I believe all of us have a process for purchase considerationâ€¦across many products and services. In the corporate space, we have the procurement team that is intended to look at the best deal for the company. At a personal level, we make choices after adding a few options into the purchase consideration bucket and systematically going through each one of them, eliminate ones that don’t make sense based on assorted parameters and then selecting one, finally.
This is true for even simple, weekly activities like going to a movie. When there are multiple films vying for our attention, we use a combination of factors to decide which one we would go to – including media reviews, feedback from friends etc.
Such a purchase consideration process is especially valid for seemingly high involvement/engagement products and services. Buying an apartment? Car? Mobile phone? Looking for a chartered accountant? Heck, looking for a bride/groom? The list is endless.
This purchase consideration list usually also goes out of the window when the product/service in question has a fabulously wonderful and well known USP. Apple’s iPhone is a great example. Harley-Davidson bikes are another. The fact is that some brands have built that solid reputation over a period of time that people don’t feel like adding other, equivalent products/services into that bucket – they go straight for the one product that they crave for.
Even during my Samsung Galaxy S2 frenzy, I always used to compare its reviews with HTC Sensation and LG Optimus X2 reviews. I was sure that I wanted a Galaxy S2, but somehow, in the back of my mind, I wanted an affirmation that my decision is right. Well, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here, but only points of view.
Before I actually get into what social media has done to this simple purchase consideration process, let me give you one final example on how it plays.
I had watched Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara recently and loved it too (please judge me later!). One of the specific things I caught on to, in the film, was Hrithik Roshan’s sunglasses. It was an integral part of his attire almost throughout the film and as a long-time Ray-Ban Aviator fan, I was quite attracted, for the first time ever, to a shell-based frame for sunglasses.
I have never ever seen shell-frame sunglasses in stores while shopping and haven’t cared much about them at all. So, considering I liked what I saw on Hrithik, I went about wondering which specific brand of sunglasses it may be.
As always, I searched on the net and landed on a page which spoke about a brand named Opium launching special ZNMD sunglasses. I searched for Opium online and could find precious little. The pricing seemed below INR 1K and somehow, it didn’t seem appropriate enough for a London-based investment banker to be wearing on a buddy trip to Spain. I asked friends on Twitter and Facebook and finally concluded that Hrithik was indeed wearing a Ray-Ban Wayfarer. The exact model still eludes me, but by this time, in my search process, I had already decided that I was actually craving for a Wayfarer after years of Aviator (metal frame) loyalty.
The next step was to go offline. I checked out every possible (nearby) sunglasses/eyewear store – branded ones like Titan Eye+ and as many unbranded stores as I could. Strangely, most of them either did not have any Wayfarer models with them…or had just one or two models that I didn’t quite like. This is a logjam I did not expect.
As is my habit, I cribbed about it on Twitter and someone referred it to Umesh Gopinath (@ooomz on Twitter), who pointed me to GKB Opticals.
I checked on GKB’s online store and was pleasantly shocked by the sheer range of sunglasses and spectacle frames available for buying online. It is a different matter that I may not fit the description of a person who would buy sunglasses, prescription spectacle frames or even footwear online. I, like many others, want that touch and feel, ask-your-wife-how-it-looks in the store after a trial and then buy.
Now, having given this entire introduction, let us see how brands can come into this purchase consideration process.
1. First, the basic evolution in this purchase consideration process is that it has become public in a way that it wasn’t, earlier. When you wanted to buy a car, for example, 15 years ago, you asked your friends, colleagues and family, at best. This was your trusted circle and if they didn’t have any direct or indirect feedback on a model you had added in your consideration list, too bad – you had to drop it. Or, go by your own instincts after seeing the car in the showroom. Consider how it has changed these days. Of course, you do ask your friends, colleagues and family, but you also do a Google search and read all kinds of reviews. Do you know all those reviewers? Of course not – they are complete strangers. So, why would you trust strangers? You think you don’t, but when you are trying to book a resort for your next vacation, you search on HolidayIQ (for instance) and see 5 bad reviews in a row…you actually move on to another resort! This may change if someone in your trusted circle offers a strong recommendation for the same resort, however.
2. Considering you share your purchase consideration process online, in most cases, the intent for going for a particular product/service becomes public and permanently archived, in many cases, available via just a search. This is almost like a brand overhearing two people on the road outside its office discussing about buying a product which it makes. What should a brand do in such a case? In the real world, it would seem mighty stupid for the brand to tap the shoulder of one of the two and say, ‘We couldn’t help overhear you talking about buying a car. Would you like to take a test drive of one of our cars?’. It is of course contextual and relevant, but social etiquette seems to go against it. In a way, Google’s ads are like this, but handled by keywords and machines, with no human intervention.
3. So, how could brands get into such conversations when they happen publicly, online? Simple. The key is in the power of words and getting the right tone. If there’s a discussion around buying laptops, for instance, and someone actually asks in a forum about looking at say, brand X, brand Y and brand Z, one of those 3 brands could very well enter into that conversation if they get the words and tone right. I have done this in the past (for one of my earlier clients) and it has worked wonders! In this case, the key is to seem unintrusive and generally helpful. For example, ‘While brand X and brand Y are good choices, may we suggest you take a look at our brand Z’s <specific model>? <Call-to-action>’. The insight into the specific model suggestion can come only if the brand consistently tracks social media and also does a personal check on the person who has posed that question. The call to action is another area worth a lot of intelligence. We had gone to the extent of getting the background of people and offering the name and number of a store near their place. Not just that…we also used to inform that store owner/manager with background details of the person who may walk in, by giving them a photo of that person and also briefing the store on what points to address first. It was meant to be a seamless transition from online conversation to offline!
4. In this context, that debate on high involvement/engagement vs. low involvement/engagement is important. People may be naturally inclined to discuss certain product categories and services, but for some other categories, there may not be any discussion at all, whether online or offline. When was the last time you saw someone telling you how great that pack of branded groundnuts was? Or underwear? Or chewing gum? Or marker pens? Go on, build on that list, but use common sense in doing so! For those brands which may be perceived as low involvement/engagement, the key is of course to go a few levels above their category and get into themes that it can fit itself in. Hippo taking on ‘hunger’ as a theme is a perfect example. If it were to talk just about munchies, chances are that they may have failed miserably. So, a low involvement category like toothpaste could take on themes like smile and happiness considering how often we talk about these topics in our personal conversations offline or online.
In case of my Wayfarer search, I believe this was a wonderful opportunity for a brand like Titan Eye+ (given how ubiquitous they are in India and also active online via Facebook and Twitter) to jump into the bandwagon. Even for Ray-Ban, this may have been an opportunity to engage deeper with a prospective customer (with at least some *ahem* marginal online influence!). Ray-Ban does have a virtual mirror application that could be equivalent of trying a frame and seeking opinions from someone close to us, right at the store. I couldn’t load the virtual mirror app for some technical reason (OS-related error!), but imagine if the app lets you try a couple of frames and make a poll of the top 3 selected by you and share it among your friends on say, Facebook!
Image courtesy, SXC.