sometimes your input makes up the majority of this information database, but just as often you are a small slice of a larger influence pie chart.
When we talk about influence we need to stop thinking about “person X convincing person Y to buy a product” and flip our thinking to how we, as consumers, are influenced.
Influence, to the consumer, is about building a database of quality information. We make buying decisions based on the most trusted information we can get access to. Sometimes it is from an unbiased stranger, sometimes our neighbor, and yes sometimes from Twitter followers or Facebook friends or blogs we read.
Sometimes an influencer gives someone the final piece of information they need to pull the trigger on a purchase. The last piece in the decision puzzle. The two examples I mentioned above, about Hilton and the iPhone, likely fit this scenario. I may have been that last 5% of information a friend needed to be convinced a certain product was a smart purchase.
Consider this made up example of an information database for buying a new TV. And let’s hope Justin Bieber does not really have this much influence.
Many times we only add a small amount of data to a larger database of trusted information, like Cousin Freddy, Dad, and our Techie Neighbor in the above chart. And YES, sometimes, our recommendation holds enough weight that it is the dominant factor in another person’s buying decision. Marketers should be thinking about how to leverage both situations.
Consider these 3 examples.
1. Picking a restaurant while traveling
Hotel front desk recommends three local restaurants and one fits your taste. You chose from a list of 3 options given to you by a stranger. This stranger, the hotel front desk employee, is an unbiased stranger. We trust them because we feel they have no motivation to steer us wrong. In fact, in this situation of a hospitality relationship, they are highly encouraged to steer us to a quality restaurant.
So we bite (so to speak).
Single Influencer: The front desk employee’s recommendation made up the vast majority of the information in our database.
Restaurants near well trafficked hotels would be smart to not only reach out the the concierge, but all hotel employees that might get asked for a recommendation.
2. Buying an HD TV
When buying consumer electronics, there is a wealth of online information at our disposal. Most consumers read reviews and recommendations online before buying a new TV. From Amazon to Endgadget to Consumer Reports, online recommendations are most effective when it comes to consumer electronics.
So let’s say you research the TV we want, you get a sense of the market and consistently see 3 brands mentioned and two main types of TVs. What is the next step? You ask friends. You go on Twitter and Facebook and blogs and talk to friends, family and colleagues. You ask them: Has anyone bought a TV recently? What is the best LED HDTV out there right now? Should I buy a 3D TV?
We pull information from a wide variety of sources, from people we know to strangers online to aggregated data, reviews, and ratings.
Spectrum of Influence: More often then not, this process is a long cycle of the consumer adding and subtracting brands from their final consideration group.
Consumers use online comparison sites to research features, compare brands directly, and read reviews from consumers and experts. Trusted and personal connections can then help them single out a final purchase. But the end result is a buying decision based on a database of information that consumers gain from many, many sources.
With no single source, leveraging influence for consumers looking to buy a TV needs a more integrated marketing focus. There is an opportunity here to reach out to reviewers, bloggers, journalists, and social media savvy consumers that can become advocates.
Electronics brands should also look to websites like Amazon.com as influencers. Making it easy to find accurate, useful, and positive information about products on Amazon.com and similar sites will pay big dividends.
3. Buying new luggage
You are traveling more and those last two generic suitcases that you procured at Target lasted only 6 months each. So you go online to research and compare some more durable luggage options. You may pay attention to in store luggage displays more when you are shopping or in the airport.
Then one day you notice a blogger you read quite often recently bought a new suitcase and added a thorough and detailed video review on his blog. The review is straight forward. The product meets all your requirements. And the reviewer comes packed with social proof as someone that is usually pretty unbiased and travels way more than you do. You follow the link and buy the recommended product.
Single Influencer: For the business traveler, luggage is an important tool and utility. Word of mouth recommendations can speak volumes in this arena. In this specific situation, the consumer conducted their own soft research online, gathered more information browsing when they could, and then ultimately got a big push from a single source.
The consumer might not have even considered the brand they ended up purchasing before the final review that moved them to action. The initial information gathering and past product performance plays a roll here, but the majority of the buying decision was controlled by a single blogger and his convincing review of a product.
Brands that are looking to get the story out about their unique product or service, should look for opportunities to empower existing customers to do reviews. Especially new customers who have such a fresh impression of the brand. This sounds like a basic step, but encouraging reviews, especially well thought out video reviews from bloggers with large audiences, is not an easy task. Just having a great product will not always generate this result.
Building consumer relationships breeds advocates.
Influence is not about finding a single blogger and getting them to say good things about your product. Instead, begin with answering this question: Where do your potential customers get their trusted information?