New York (July 22, 2013)—The Internet, including social media, is increasingly at the heart of everything people do, changing the way consumers interact with one another and the commercial world around them. Both have proven to be powerful tools for brands to generate and measure buzz and the result is a wealth of online consumer conversations.

 

In the first of a quarterly set of social media trend updates, Mintel’s expert social media analyst team announces the top five trends in online consumer marketplace behavior identified from high-level research into the strategies employed by Fortune 500 companies across the US.

 

Mintel’s social media analysts Gabi Lieberman and Lizz Martinez discuss the top five key trends—and their impact on the current social media marketplace:
 

  • 1. The power of peers in high-spend sectors

 
Mintel’s Inspire trend Influentials highlights how we now live in an era where the Internet has democratized information and the consumer is now the PR piece. It is little wonder therefore that in the high value and infrequent purchase sectors, consumers are keener to garner pre-purchase opinion from family, friends and their online communities. Within lower-value everyday items, online conversation typically focuses on post-purchase opinions and experiences. “This is particularly true of online discussion around restaurants as restaurant-goers are encouraged to leave reviews for other prospective diners. Brands have taken to leveraging the power of geolocation, which has expanded beyond the just check-ins in apps such as Foursquare, wherein brands are finding new ways to encourage people to share their reviews, photos and check-ins with their friends,” notes Lizz Martinez.
 

  • 2. The influence of online chatter in the mobile phone market

 
“According to consumer research run for Mintel’s Social Media series, an average 16% of people look up reviews of mobile phone brands. Despite long-term mobile phone contracts, an average of just one in ten mobile phone users researched reviews of mobile service providers online. As the battle between the iPhone and Android continues to rage offline, these are the two brands that people are most likely to search the internet for reviews on as they seek to make up their own mind about taking the plunge or switching to the other side,” says Gabi Lieberman. Despite having no official social media pages, the wealth of information on the iPhone overshadows the Android brand (securing more than 8.7 million online mentions between August and December 2012 compared with Android’s 4.7 million). With a higher proportion of adults having heard of but never used the iPhone (67% vs. 58% for Android), it bears out that the wealth of online reviews will no doubt go some way to helping to convert those thinking of buying one.
 

  • 3. Fictional characters help the unease of financial markets

 
The financial services market can be confusing and difficult to navigate (26% of consumers said that they think it is important to shop around and get quotes from a number of different insurance providers when their policy is due for renewal according to data conducted for Mintel’s Property and Casualty Insurance – US, February 2013). Visiting a brand’s website or social media page is the leading interaction among property and casualty insurance brands. This is unlike consumer goods markets, suggesting that knowledge and information are more important than discounts. The use of friendly—albeit fictional—characters by financial brands such as GEICO’s Gecko and Progressive’s spokeswoman Flo serve as key conversation vehicles to drive discussion online, helping to reduce trepidation consumers may feel toward the topic of finance. “Within the healthcare sector, Mucinex uses “Mr. Mucus” as the voice behind its Facebook posts, helping to add personality to an otherwise seemingly unapproachable topic of OTC medication,” adds Gabi Lieberman.
 

  • 4. Online behaviors more impactful on consumer behavior

 
“With rising broadband penetration and smartphone ownership, would-be consumers are increasingly turning to information online to guide purchase decisions and opinions. This is particularly the case within the emerging consumer market of beauty devices. US beauty devices dominate online engagement with its brands,” says Gabi Lieberman. Out of the brands so far analyzed throughout the Social Media series, the Clarisonic brand secured the highest degree of online engagement with a third of users (32%) looking up reviews of the brand. Further, 25% have visited its website, Twitter or Facebook page.
 

  • 5. Innovative campaigns to influence the future

 
“As brands increasingly get involved in through-the-line promotion, campaigns need to get more creative in order to stand out from the competition. The Lay’s “Do us a Flavor” Campaign demonstrates the power of taking a contest and creating engaging content based on consumer entries. As well as creating images and infographics on the most submitted flavors, Lay’s was also able to pinpoint regional preferences for different flavors and ingredients. Domino’s has done a great job at remaining transparent throughout its rebranding process. Its dedication to customer satisfaction is shown through its pizza tracker, posting tweets and live feedback around the brand’s virtual pizza tracker displayed in Times Square, and continually engaging with its fans and followers online,” concludes Lizz Martinez.

 

In the first report series of its kind, social media analysts Gabrielle Lieberman and Elizabeth Martinez, cut through the noise to identify relevant consumer insight to help brands fine-tune their online strategies and drive campaigns that appeal to popular cultural trends.
 

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