Influence is more than the net effect media and digital influencers have on consumers and more than a channel to deliver information to stakeholders, according to a new report from Allison+Partners, conducted in partnership with Northstar Research. In fact, the study suggests that influence only begins when consumers make a decision to move towards purchase.

The data from the first annual Influence Impact Report also help define three essential “personas of influence” that brands must understand and activate to influence consumers during their journey to purchase.

“The initiation of influence has shifted. It is no longer something mercurial that impacts consumers beyond their control but, rather, a conscious, informed action they take to willingly and consensually allow brands the opportunity to change or reinforce thinking,” says Corey Martin, managing director of consumer marketing for Allison+Partners. “This understanding goes against the behaviors and assumptions made by many brand marketers that choose to utilize influencers solely as a channel for pushing out content in order to create ‘influence.’

The study shows that consumers initiate the pull of influence largely during the consideration phase of the purchase journey, relying on several sources to form their opinions.

  • 52 percent say they always plan and research before they buy.
  • 80 percent spend lot of time researching products before making a major purchase.
  • 62 percent actively seek out the advice of others before trying new brands or products.
  • 59 percent say people often ask their opinion about products, brands or services they should consider buying or using.
  • 59 percent only buy items that others have bought and tested first.

Even though consumers may initiate the process, it remains critical for brands to know which source has the highest level of influence so they are able to impact behavior most effectively. According to the study, word-of-mouth (41 percent), traditional media (22 percent), in-person experiential events (18 percent) carry the most weight. Digital channels represent the next three most important: social digital influencers (14 percent) online media (13 percent) and online communities (12 percent). The level of influence these sources carry also varies by vertical industry, which is also detailed in the report.

Through the study, Allison+Partners has identified three essential “personas of influence” that brands must understand to activate influence in their favor:

  1. The Expressive Explorer: This persona represents the largest opportunity for brands to extend their reach, move market share from competitors and drive trial amongst new audiences. They seek out information to better inform their decisions, primarily on social and online channels. In fact, 80 percent hear about new products on social media before traditional media and 62 percent identify blogs as their primary sources of information. This group also actively seek others views, as well as opportunities to express their own opinions, with 90 percent agreeing that people often ask their opinion of brands and products and they are very vocal in sharing their thoughts.
  2. The Socially Conscious Connector: This persona offers brand marketers the opportunity to develop authentic, long-term relationships with their audiences. Since their decisions are guided by brand purpose and shared within trusted personal social networks, their opinions can carry great weight for brands. They rely heavily on word-of-mouth to get information, especially from friends and family. Due to this reliance, they value “authenticity” with an expectation for diversity and multiculturalism. Nearly one-third strongly believe that a brand spokesperson should be of their same cultural heritage. This expectation drives their defined world view, which encourages them to look for brands that share their point of view. In fact, 93 percent believe that a brand’s values should mirror their personal values.
  3. The Commnivore: The Communications Omnivore, or “Commnivore,” voraciously consumes all forms of communications. They begin their purchasing journey through digital channels, and engage across multiple platforms at once to tell their story. For Commnivores, a brand’s visual style is also of significance, with 92 percent indicating that it should align with their own preferences. These consumers are more likely to be multicultural, comprised largely by Millennials and Gen X. 

“By understanding these personas, brands can more efficiently identify the voices and better tailor content and communications programming,” says Cathy Planchard, senior partner and president of the All Told division of Allison+Partners. “These personas also have unique behaviors based on the vertical industries they operate in, which give greater color to the channels and communications strategies that can be deployed.”

The report also describes how brand marketers can activate influence by aligning the tone and type of content they produce with the preferences and patterns of the personas they hope to engage. Marketers can engage Socially Conscious Connectors, who crave authenticity, through word-of-mouth activities that emphasize brand purpose. The Commnivore, who consumes multiple channels of content and expects brands to be digitally-savvy, will want personalized and compelling content that is easily found and shared across multiple platforms. Finally, Expressive Explorers, who are avid researchers, will need straight-forward content that explains USPs and compares products against competing brands.