Purchase process morphing from funnel to long windy road: Yahoo exec

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New York - The Internet influences how consumers talk about and even recommend brands, according to research Yahoo and comScore Networks unveiled Dec. 12 at the New York Public Library.

Companies have been using the Internet as a resource to market their brand and their brand message and have gotten through to some of the most engaged and influential consumers, per the new study called, "Engaging Advocates through Search and Social Media."

" The purchase process is morphing from a funnel to a long windy road," said Michele Medansky, vice president of corporate and sales research at Yahoo, Sunnyvale, CA. "The social Web impacts purchase decisions as well as post-purchase decisions."

The study reveals how consumers use social media, search and communication tools like e-mail and instant messaging to research and talk about the brands, products or categories about which they are passionate.

There are several findings in the study. The Internet has significantly impacted how consumers talk about and recommend brands. Word of mouth is a trusted source of information and is powerful enough reach significantly larger audiences.

Also , b rand advocates have emerged online as primary influencers, with at least a 2:1 rate of converting an actual friend or family member to buy the same product or brand. Finally, b rand advocates are incredibly valuable to marketers because they are better-connected consumers with a larger sphere of influence.

"There are a few things to remember like understanding the synergy between search and display advertising," Ms. Medansky said. " Search and social media are interwoven into advocates' daily lives and their purchases ."

To do so, marketers first have to understand the tools and Web sites, which advocates are leveraging. Also, enhance the advocates' experience through additional tools or services.

"Sponsoring enthusiast sites or communities groups, purchase affinity and review keywords and directing traffic to landing pages with positive user reviews are good ways to enhance the user experience," Ms. Medansky said.

"Include user reviews in your marketing communication and e nsure search and social media are part of long-term marketing plan ," she said. Advocacy marketing requires engagement metrics and so experiment, test, measure and refine."

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