Consumer behaviour is one of those critical imperatives for any solopreneur to fathom. If you are a consumer-centric solopreneur, you may be relying on a lot of solid expert advice to guess how your target audience may behave online, so that you can subtly help them veer towards your brand. At the same time, it pays to remember that even the most authoritative of experts you read, about consumer behavior, need to be believed with caution.
One of the challenges I have faced about my Content Marketing Audiences, is that even intensively-propagated facts about consumer behavior may have only about 80% truth in them. There’s always a 20% corridor you need to allow for the research to be questioned. If you tend to get very rigid about what you believe is the right belief about how online consumers behave, you may end up with a counter-productive strategy. So the best policy seems to be to follow good advice, but with a bit of healthy scepticism. Read on to see what I mean!
Experts say: In the online world, target audiences seek “information consumption” because they want to make smarter buying decisions using that information!
(Yes, indeed, but have you asked what kind of “information consumption” they actually seek and why?)
In a study by GE Capital Retail Bank (titled as “Major Purchase Shopper Study”) it was reiterated that consumers do extensively research information online, and compare prices and financing offers, before making purchases. According to the study, 81% of consumers go online before heading out to the store, and spend an average of 79 days gathering information before making a major purchase. So that does confirm that people like to research and check out a good deal of information before any purchase.
Naturally, then, as marketers we would assume that all this information research that people do is to help them make better decisions when they purchase. We would rush to provide that information and signpost the way readers can get to it, right?
But here’s another revelation from another Forrester study quoted in the InternetRetailer website. It appears that one of the key reasons buyers prefer “self-service” is that “self-sought information” provides immense satisfaction of being in control. So you see, it’s not just that people want to become more aware before they buy anything online, but by doing “information shopping on their own” it gives them a sense of “personal control” which appears to be a very high online priority! This sense of control seems to grow with more and more “self-sought online information consumption”, so in a way, it’s like the more you discover on your own and read, the more powerful you feel. Power over the marketer seems to be one of the key drivers for the online consumer.
Also, marketers need to question this term “information-consumption” … especially the word “consumption”! How much of the information consumed by your potential buyers is really used to learn and evaluate your product with deep understanding? And if information is just being sought to be “consumed” at breakneck speed, for the sake of feeling in control and empowered, is it all helping sell your brand too?
In another beautiful piece of research titled “Information Consumption”, the author Marydee Ojala writes:
It should come as no surprise that there is more information available than we know what to do with. We have trouble finding it, and once we find it, we have trouble evaluating it. Information exists everywhere, in myriad formats. Some of this information is unsubstantiated and outdated. Some, as pointed out by William Badke in his InfoLit Land column, consists of rumors and conspiracy theories. Some is newly discoverable or about to become “unglued.” It’s both free and for sale. Importantly, different types of information are designed for different purposes.
In considering this deluge of information, another term is creeping into the vocabulary – consuming. Apparently we now are consumers of information. This bothers me and not only because of the retail implications of the term consumer. When I consume a meal, the food is gone when I’ve eaten it.
Consuming today’s headlines is the antithesis of genuine market research. Learning from what we read, creating new data points, and enriching our world through research is hardly identical to consuming information … if information is being created merely to be consumed, it lacks several components that would make it searchable, findable, and discoverable. Consumption implies impermanence. It downplays the importance of reusing information to enhance further exploration and the value inherent in the thought processes of the writer.”
The moral of the story in this for the solopreneur/marketer is that the online consumer has a voracious appetite for information and he feels good about finding and consuming it … but he is not quite applying his mind to what he is chewing and eating with speed. So as a marketer, you have to think creatively to make sure your information gives him the joy of finding it himself, and then goes into his mind – and not just down his throat!
Experts say: In the online world, your consumer prefers to do more of “self-service” buying without interruptive, overzealous “seller service”!
(Yes, indeed, but a lot of self-service also seems to end up leaving him with a very unhappy experience!)
If really strong research is to be believed, as much as between 60%-80% of online buyers prefer not being “interrupted” by sales pitches as they seek and evaluate solutions to their problems. The online buyer these days, we are told, prefers to be seeking more and more isolation when online.
But while buyers are supposedly seeking the self-service experience, other good research also suggests that this “self service” is more often not quite a satisfactory experience.
In an article titled “Power to the People: How to Make Self-Service a Priority for Your Website” by Jake Wobbrock in the Website Magazine, he writes:
Studies show that 75 percent of all website visitors facing a problem want to self-serve. People like to feel competent and in control. Web self-service, if successful, enables people to feel that way. When people help themselves, they feel empowered and self-sufficient. We all know the adage about teaching a man to fish …
Despite the enticing benefits of website self-service, studies show that 61 percent of self-service attempts fail. In other words, more often than not, website visitors who try to help themselves come up empty. That is an abysmal record that must not be tolerated.
The truth of the matter is that the average website visitor is confused, frustrated or uncertain over a dozen times per day while online. He or she buys products, subscribes to services, pays bills, ingests information and connects with friends despite regularly encountering cryptic error messages, unexpected situations, indecipherable instructions, and “where’d-that-go?” and “how do I …” circumstances.
Pay attention to your own emotions when online, and you will be surprised at how often you encounter speed bumps that force you to change your behavior, taking you off your intended path.”
The moral of the story in this for the solopreneur/marketer is that the online consumer has a preference for self-service, but most, if not all websites, are not geared to give him a tremendous experience with self-service. So as a marketer, you have to allow the customer an interruption-free self-service experience but also know that it will take a hell of a lot from you to give him a glitch-free completely smooth happy experience!
Experts say: In the online world, you have to rely mostly on Inbound Marketing … Outbound Marketing often backfires!
(Yes, indeed, but the lines between Inbound and Outbound are getting really blurry and strange!)
From the same logic of the point we explored above (that the consumer wants to be left alone) we have the concept of Inbound Marketing – where marketers believe that their brands should be approachable to the consumer, and be seen in good light with high frequency and spread, but they should do nothing to push the consumer down any purchase path for fear of a resistance-reaction. This is all very well in theory, but the unvarnished truth is that the biggest gurus of “Inbound Marketing” themselves use Outbound Marketing – a lot!
There are so many “exceptions to the Inbound rules” beginning to flood the market, that it almost looks like the heydays of pushy advertising are making an entry again via the back door! The lines between Inbound and Outbound are getting very blurry. For instance, we have Inbound marketers now arguing that if clever ads were to be naturally available where consumers congregate that would not be “pushy Outbound Marketing” because the consumer still has the choice to click on the ad or not! If Inbound Marketing has developed as a solution against “interruptive advertising”, how is this okay? Even if unclicked, the ad still interrupts, does it not?
Another very interesting “exception” is now gaining currency in the Inbound/Outbound debate. People are beginning to say that for “new-school consumers” we need Inbound Marketing but for “old-school consumers” we still need Outbound Marketing because that is what they are used to and react better to!
Read this quote from the article “Interruption vs. Self-Service Marketing“, Bob Bly who quotes Tom Rapses, the well-known Creative Director:
Tom Rapses, a creative director, divides marketing into two separate categories:
- Old-school interruptive marketing (often referred to as “Outbound” because it intrudes into other activities such as watching TV or sorting your mail).
- New school self-service marketing (often referred to as “Inbound” because it waits to be discovered – like blogging, podcasts, and social updates or videos).
Rapses suggests that even online you need multiple channels — a combination of traditional direct response with non-traditional self-service marketing — to capture more attention, traffic, leads, and sales. Do you agree that both old-school direct response and new school interactive marketing have their place? Or do you think the continued use of intrusion marketing in the 21st century makes one a dinosaur?”
On the surface, the debate seems to be about Inbound versus Outbound Marketing, right? However, increasingly, the debate looks less like its about Inbound and Outbound Marketing, and sounds like a toss up on whether you are old-school or new-school.
In fact, one of the comments to this article sums up the point even better. One commenter has replied:
“Yes – contact email marketing is interruption, for sure. Even the permission stuff interrupts. Among the Facebook crowd, I hear that the younger generations don’t use email unless they need to connect to a geezer. They all use SMS, MMS, Whatsapp,Twitter and social portals/social networking sites.”
The moral of the story in this for the solopreneur/marketer is that the Inbound vs Outbound debate is getting out of whack. The Inbounders are breaking their own rules with all kinds of exceptions, and there are some other people even suggesting that “old school” buyers (geezers?!) are not the candidates for their “new-school” marketing. However you choose to segment your consumers, it’s important to have the right marketing for the right person. New-age marketers may have to shed their latent prejudices against “geezers”!
Experts say: In the online world, social trolls can kill the reputation of reasonable and hard-working brands … so there is a brand backlash!
(Yes, indeed, but did you also know that a lot of small smart marketers are beating big brands using Troll Marketing?)
While we all think of trolling as a problem for individuals on the social media, brands are increasingly being targeted by trolls, too, according to research. Some forms of brand trolling can be harmless and humorous, but there are also more malicious attacks, which if not dealt with properly, can potentially harm a brand.
Josephine Hardy, Director of Content and Marketing at Acorn, the influence company, maintains:
“Your brand might not have ‘feelings’, but it does have a reputation. Trolls attack the integrity of your brand, and thrive on the chaos they create. The worst thing that could happen to a brand from trolling is to have their reputation destroyed. It takes time and money to establish a positive brand image. As little as one comment can plant the seed of doubt in the minds of customers.”
If research is to be believed, even the milder forms of trolling, which may not attach brand reputation., can nonetheless be undesirable for a brand … because social media trolls can make your real brand message get lost or waylaid by the louder nonsense floating around it.
But if you thought all brands are buying into this research about trolls being a bad thing, you may be mistaken. There are a whole host of young brands now looking seriously at “Troll Marketing” as a way to counteract the budgets and resources of bigger brands they have to compete with. Read this bit from the article “Why the Smartest Businesses Are Turning to Troll Marketing?” by Arielle Kimbarovsky in Advertising Week …
Consumers are bombarded with so many marketing messages that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for a brand to stand out. Yet, every company wants their marketing messages to be memorable, effective, and impressionable. This is easier for big, multinational corporations that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing, but not so easy for startups and small businesses with limited budgets and reach. What can entrepreneurs and small business owners do to amplify their marketing messages and what can they learn from big brands?
Studies show that emotion is the best way to get attention. When we understand that emotions inform our decisions through their linked associations, it becomes easier to see how you can use this information when planning your marketing strategy. Normally, marketers focus on positive emotions when promoting products and brands. Today, however, the most successful brands are experimenting with something different. They’re combining positive and negative emotions in a trend known as Troll Marketing.
Troll marketing is when companies put something controversial on their digital channels. The idea is that the controversial content will quickly strike-up conflict and draw attention to the post. The goal is for something to become viral and attract attention. Troll marketing can sometimes cut through the noise more easily. Also, the rising popularity of memes allows troll marketing to easily translate to younger audiences (like millennials).
Not always is Troll Marketing aimed at competitors. In some cases, these troll messages are also intense roasts of consumers by the brands. These types of messages are usually responses to consumers trying to troll brands.”
The moral of the story in this for the solopreneur/marketer is that, in the past, experts used to emphasize positive emotional messaging by brands. But with trolling being so funny or sassy sometimes, or just damned interesting to read, brands cannot afford to overlook the positives of being negative. Whatever gets the over-saturated online audience to sit up and take notice is fair game. And there’s nothing like a shoestring budget to get your creativity in trolling going. Those with big budgets can never quite hit the raw nerves of competition like those with nothing to lose.
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of aspiring digital solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content Marketing Audiences”:
- How Solopreneurs Can Hit Bull’s-Eye With Their Target Audiences!
- Content Marketing To Millennials? First, Tune Into Their Wavelengths!
- How To Know Your Target Audiences Better By Knowing Yourself Better!