The Consumer’s Journey in Making Big-Ticket Purchases

When we look at consumer behavior and what drives the purchase decision, it’s helpful to look specifically at smaller price points vs. big-ticket items. There are definite differences in the path-to-purchase for big-ticket items (i.e., items costing $500 or more).

[Today, Sue is hosting Ronda Slaven, a VP Research Insights and Thought Leadership at Synchrony Financial, as a guest blogger for The Consumer Connection.]

When we look at consumer behavior and what drives the purchase decision, it’s helpful to look specifically at smaller price points vs. big-ticket items. There are definitive differences in the path-to-purchase for big-ticket items (i.e., items costing $500 or more).

When I think about how I purchase shoes, for example, I go through a very different process than when I purchase a mattress. For shoes, I don’t spend a lot of time researching, and I must admit: Some shoe purchases have been impulse buys. But I can’t say the same for a mattress or flat screen TV.

Path to PurchaseIn the 2016 Synchrony Financial Major Purchase Study, we asked consumers specific questions about what they go through when they purchase items costing more than $500.

The results show that consumers spend a certain amount of time researching, both in-store and online. Additionally, some consult friends and check online reviews, and about one third of consumers explore financing for the purchase. But, guess where the purchase is ultimately made? Eighty-two percent of respondents said they ultimately purchase the big-ticket item in-store. Surprised? Let’s explore this further, and add some more numbers to the picture.

For 85 percent of consumers, the path-to-purchase for big-ticket items starts with online research. The vast majority of people used the internet to explore prices and purchase options, up from 80 percent only a year ago. Let’s dig a little deeper:

  • Ninety percent of consumers said they compare prices and promotions to ensure they get the best prices.
  • Eighty-two percent said they wait to make purchases until they get the best deal.

So, comparison shopping is a major part of the big-ticket purchase process.

Let’s go to the next step: in-store research. Even though in-store research takes more time and planning than online research, our study shows that about 70 percent of consumers research the items in physical stores. That’s a pretty healthy percentage.

And how much impact do friends and online reviews have on the purchase? Well, more than half said they consult with friends, and 38 percent check online reviews.

Now, after all this research on the actual purchase, how about financing it? About one third of consumers said they research financing options. It’s a good idea for brands to introduce financing as part of the purchase process, as 47 percent said they might not have made a purchase, or would have shopped with a competitor, if financing was not available. Additionally, 71 percent of cardholders said they prefer retailers that offer promotional options.

And to reiterate, about four in five people purchase the item in a store. For costlier purchases, people like to touch it, feel it, ask questions and feel confident that they know what they’re getting. After all, it’s more complicated to return a washing machine purchased online than it is a pair of shoes.

So, what is the implication for brands selling big-ticket items? Consumers value more than just price when shopping for a high-cost item. The value equation includes price comparison, consumer reviews and cost of shipping/delivery/installation, as well as financing options. Retailers who ensure that their website and communications strategy include these elements come out as winners. And as the digital channel continues to play a prominent role in the shopping journey, brands should consider strategies that increase their online presence, such as search engine marketing and website optimization.

Customers are looking for a seamless shopping experience. It’s important that brands demonstrate value early in the sales process, serve up detailed information through online channels and provide great customer service for that ultimate in-store purchase.

Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and not necessarily of Synchrony Financial. All references to consumers and population refer to the survey respondents.

Amazon’s Just Taunting Me – When Retargeting Goes Wrong

I’m generally pretty happy to be marketed to, especially when it’s well-personalized. But when retargeting is done wrong, it can go really wrong. And Amazon, with me, has gone really, really wrong. To the extent that this e-commerce scion isn’t just wasting its money, it’s actively ticking me off.

I’m generally pretty happy to be marketed to, especially when it’s personalized. Facebook ads, retargeting me across the Internet, direct mail … All of those things were on display in my Christmas post.

But when retargeting is done wrong, it can go really wrong. And Amazon, with me, has gone really, really wrong. To the extent that this e-commerce scion isn’t just wasting its money, it’s actively ticking me off.

Amazon Retargeting
And God help you if you click on one of those ads to see if the size selection changed …

Clothes are hard for me to find. I’m very tall and very big, and going to anything but big-and-tall stores is pretty much a waste of time (big-and-tall stores are basically the place to pay Brooks Brothers prices for K-mart quality and fashion sense, but that’s for another post).

So I do a lot of clothes shopping online with search terms like “3xlt” and “56 long.”

The problem is, search technology is baffled by this arcane language! Look up “men’s trenchcoat 3xlt” and you’ll see this:

Google Search for Men's TrenchcoatNone of those links takes you to trenchcoats in xxx-large tall. It doesn’t matter if I spell it “trenchcoat” or “trench coat.” It doesn’t matter if I use “3xlt” or “xxxl tall” or “long” or “XXX Tall Coat.” (Admittedly, the last one works a little better, but not by much.)

It’s hard to zero in on clothes in specific, uncommon sizes. So I wind up clicking on a lot of links that lead to clothes that do not come in my size.

And then, I start seeing ads for things like this:

Asian Large Trench Coat
I’m sure it’s huge in Japan.

That’s actually a nice-looking coat! I’d love to get that … Except once I click around, I see they only make it in Asian sizes that sound about as big as one of my socks.

I can get over that. That’s been my life since I was 10 and grew out of “huskies.”

But then these ads, in the immortal words of Denny Hatch, Start. Chasing. Me. All. Over. The. Internet.

Seriously, I’m seeing Amazon ads for trench coats in essentially children’s sizes on Facebook, Yahoo, every article I visit, and even occasionally in our own Today @ Target Marketing newsletter (which sometimes serves network ads via LiveIntent).

Some of the dangers of retargeting are well documented. Yes, it’s annoying to see ads, sometimes even sales, for things you just bought and products you could’ve bought instead. It’s annoying to see ads for things you shouldn’t buy but tempt you, even after your willpower won the battle against temptation once.

It’s another thing altogether to see hundreds of ad impressions for a piece of apparel that is actively making you angry because they don’t make it for you.

That’s when the customer experience goes from “OK, this can be useful, but today it’s annoying” to making me go full Picard.

Amazon PicardTargeting algorithms aren’t going anywhere. I’ve personally been enticed to spend way more thanks to them — when they’re not actively taunting me.

But the deeper we get into this uncanny valley, the more we see instances where your AI sales assistant acts dumber than your pimple-faced summer stock boy. And I wonder if that will ever change.

5 Effective Audience Segments for Digital Marketing

Too often, we talk to marketers whose idea of audience segmentation is not just limited, but terribly egocentric. You are, I’m sure, at least a few steps ahead of the worst offenders, but you may still be leaving opportunities unaddressed. Here are some new ways to think about your audience.

Hitting the Target Audience SegmentToo often, we talk to marketers whose idea of audience segmentation is not just limited, but terribly egocentric. By egocentric, I mean that they view their audience segments in terms of their own product or service lines: Segment 1 is the folks we sell this service to. Segment 2 is the folks we sell that service to.

You are, I’m sure, at least a few steps ahead of the worst offenders, but you may still be leaving opportunities unaddressed. Here are some new ways to think about your audience.

1. Industry

Industry considerations are probably the grand-daddy of all segmentation. Even folks who think egocentrically about their audience are smart enough to realize that their products are likely to be appealing in different ways to different audiences. The features are the same, but the benefits change depending on the industry’s needs.

You can capitalize on this by creating content that is industry-specific and highlights the benefits that are most pertinent to that industry’s most common needs. As with all of the segmentation examples we’re discussing, this can be implemented in some combination of your website landing pages, email marketing subscriptions and even speaking engagements, among other things.

2. Company Size

Just as different industries will have different needs, so will organizations of varying sizes. Again, you’ll want to focus on differentiation of benefits of your product or service. For example, your product’s ability to eliminate the need for more staff as business grows is likely to be more valuable to a large organization than a small one — saving a few hours a week isn’t going to change the head count in an organization where those savings are multiplied by only one employee. But if the multiplier is dozens of employees, that’s a different story.

3. Role

The CFO may be the decider-in-chief when it comes to adding products or services for accounting and compliance teams, but her interests will be quite different from those of an in-the-trenches accountant in the same organization. If she’s smart, she’ll let those accountants have their say in what tools they get to use for their tasks. If you’re smart, you’ll position your solutions differently to each role. For one group you might want to highlight how your solution makes their lives easier day-to-day. For the other, cost savings or consistency across the organization might be the pain point to address.

4. Past Purchase Behavior

You don’t interact with your close friends the same way you do with acquaintances or complete strangers, do you? So why wouldn’t you differentiate your marketing for new prospects, lapsed customers and key accounts?

Technology is getting all the press these days, but good solid relationships matter, too. Talking to your customers can help you understand typical paths as companies grow (or contract) and mature or morph into new businesses. With that understanding, you can pro-actively engage with customers who are starting down similar paths. There’s real magic in knowing what a client will need before he does!

5. Content Consumption Behavior

Technology again gets a starring role in the realm of content consumption behavior. Tracking what content is most popular in aggregate is fantastic; it guides you to create more content like it. But tracking individual preferences is powerful, too, since it can help you make content recommendations that are most relevant to that prospect’s needs — and most useful to you in helping them through the buyer’s journey.

Not all of these segmentation approaches will make sense for your business, but technology continues to make tracking behavior and segmentation easier than ever, so you should be revisiting these concepts on at least an annual basis. As your business changes so might the ways you drill down into your funnel to best meet your prospects’ needs.

Why Your Marketing Falls on Deaf Ears and Blind Eyes

Creating the right framework so what your customers see is what you want them to see is not an expensive or long-term endeavor. It’s simply a matter of doing your research to see what they see now, determine what you need to do at all touchpoints to create the vision you want them have, and create a culture within which positive experiences are framed at every touchpoint, every day.

DNC telemarketing robocalls“Now you see me, now you don’t” isn’t just a great line from one of my favorite movies, (“Now You See Me”), it’s a critical peek into the mind of consumers and what drives them toward your brand, or fast away from it.

We humans are editors at large, everywhere we go and with every purchase we make. We edit events, experiences, and observations to fit our perspective and view of the world. If we don’t want to accept something, we simply don’t. Just take a look at your Facebook or Twitter feed. If you are a supporter of either Trump or Clinton, you simply don’t see or accept any of the accusations about their character, tax payments, email servers or conflicts of interest. You clearly see all of these issues and more about the one you don’t support. Why is this so?

Psychologists sum it up as WYSIATI — “What You See Is All There Is.” If something, even as powerful as scientific evidence, doesn’t fit our view of the world, adhere to our value set, or wish list for the life we live or values we support, then it simply doesn’t exist. We can erase all of the data or clear evidence that doesn’t validate what we “see” or want to see. For example, most Americans state they believe in science and that scientific procedures produce positive and real results. Yet they only believe the results they want to believe. Pew Research shows just how strongly WYSIATI applies to social and environmental issues in our world today. Recent surveys show the big gaps between what science shows through validated processes and what we the people believe:

  • GMOs Are Safe: 88 percent science, 37 percent public
  • Vaccines Are Needed: 86 percent science, 68 percent public
  • Climate Change Is a Real Threat: 94 percent scientists; 65 percent public
  • Humans Are the Primary Cause for Climate Change: 87 percent scientists; 50 percent public

The same applies to brands. We see it all of the time. We read a bad review, have one bad experience, hear a story about a product failure or recall, and it’s all we see then and in the future for years to come. Our smartphones are a great example. Forbes evaluated the iPhone 6 against the Samsung S7 and for eight out of 10 features, such as the camera, screen readability, battery and more, the Samsung outperformed the iPhone, yet 88 percent of iPhone users won’t switch. Our loyalty to a brand that has made us feel current, innovative, connected and even cool, makes us blind to the superior functionality another brand might offer for the same features and tools.

Our ability to see only what we want to see spills over into all aspects of our life. When in high-focus mode, we don’t see distractions around us, and when in high-loyalty mode, we don’t see competitive reasons why we should switch brands for the products we use daily.

Scientifically, this is called perceptual narrowing. Our brains are like big galleries of picture frames. We have a frame, or compartment, for our various beliefs and vague systems and we only believe what is in that frame which is created by our culture, upbringing, religious and social values, and experiences in life. When we hear something about a politician, our religion or a brand we love, whether we believe it, accept it and act on it is largely determined by what is the “frame” associated with that given issue.

For marketers, this is the key to why building experiences that create positive attitudes, oxytocin or “love” rushes, and dopamine highs that result in anticipation of rewards and personal achievements can make or break your sales. Customers keep coming back to brands that get bad reviews from consumers, and to brands that get good ones, if their frame contains a positive view of themselves in your world.

Experiences that put customers in stories that fulfill their aspirations, solve their problems, simplify their lives, increase happiness or trigger feelings of self-worth, are experiences that create frames full of brand joy, loyalty and evangelism. To create these frameworks, we marketers must create a holistic approach to the customer experience, including:

  • Products: Do they do what we promise they’ll do in our communications?
  • Service: Do we put customers first and validate their viewpoints, forever and always?
  • Experiences: Do we guide them on productive journeys that get them to the destination quickly, simply, affordably and with a smile on their faces?
  • How Do We Use CRM and CX Technology to Communicate in Real-time? Solve issues before they become part of the “frame” toward our brand, and proactively communicate ideas, opportunities that benefit them before us?

Creating the right framework so what your customers see is what you want them to see is not an expensive or long-term endeavor. It’s simply a matter of doing your research to see what they see now, determine what you need to do at all touchpoints to create the vision you want them have, and create a culture within which positive experiences are framed at every touchpoint, every day.

Believe any of this? Read my sources and if you still don’t believe me, you’ve just validated everything I’ve just said.

How We Get Generations Wrong

The idea of a generation isn’t actually meant to be a label. No one who studies the topic considers your generation to be what you are or expects all individuals in it to think or act the same. That’s not the point at all.

Thinking about Millennials a couple weeks ago got me deep into a sidetrack: What the heck is a generation, anyway?

The idea of a generation isn’t actually meant to be a label. No one who studies the topic considers your generation to be what you are or expects all individuals in it to think or act the same way. That’s not the point at all.

That’s why when you start talking about “Millennials” in a room that actually has some, the first thing you hear is “Hey, we’re not all the same!” They’re not alone, “Doesn’t feel like they’re part of a generation” is one of Gen X’s iconic traits.

So what is this idea that describes people even when they swear it doesn’t?

What Makes Your generation Unique?
How the generations think of themselves. (Circa. 2010)

Generations are really a shorthand way to think about the shared experiences different age groups have had, and the way those have influenced many in that group.

Some things are unique compared to the other generations: The Vietnam War and the draft for Baby Boomers, broken homes and latchkey kids in Gen X, or growing up with smartphones while graduating over-indebted and underemployed for Millennials.

Other experiences echo in different forms for each generation: The John F. Kennedy assassination, the Challenger disaster and 9/11 serve as similarly dark, childhood/teen traumas for each respective generation.

When computers and the Internet emerged, and what they meant on a personal level, was different for each generation too. For the Baby Boomers, computers were technical disruptors of their adult lives (though not necessarily unwelcome). For Gen X, they were the cutting edge tech as they entered the workforce, and a good handhold to climb into the workforce. For Millennials, they’ve been a constant feature since childhood, no more exceptional than TV or the refrigerator.

What if this generation's dad humor is just washed-up Internet memes?
This! … actually really worries me.

Regardless of the different shared experiences, though, some age-based traits are constant. Younger workers as a whole always seem lazy, disinterested in work, and distant from their elders. That’s not a generational trait, that’s just how young people in any age enter the workforce. Not every young person, but enough that elder generations notice and complain about it, so these adjectives get attached to every new generation.

New workers don’t necessarily understand how to get along in the work environment yet; that’s just what it means to be new and inexperienced. (Frankly,  I’m just shocked the people who say it about Millennials now don’t remember hearing it about their cohort when they were young.)

The thing to remember is this: A generation isn’t a label, a category or a demographic. It’s more like a type of behavioral targeting. It’s studying how people react to their lives, and praxis is figuring out what that means to your marketing. It’s real people, and the specific events they experienced. Don’t focus on who you think that makes them, just focus on what you know: What they’ve been through and how they’ve reacted to that.

Understanding that is the difference between creating ads that speak to your target market in a specific generation, and ads that blatantly pander and make them mock you.

Creating Trust in a Digital World

When asked what advertising sources they trust most, 84 percent of consumers say “someone I know,” and 68 percent say “consumer opinions posted online,” according to a recent study by Nielsen.

When asked what advertising sources they trust most, 84 percent of consumers say “someone I know,” and 68 percent say “consumer opinions posted online,” according to a recent study by Nielsen.

While it’s understandable we turn first to trusted friends for advice and product recommendations, it is somewhat revealing that so many of us trust people we’ve never met, and likely never will. Just someone somewhere posting an opinion online.

Trust is an innate part of our psychological wiring, consciously and unconsciously.

Societies have always thrived when people trust each other in love and in business. This trust has often been based upon our unconscious ability to read another’s body language and our own intuitive ability to discern character when in the same physical setting, or so claims recent research done by Northeastern University.

But in a society that is increasingly becoming digitized, with fewer face-to-face interactions, what role does trust play in driving our behavior, purchases and loyalty? Especially when that trust is breached constantly by apps and brands that really sell us down the river when it comes to privacy, as our data is sold to hundreds of unknown third parties?

Social psychologist Mario Mikulincer, professor and dean of the New School of Psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzlyia, has studied the elements of human trust and how different expectations of human interactions form our ability to trust. People who are raised in settings that foster belief in others to do the right thing tend to base trust on three primary components, per Mikiulincer’s research as posted on PsychologyToday.com March 2014. These are:

  • The assumption that if you need help, you can turn to someone you trust.
  • The assumption that if you need support, your trusted friends will be there for you and happy to help.
  • The recognition that support from those close to you will give you comfort and relief.

To engage consumers’ psychological drivers that influence purchase behavior and loyalty, these basic premises of trust need to be present between brands and consumers. Like the people in our world, we expect brands to help us when we need them, support our relationship with them, and make things right when they go wrong. Even in our highly digitized world, consumers still believe they form better relationships with brands and business associates in the real vs. virtual world, per a 2012 study by Dimensional Research. However, with around 200 million consumers researching or shopping online, brands must find a way to build trust at every step of an online shopping experience, not just with friendly salespeople in a brick and mortar store.

Steven Woods, a name many might remember as a founding partner of Eloqua, a software system designed to help marketers understand consumers’ digital body language, has remained steadfast in his vision to bring trust and emotional connections to the digital world. Since selling Eloqua to Oracle, he and partner, Paul Teshima, have started a new business called Nudge, which is a platform designed to help people actually leverage their massive digital networks of connections and engage in trusting ways that have actual benefits. Their tool helps people nudge each other to create dialogue, stay current, make recommendations and professional introductions — all of which help produce meaningful outcomes.

“Without trust, even the best business proposals are set up to fail,” says Woods. “Trust, which is built up over time, allows a buyer to believe that a seller will deliver the change that is promised. Today, that trust is more important than marketing, selling or product capabilities, in most cases.”

Per Woods, without a foundation of trust, our social networks are futile and do little more than make us look popular. Nudge has developed a framework whereby users can build essential trust and have productive relationships with all their social networks, be it Linkedin, Facebook or Twitter. Steps toward digital trust include:

  • Connect
  • Assist
  • Remember
  • Engage
  • Socialize

These are the same steps that helped spark one of the biggest social movements of all time – the civil rights movement, started when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person. The day she was arrested, civil rights activists got on the phone to connect with her immediate network of friends from church, her sewing club and more. They asked that first tier of friends to assist with a bus boycott by calling their friends and asking them to do the same. Most did, in hopes that the friend for whom they did the favor would remember them when they needed help or support. As a result, an entire network of friends and associates with like values were engaged in a meaningful cause that had significant social outcomes for all involved.

However, without the elements of trust present as outlined by Mikiulincer above, these processes that changed our world in Montgomery, Ala., might not have happened, or at least not so quickly.

As a brand manager, how can you create a framework of trust for your digital networks, and then what kind of marketing activities can you execute to nudge that network into action that drives sales, loyalty and trusted referrals.

1. Be Real: Connecting is much more than a digital link on a social site that lets you access personal information. It is about real time and real purpose. Use your customer connections to communicate meaningful information beyond your products to build trust as a partner that cares about greater outcomes for your customers than their sales value to you.

2. Assist With Life, Not Just Sales: Consumers connect with others to help friends and peers have a better life and trust that their actions will be reciprocated. Same with brands. When you can provide even small improvements to a customer’s life through added values or unexpected customer service, you build trust that can pay off big.

3. Remember: A friend of mine stayed at the same small, boutique ski lodge in Vail for 25 consecutive years. The lodge owner failed to recognize her loyalty and remember her in any way. At breakfast on their last trip, he refused to let my friend substitute a can of soda for her free breakfast coffee — while at the same time, giving away free food and drinks to his “friends” who he did bother to remember. I am now helping my friend find a new ski lodge for her annual trip, worth thousands every ski season.

Remembering is also a key part of Woods’ vision for Nudge. “Remembering what someone liked, disliked and talked about is key to building trust. Most people in our business lives come and go quickly, and often unnoticed. Feeling noticed and remembered creates a new level of trust of its own.”

As trite as articles, presentations and other content on consumer trust have become, it is mission-critical for any business. Without it, you simply can’t successfully trigger the psychological drivers that generate sales and loyalty. Our unconscious minds simply won’t let us engage fully with anything that doesn’t feel or seem right. We need to know we can trust brands as much as we can trust family members. When we unconsciously feel good about a brand because we have learned to consciously trust it, we are much more likely to engage in purchasing behavior and to give trusted recommendations to the 84 percent of our friends who listen to us first and who will, in turn, forward our recommendations to their friends, and so on and so on.

Digital Marketers Abuzz About WSJ Article Slamming Web Tracking

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably already heard about or read a July 30 Wall Street Journal article called “The Web’s  New Gold Mine: Your Secrets.”

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably already heard about or read a July 30 Wall Street Journal article called “The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets.”

In case you haven’t, the article — which offers findings from a study conducted by the Journal that assesses and analyzes cookies and other surveillance technology that companies are deploying on internet users — paints a very ugly picture of online marketers and web tracking companies.

The study reveals that the “tracking of consumers has grown both far more pervasive and far more intrusive than is realized by all but a handful of people in the vanguard of the industry.” For example, the nation’s 50 top websites, on average, installed 64 pieces of tracking technology onto the computers of visitors, usually with no warning. A dozen sites each installed more than a hundred.

The study also found that tracking technology is getting smarter and more intrusive. “Monitoring used to be limited mainly to ‘cookie’ files that record websites people visit,” the article said. “But the Journal found new tools that scan in real time what people are doing on a Web page, then instantly assess location, income, shopping interests and even medical conditions. Some tools surreptitiously re-spawn themselves even after users try to delete them.”

Finally, the report found that “these profiles of individuals, constantly refreshed, are bought and sold on stock-market-like exchanges that have sprung up in the past 18 months.”

For the online ad industry, this article comes at an inopportune time. Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) have drafted privacy legislation, the Senate held a hearing last week on the subject, and the Federal Trade Commission is preparing to release a report this fall.

As expected, the digital marketing industry is riled, with online ad industry execs reassuiring the public that they provide clear notice, allow users to opt out of ad targeting and don’t collect users’ names. One article that was particularly on target about the importance of advertisers coming clean on how they use consumer data was by BlueKai CEO Omar Tawakol.

In the article, which appeared in the Aug. 2 edition of Advertising Age, Tawakol says, “every web page that collects or shares data should be clear and visual about the data being collected. This disclosure needs to be simple and visual rather than in legalese that requires a law degree to comprehend. It should be as simple as a recycling label or a nutrition label. In addition to providing disclosure, the industry should also give consumers easy control over when, where, why and how that dataset is used.” He also suggested the following:

  • Every publisher of data should link to a preference manager at the bottom of each page called “about advertising.”
  • Every ad should have a standard icon like the little ‘i’ icon created by the Future of Privacy Foundation. That icon should link to a preference manager which shows you how to control your own data.
  • There are several different versions of preference managers like BlueKai, including Google, Better Advertising and Yahoo. Although one standard is preferable, choice isn’t a bad thing — even if it means different companies provide different ways for consumers to visualize their data.
  • Once this is prevalent, legislators should mandate that the only way publishers and ad companies are allowed to share consumer data across third parties is if they conform to the industry standards on transparency and control that are outlined above.

All great ideas … but there’s more to the story. In next week’s blog, I’ll introduce another argument to the mix: the growing number of sites where users volunteer the information that cookies try to collect.

What do you think of the WSJ article? Post your comments below.

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: What Marketers Can Learn From Divorce Attorneys

This week, I learned an interesting statistic about social networks: Eighty-one percent of the nation’s top divorce attorneys have seen an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence during the past five years, according to a survey published earlier this year by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. What’s more, Facebook holds the distinction of being the unrivaled leader for online divorce evidence, with 66 percent citing it as the primary source, according to the survey.

This week, I learned an interesting statistic about social networks: Eighty-one percent of the nation’s top divorce attorneys have seen an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence during the past five years, according to a survey published earlier this year by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. What’s more, Facebook holds the distinction of being the unrivaled leader for online divorce evidence, with 66 percent citing it as the primary source, according to the survey.

The main reason divorce attorneys use social networks is to track any possible contradictions to previously made statements and promises by estranged spouses. Apparently, it’s relatively easy for lawyers to gather this information, at least according to a June 1 article on CNN.com.

“It’s becoming all but impossible to protect your information, unless you spend hours and hours figuring it out,” said Lee Rosen, a divorce attorney in North Carolina, in the CNN.com article.

To be fair, Facebook has acknowldedgd that it’s gradually relaxed privacy settings over the last year, enabling some members’ personal details to be leaked without users realizing it. And, as a result, last month it announced new tools that make it easier for users to tighten privacy settings and block outside parties from seeing personal information.

Still, lawyers are relying on the sites and other social tools for gathering evidence. According to the CNN article, for example, they’re accessing sites such as Flowtown.com, which allows them to enter a peron’s email address into the site, and the site returns various social media profiles on that person.

I thought this sounded interesting, so I investigated. It seems that Flowtown was co-founded in January 2009 by Ethan Bloch, a serial entrepreneur who founded his first business at the tender age of 13.

Flowtown, according to its website, is a “platform that businesses use to connect with their customers everywhere in the social web. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace have made it standard practice, for all of us, to publicly share information about ourselves. Flowtown helps make sense of all this data and turns it into meaningful output in the form of stronger business relationships.”

I thought I’d give it a whirl. I registered on the site (it took all of 60 seconds), added a few of my personal email addresses, and bam, within seconds my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles appeared. While it took me aback, it made me realize what a powerful tool this could be for marketers.

Imagine importing entire email lists into your system and getting access to thousands of customers’ social networking profiles. This information could be used to track which customers are key influencers talking about your brand (or your competition), as well as what your customers’ interests are.

What do you think? Have you ever used Flowtown.com? Let me know by posting a comment below.

What Do We Really Know About Consumers?

Turns out American’s didn’t splurge on trivial junk during this recession, and that means many experts don’t know today’s consumer as well as they thought they did.

Turns out Americans didn’t splurge on trivial junk during this recession, and that means many experts don’t know today’s consumer as well as they thought they did. At least that’s the takeaway from this article by Mina Kimes of CNN Money.

The prevailing assumptions about recessionary spending were based on studies of consumer spending during past recessions that showed Americans spending more on cheap indulgences during hard times. But as Kimes points out, that hasn’t held true during this recession. iPhone sales spiked while lipstick, liquor and candy dropped.

Some of those trends saw ups and downs (a previous report by Kimes indicated general cosmetics doing well last year), but overall, 2009’s cash-strapped consumers seemed to make purchase decisions more thoughtfully than in recessions past. Instead of cutting expensive items and indulging on the cheap, they made more complex calculations. They often saved money to buy expensive items, for example, sometimes by cutting out the very indulgences consumers might have wallowed in during “simpler” times. It appears that many took control of their finances instead of living hand-to-mouth, with some surprising retail results.

I wonder how much of that reflects a psychological shift in consumers, and how much reflects shifts in the retail market. Many goods are available at relatively low prices these days thanks to several decades of the biggest retailers competing on price (i.e. Wal-Mart). I’m not sure indulgent lipstick’s that much less expensive than a pair of bargain shoes. On the other hand, consumer electronics is not simply an entertainment purchase. People spend their careers using their personal laptops and smartphones as tools; so spending more can mean more money or better opportunities. Consumers are well versed in the investment calculation of these items: If you have to buy a phone and phone service anyway, why not choose the one you can carry with you and load with apps that make you more productive, or at least more entertained?

Consumers have changed, but the retail landscape may have changed even more. What can you assume about a nation of potential customers who constantly consider that?

That’s probably not surprising to those of you who read Target Marketing or All About ROI, which often talk about the importance of testing and verifying assumptions about your audience. At heart, direct marketing is a numbers game, and those successful at it know what my football line coach used to sum up: to “assume” makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

But even extensive testing doesn’t really take assumptions out of the equation. Who spends resources testing something they don’t expect to work? When you try something new, where did the idea come from? Usually an assumption. So even with testing, there’s a bias to test toward what we believe to be true. Adaptability is learning to recognize and react quickly when things we thought we knew turn out to be wrong.

So have consumers changed during this recession? Has that been the case for your customers? Are they acting against type, buying or not buying in ways that defied your expectations?