Recessions undoubtedly alter consumer buying behavior. This past recession, however, seems to have lasting effects. Pat Conroy, Vice Chairman and U.S. Consumer Products Leader for Deloitte says, "Typically recessions tend to leave a bruise and then people return back to buying behavior. This recession left a scar that's been very deep and pervasive." Conroy, in his work consulting business executives, stresses that there are new imperatives for nationally-branded companies trying to reach the evasive and recession-impacted consumer.
Conroy's work on the Deloitte study, "A New Breed of Brand Advocates," describes social networking's impact on consumer engagement and how it's possible — and very advantageous — to get brand advocates on your side.
"The recession has brought private labels, or store brands, to the forefront and that has clearly clouded the future for name brands," Conroy says, citing research claiming that 70 percent of consumers say they will not go back to the brands they used prior to the recession. "It has made it much more important that companies develop brand advocates to tilt the momentum back to their favor."
To prove just how influential brand advocates are to a company's bottom line, Deloitte conducted a study of three product groups: salty snacks, beer, and all purpose household cleaning solutions. In asking consumers about their purchases in those segments, Deloitte found that consumers always have favorite brands. Some consumers, identified as advocates, are take their passion for products to another level. Conroy shares several key findings:
- Brand advocates are a small, but very involved segment;
- Brand advocates are important as influencers, yet are open to influence;
- Brand advocates are hard to win over, but worth the effort; and
- Once a brand advocate, not always a brand advocate.
"Deloitte has learned a lot in studies that consumers now are much more discerning and surgical about what they buy," Conroy says. "They do much more research and listen to feedback from other customers. Those things are fundamentally influencing consumers now as opposed to advertising." What's more? Brand advocates spend more than average customers. They also engage with the brand of their choice more often and are much more likely to be vocal about their views to their social networks.
So what can companies do to maintain and grow these brand advocates? Deloitte has four steps.
- Experiment. Embrace the nuances of social media. Not everything will work, but you won't know until you try.
- Listen. Stay tuned to evolving conversations, the report states, about your company on all channels of social media.
- Use social media to sell. By responding to social media advocacy, companies can infuse their offline strategies with knowledge about customers and testaments from them about products.
- Recognizes that brand advocates won't to be blindly loyal. You have to work for loyalty. If you don't, customers might be loyal one day, and not the next.
"The old adage of people buying on a reactive basis because they saw an advertisement, that's not the case any more," Conroy says. "[Consumers] no longer blindly follow ad campaigns. Now they look to trusted opinions, word-of-mouth, and information aggregators. You have much more savvy consumers with more sources at their disposal."
Conroy admits there are challenges for companies wanting to engage in social networks to foster brand advocacy. Figuring out the right channels and the right messages can be difficult. Also figuring out how to bring advocates into your business to help improve operations and move products forward can be challenging. But Conroy looks on the bright side saying that brand advocates have the promise of adding momentum to your business." They not only buy your product in a consistent manner," he says. "But through social media, brand advocates become your advertising and virally funnel other people to your product."