Facebook LikeBusinesses are becoming increasingly savvy about letting other people sell their products. “Hard sells” are outdated, and savvy brands know that repetitive marketing is not enough to convince a consumer to purchase a product.

The hard sell has been replaced with social media follower perks, anonymous online reviews, and thought leadership.

“Friending” Perks

Steve Olenski of Forbes noted that over a year ago, there was a significant disconnect between the reasons consumers connect with brands on social networks and the reasons marketers think consumers connect with them.

In a survey from Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council and Lithium, an overwhelming 65% of consumers said they followed brands in order to get special promotions; only 33% of marketers acknowledged promotions as a reason fans followed brands’ pages. Basically, consumers wanted to connect with brands in exchange for products, not to hear the brand talk about how great their products are.

Marketers have since become savvier about the reasons behind a “like.” The popularity of simple campaigns such as “check in here for 10% off” or “share this post to be entered in our sweepstakes” has skyrocketed.

A business that saturates its followers with posts only about how great their products are will quickly get their posts hidden — or even worse, “un-liked.”  Taking a more hands-off approach will encourage consumers to leave a page in their newsfeeds, increasing brand exposure.

Trusting Strangers

Another way consumers are gathering information about products is through anonymous Internet reviews.

Olenski ciates another study from DKNewMedia with data culled from Forrester:

32% of online consumers trust a stranger’s opinion on public forums or blogs more than they trust branded advertisements and marketing collateral.

It seems as though there is a growing perception that “anonymous” also equals “objective.” Whether that’s right or wrong, consumers are sending a message that they are willing to trust anyone except the brand when it comes to making a purchase.

A survey regarding Millennials’ (defined as consumers born between 1977 and 1995) social dependency conducted by Bazaarvoice demonstrates their purchasing habits:

Most consumers, regardless of age, go to the [I]nternet to research purchases. And most of them look for user-generated content (UGC) to help them buy. According to the survey, over half (51%) of Americans trust UGC more than other information on a company website (16%) or news articles about the company (14%) when looking for information about a brand, product, or service.

And how does this compare to consumers’ Facebook friends’ opinions? According to the survey results:

51% of Millennials say consumer opinions found on a company’s website have a greater impact on purchase decisions than recommendations from family and friends.

Thought Leadership

But just because brands are avoiding the hard sell doesn’t mean they’ve completely handed over marketing to anonymous reviewers. Businesses are distancing themselves from hard sells but keeping their brand in the forefront of consumers’ minds with “thought leadership.”

Talking about your industry as opposed to your product humanizes the brand and demonstrates the thought and innovation that drives your business.

Brent Gleeson with Forbes notes that in a face-off between subtlety and spamming, subtlety will always win more consumers:

One way for a brand to lose credibility with a social audience is to simply spam them with ‘opportunities’ to purchase a product or service without providing any value. This value can come in many forms, but should be designed to teach, entertain, ignite discussions, and gain honest feedback.

The “don’t talk about your product” brand of marketing seems complicated at first. Subtle marketing is nuanced and takes more work, but in the long run, it will keep consumers trusting and attentive.

Image by owenwbrown.

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