From first base to MySpace

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Between a first date and moving in together there is a period of getting to know each other in every relationship. Long or short, it is when two people check out their compatibility before making a commitment. That’s why so many relationships start at work where individuals have come to know one another before becoming a couple.

Marketers have always faced a problem in trying to replicate this warming-up process. Before the advent of the Internet, direct marketers were trying to rush from holding hands to sharing space – asking a prospect to ring a call centre and buy (or be sold) a product or service was a very truncated purchasing cycle. Hence the 1 or 2 % response rates. Consumers became too savvy to open themselves to this type of pressure.

Social networks now offer an alternative. They are a space in which brands and consumers can engage with each other, get to know more about themselves and decide if they want to take it further. They align the purchasing cycle more closely with the way humans decide about the commitments they are willing to make. As such, they are a new type of response channel.

Great news for any marketer who understands the progression a consumer makes from vague interest to customer to advocacy. This year will see more attention than ever given to these engagement and purchasing cycles as brands use the transparency of digital channels to model how different segments behave and convert.

What shouldn’t be underestimated is just how complicated those cycles can be – and the role random behaviour plays in them. One of the breakthrough insights in loyalty marketing during the 1990s was the Conversion Model, which originated as an explanation of why certain people become followers of a particular church. Applying that model allowed many brands to win fantastic levels of loyalty.

The Internet has changed some consumer behaviour by allowing for a higher frequency and volume of activity, even if it is just chatter. Marketers need to start sifting that noise for the indicators of when an individual is thinking about getting committed and is therefore ripe for conversion. New models will undoubtedly be identified and could reflect similar behaviours in anything from the way birds migrate to how diseases are spread.

Critically, it is the realisation that there are such patterns and that they both repeat and can be forecast that will transform social networks from being the next big media buy into the next most effective marketing channel. Not an easy task when the online environment is still in a state of flux and consumers continually switch allegiance – and also because human behaviour is often simply random, especially online. But it is the sort of data mining and modelling activity that could transform a brand’s fortunes this year.

To gain an insight into how leading marketers are thinking about the way forward for their digital marketing plans, why not attend the 1-2-1 Digital Strategy Summit on 27th January in London? For more information, click here.

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