Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: If social media is not the ‘be all end all’ in marketing – what is?

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/Tom Werner
Source: Getty/Tom Werner

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As the media landscape has become more fragmented in the past ten years, social media has emerged as one of the most influential sources of information on the consumer path to purchase and many companies are shifting advertising dollars accordingly – but new research from the marketing communication agency HUNTER suggests going all in on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and other social media outlets may not be the best marketing strategy for food and beverage brands.

A two-phase qualitative and quantitative study examining how 7,000 consumers discover, evaluate and ultimately purchase goods and services across seven sectors including food & beverage found digital media is a powerful influencer that should not be ignored in advertising and marketing, but it is not the No.1 – or even No. 2 source for driving consumer awareness or where shoppers turn to learn more before purchasing food and beverage.

In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts Podcast​, Hunter’s Chief Insights & Strategy Officer Heddy DeMaria shares the top sources of information for food and beverage shoppers, how brands and retailers can best leverage these outlets to create an efficient and effective consumer communication strategy and other insights from the agency’s recently published white paper Hunter: Influence in America​.

[Editor's note: Never miss an episode of FoodNavigator-USA's Soup-To-Nuts podcast -- subscribe today.] https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Info/Podcasts​ 

Fragmented communication landscape expands reach, pull of social media marketing

It is no secret that the communication landscape has changed dramatically in just the last 10 years with a proliferation of media outlets of varying degrees of reliability and relatability. As DeMaria explains, this fragmentation is a double edge sword for marketers. On one side there are more ways than ever to reach consumers, but on the other the impact of each communication channel or style is diluted.

“The communication landscape is experiencing so many dramatic changes. There has been the rise of digitization,” and with it an increase in ecommerce that has led to an increase in digital marketing and decrease in traditional advertising, explained DeMaria.

Based on this evolving landscape, DeMaria said she hypothesized that social and digital media would be consumers’ main information source for discovering products and learning more about them on the path to purchase. She said she also hypothesized that purchase motivators across the seven categories examined in the study would vary significantly.

But, she said, she was wrong on both counts.

She explains the survey revealed the top two sources for driving initial consumer awareness of a food and beverage product and where they turned for more information before purchase were real life experiences and word of mouth.

“Social and digital media are not the be all end all there. Don’t get me wrong: It is an important, amplifying means of communication and very much complementary to any communication program and plan,” she said. “But first and foremost, the most influential channel of communication is in store. Real life influence beats online influence.”

She explained that HUNTER found most people discovered new food and beverage products in stores, which was closely correlated with purchase, which was not the case for online discovery, which was not correlated with purchase.

HUNTER also found word of mouth is a powerful influence in terms of driving awareness and purchase intent across most categories and the second strongest source for food and beverage, DeMaria added.

“This really led to this important implication, because word of mouth is often overlooked in a marketing toolkit, because potentially people perceive it as difficult to activate against,” said DeMaria.

But she added, this too is not true, because Gen Zers view influencers as “friends,” and as such “it allows influencer marketing to play a role and be a very powerful lever of influence.”

First impressions matter most

Leveraging the most influential information source is particularly important when engaging consumers at the start of the path to purchase because many consumers rely on only one source of information, according to the HUNTER study. Those that seek additional information tend to do so from the same sources as the initial introduction.

“Awareness is really paramount when it comes to influence. When we looked at our study results, we found that awareness driving influences are the most important sources of purchase across most categories, and anywhere from 20% to 40% of consumers who recently purchased a product for any of these seven categories did not use a secondary source to learn more about the product before purchasing it,” DeMaria said.

This “really definitively showed us the waterfall impact of driving lower funnel purchase influence and the importance of awareness plays to doing that,” she added.

While upwards of 40% of consumers only consider one information source on the path to purchase, 60% to 80% look at multiple points of communication, which means having a multi-channel communication strategy is essential for most brands.

Different demographics respond to different marketing strategies

Hunter’s research also revealed differences in how demographic groups discover and research products prior to purchase. By understanding differences in demographic tendencies, DeMaria said marketers can tailor their marketing efforts more effectively.

For example, Gen Z, Millennials and BIPOC consumers “are more greatly influenced by social media than Gen Z, Boomers and mainstream households,” said DeMaria.

“We also found that influencer marketing was especially effective among Hispanic, Black and younger consumers,” she added.

Likewise, men were more influenced by traditional media and women by social media, the study revealed.

“When I list these, they sound very discreet and mutually exclusive, but the truth is if I drew a Venn Diagram, there would be a lot of overlap among all these demographics, she said.

A simple strategy for success

Recognizing that marketing resources are finite for many companies, DeMaria explains when developing a marketing strategy, brands should first identify whether they are trying to reach new or existing consumers and then consider why a consumer might be tempted to buy a product and speak to that need state.

“When we looked at the motivation as to why people bought a new product, to ‘try something new’ really rose to the top – it was two-thirds of the reason why someone bought a new product. Satisfying a craving was the second lever motivation, and then the third was to fit with a health or nutrition need,” DeMaria said.

To best meet those needs, DeMaria said, food and beverage brands need to pop in store – with an eye catching label, a solid merchandising strategy and shopper marketing, such as through a circular.

Knowing how important word of mouth is for food and beverage shoppers, DeMaria said products also need to deliver on expectation so that they can earn recommendations from one shopper to another.

For more insights from HUNTER: Influence in America, check out the agency’s white paper​ with an overview of findings and the breakout for food and beverage purchases visit.

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