Consumer habits evolve over the years. That can be a matter of changing tastes, emerging technology and a host of other factors. To succeed, entrepreneurs have to anticipate and adapt to economic trends so they can stay ahead of competitors.
Francis Kihara studies consumer habits as “a passionate marketer with interests in building and promoting brands.” His Entridea blog “is all about entrepreneurship and idea generation,” which he discussed during an Africa Tweet Chat.
He cited an assortment of tools brands can use to monitor consumer habits.
“First, we start the conversation by understanding what consumer behaviors and habits are,” Kihara said. “Consumer behavior is simply the buying habits and patterns reflected by an individual, group or a given society.
“Brands need to understand consumer habits, triggers, and preferences,” he said. “This can only be understood through the use of data, but how is that data collected? It’s through monitoring tools.”
Kihara explained that technological and traditional tools fall into several groups:
- Social intelligence tools: Integrated social listening software such as Hootsuite, Social Mentions, Sprout Social, KeyHole, SumAll and Hubspot. This also includes search engine analytical tools: Google Analytics, Neil Patel, SEOptimer and Moz Analytics. Social media platform-backed tools: Facebook Mentions, Facebook Insights, Facebook Analytics, Twitter Analytics, YouTube Analytics, and Instagram Analytics.
- Tools for measuring demographics, media habits, and psychographics: Ipsos Synovate, Tifa Research, Smollan Retail Solutions, Neilson, Deloitte Research, Geopoll, ReelForge, and Consumer Insights.
- Tracking conversations: Cision and SM2.
- Purchase decisions and consumer retail outlets behaviors: Till-Data Analysis, WiFi tracking tools, EFT data available.
Kihara outlined indicators showing consumer habits have evolved over the years: change in buying models, increasing majority online community shift to healthier products, social responsibility affiliated marketing real-time consumption, the supremacy of reviews, well-informed consumers and busy consumers.
“Over time, consumers have shifted to online e-commerce platforms to make key purchases,” Kihara said. “Originally, an individual would visit the market for groceries, but nowadays it’s just clicks on a website.”
He sees an increasing majority online community and the ways consumers have shifted online. Searches are more localized and personal. Consumers rely on online reviews to make purchase decisions.
“We’re moving toward a mobile-only culture,” Kihara said. “Online videos have become more popular than cable television. A majority of the world is connected through social media.
“There is a shift to healthier products,” he said. “People are shifting to sugar-free, fortified foods in a bid to avoid New Age ailments such as diabetes, obesity, and cancer.”
Kihara pointed to Coca-Cola as an example of a company shifting to zero-sugar products and energy boosts.
“There is great interest in brands that take keen interest of societal needs, such as environmentally friendly, great corporate social responsibility activities and contributing to societal charities,” he said. “Marketing concepts have shifted from a product concept to what is now a community and societal conscious concepts of marketing.
“This means consumers are buying that one product that resonates with their values and cultures,” Kihara said. “Socially responsible brands win.”
With the rise in consumer-to-consumer referrals and recruitments, millennials use their peers as their main influence.
“The emergence of real-time consumption and information access have given consumers technology to get all the information they need about products without having to visit outlets,” Kihara said. “Google is a great disruption in this.”
He dug deeper into the supremacy of reviews.
“When was the last time you downloaded an app or booked for a hotel?” Kihara said. “I can bet you used reviews to make your decisions.”
Not all reviews are equal, to which Kihara gave reasons why consumers read reviews:
- To see what others are saying.
- To establish trust with a business.
- To avoid bad products and service.
- To gain transparency from businesses.
“Technology growth has led to a well-informed consumer who has a large list of products to weigh,” Kihara said.
Time increasingly has become a precious commodity.
“Busy modern consumers hardly have time to overthink about products,” Kihara said. “Whatever impresses them, it’s what they pick. Whichever brand reaches the subconscious mind wins. Brands have to position themselves in all ways be on top of mind.
“Again, Coca-Cola executes one of the best merchandising standards globally that helps capture the consumer,” he said.
Kihara defines brand values as the premium that accrues to a brand from customers willing to pay extra for it and have a repeated purchase.
“Your brand values will help you capture the three P’s of your brand: proposition, personality, and purpose,” he said. “Without values to guide you, your brand will seem like just any other business. It is what differentiates a brand from others in the same sea.”
He listed the brand values that influence consumer purchasing habits:
- Social responsibility.
- Happiness — best reflected by Coca-Cola brand’s “Share a Feeling.”
- Customer supremacy through customer service and satisfaction.
- Promise for a better environment and empowered society.
Savvy entrepreneurs tap into content personalization to trigger consumer responses.
“Personalization – which also means customization — seeks to tailor a digital product to specific user needs,” Kihara said. “Together, they trigger consumer responses.”
- By making viewers feel a sense of internal control.
- Reduced information overload. When you know that the content being displayed on a social media site is tailored to you, it provides a more manageable framework for engagement compared to when posts are generalized.
- Something special occurs when people hear their own name. It triggers brain activation.
- It’s the best way to complete the AIDA model of attention, interest, desire and action.
“Advantages of content personalization include improved customer experience, increased revenues, increased customer retention and increased brand loyalty,” Kihara said.
How brands tell stories will greatly affect consumer decisions.
“McKinsey insights say up to 40 percent of consumers change their minds just before purchase due to something they see or hear,” Kihara said. He broke decision journeys into several stages: initial consideration, active evaluation, a moment of purchase, post-purchase experience and loyalty loop.
“Brand stories can take several forms,” he said. “They include product website demonstration; consumer reviews; social sites images and conversations; product or service selling points such as sticker information, which are well adapted by Monster Energy; video storytelling; and influencer marketing.”
His must-dos for storytelling are to make sure every story is compelling and share-worthy; be culturally relevant and use content to connect with people, and use technology to connect channels. With that, brand stories help consumers in every step of decision making:
- A brand story can increase positive brand responses and ultimately make consumers more willing to purchase the brand’s products in low-involvement categories.
- Decrease negative brand associations.
- Help in positive brand perception in the mind of consumers.
- Building customers’ engagement.
- Help in sharing brand values by showing the uniqueness of a product: Help answer the “Who are you?”
“Stories are what people remember,” Kihara said. “Even when they forget names and faces, they rarely forget the story and how it made them feel. Remember Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke, Share a Feeling campaign.
“People relate to stories,” he said. “They see bits of themselves in your protagonist. They associate the antagonist and conflict with the problems in their own lives. They share in the joy and reward when the main characters finally achieve their goals.”
After all the drama, there has to be a payoff.
“Stories reveal how the product is beneficial to customers, what it intends to solve and its quality,” Kihara said. “Experience redefined, such as in the Airbnb story.”
Social media can help brands connect with consumers, but it’s not the total solution.
“In developing economies, more than 360 million people came online for the first time in 2018,” Kihara said. “That is around 5 percent of the world community.
“We now have more than half of the world population connected to the internet,” he said. “An average internet user spends 6.5 hours a day online. Social media leads by an average 2.25 of those hours.”
Other statistics show there are almost 3.5 billion active social media users or 45 percent of the world’s population. Social media’s 280 million new users in the last year reflect 9 percent growth. Facebook, Google, and YouTube topped Google searches in 2018.
More than 2.27 billion people are on Facebook, 1.9 billion on YouTube and 1 billion on Instagram. There is an average of four comments per user per month.
“With this data, yes, brands should use social media,” Kihara said. “That’s where the future lies.”
He proposed these benefits of using social media:
- Improved search engine rankings.
- Higher conversion rates.
- Better customer satisfaction.
- Improved brand loyalty.
- Increased brand awareness.
- More inbound traffic.
- More brand authority.
- Gain in marketplace insights.
- Less cost.
- Brand thought leadership.
Meanwhile, Kihara cautioned against social media pitfalls:
- Focusing on your product or service more than your audience.
- Not involving your audience.
- Not telling stories.
- Using the same tone and style in different social media platforms.
- Not paying attention to analytics. They matter.
“Successful brands use multiple platforms to reach their consumers,” Kihara said. “This is achieved by segmented targeting. Yes, digital is growing mainstream.
“Social media alone ain’t the answer,” he said. “Entrepreneurs should integrate all the marketing channels their customers engage with. This builds the brand image and easy tracking of return on investment.”