Social influence trumps TV ads in HBA buys

MT. KISCO, N.Y. — Retailers and small- to mid-sized brand marketers shouldn’t be quick to dismiss social media as an effective avenue to communicate with consumers versus traditional media outreach like TV and radio. That was a key takeaway of a recent survey conducted on behalf of marketing/public relations firm Robin Leedy & Associates.

In fact, the research suggested that the balance of power already may be tipping in favor of social marketing, particularly in certain categories and definitely among certain consumers.

According to a survey of more than 1,500 U.S. adults ages 18 years and older — conducted in May by VeraQuest on behalf of Robin Leedy & Associates — consumers said that friends and TV were equal in terms of their ability to influence an over-the-counter or a health and beauty product purchase (49%).

Factor in such social networking sites as Facebook (7%) — really just another way to measure “friends” — and the impact of social influence is even more significant.

“There’s a tremendous amount of interest in the industry now in social media. One hundred percent of our clients now are doing social media, and only maybe half or a little more are doing traditional PR,” explained Robin Russo, president of RL&A. “Not that they don’t want to do traditional PR, but it is more a function of budget ... and part of it is the immediacy. So we did this survey because we wanted to gut-check ourselves to see what’s really helping the purchase influence, because obviously that’s the bottom line with our clients.”

A deeper dive into the research revealed that the influence of friends is even more pronounced among women (52%) — particularly among women ages 30 to 49 years (55%), and even higher among women ages 18 to 29 years (58%).

The third-largest influence of OTC and HBA purchases overall was spouses/partners (36%); however, this differed sharply among men (45%) versus women (27%). A look at other key influencers suggested that, in general, digital media trumped traditional media, including online product reviews (27%) versus consumer magazine ads (24%); online articles (16%) versus newspaper articles (13%); and online video (7%) versus radio messaging (3%).

Blog reviews were another area that ranked as a source of greater influence among younger women (14% of women ages 30 to 39 years versus 6% overall).

“I think [social media] is the logical place, and I think that retailers need to look at that because, from my perspective, eventually you will have two or four brands, and one will be a store brand. The choices are going to be gone unless the retailers start accepting that social media will move the needle,” Russo said.

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