This “study” The Purchase Path of Online Buyers: A Joint Holiday Shopping Study with GSI Commerce of 15 Retail Websites only looked at Christmas purchases that happened while e-tailers pushed discounts and concluded that since Social wasn’t good at that, it can’t help in ANY ecommerce.
If you’re going to be involved in social media strategy, you need to understand all 360 degrees.
Search Intent Marketing vs. Social Media Marketing
At Christmas, don’t people know what they want first? Social is better at influencing people *before* the decision. Google search marketing works best when prospects know exactly what they want and they “tell” the search engine that by searching for it. This is the bottom of the sales funnel. Christmas imposes a deadline, and kids tell the parents what to buy. Compared to most other purchase processes throughout the year, this is abnormal.
Search & Social vs Email
It’s always going to be an unfair fight when you compared search marketing or social marketing to an Email “house list”.
- Email subscribers who already know the e-tailer and have volunteered to hear more from them. They may even be previous buyers, which makes them much more likely to buy again. Pitting them against the next two would be like putting a Michael Jordan who’d already won a championship up against a college player who may or may not go into the NBA.
- Visitors from search are often new to the e-tailer. They haven’t decided if they like the company or if they’ll ever buy from them. We do know that they want something the company has, but not if they need it now or won’t choose a competitor.
- Visitors from Social may be more like email subscribers but only if they were gathered, opted in as fans or followers, and have been exposed a few times to the company. If not, we know nothing about their loyalty or urgency. Extending the basketball analogy, these are people who we know like basketball, but that’s it.
It’s apples and oranges. It would be as enlightening to say: New study concludes that “Jeeps do not perform as well at NASCAR as Dodge Chargers.” (More enlightening for you is: Social marketing is a Jeep in that it can deal with some of the off-road bumpy territories that search marketing cannot.)
We also might as well say “Google search marketing and email unable to beat Social Marketing in pre-purchase customer interface.” Social marketing can deal with more of the entire 360 circle of acquiring, interacting with, selling, and using previous customers to impress new prospects than search or email can.
Social Media Influence and ROI
Some of the most successful Facebook ROI case studies I’ve seen in my time as an Internet marketing strategy consultant are NOT buy-now type campaigns. Instead, they gather prospects according to psychographics, demographics, and geography and then arouse their desire over time for the offering. However, we also have seen success with sending Facebook ad traffic direct to an ecommerce site. But those prospects were still targeted by their affinities and demo, not by what they want right now.
Lack of Specificity About The Sales Cycle
Also, the sales cycle is important- how long a period of time did they look at? The only time period mentioned in the “study” was Q4 of 2010. So they looked at the whole three months? The lack of clarity in their document around these specifics tells me that the people behind it either have no experience with real science, research, and paper writing, or the people that do didn’t have final say on the document. If this only studied social marketing’s influence over a short period of time, then yes, it’s possible that social is not best for short-term buy-now campaigns.
So here’s what’s wrong with their “study”:
- You can’t generalize Christmas shopping to all online retail. Christmas is the biggest purchase period for most e-tailers so, by definition, it is an outlier.
- We don’t have clarity on the time periods used for social marketing
- We don’t know anything about their social marketing strategy beyond their allusion to making people aware of discounts
- There’s no sense of the process of online marketing and how email, search, and social comprise different phases of awareness, urgency and loyalty.
This “study” makes a horrible and irresponsible leap in their conclusions. It is “pretend” science. Perhaps someone from marketing jumped in at the end of their study and made these dramatic, unwarranted claims in order to get their whitepaper more attention?