The internet has had a profound, transformative and all-pervasive effect upon the world of business across the globe. Up until a couple of decades ago, a business would start up, use the local newspaper for advertising, and network socially, attempting to attract customers with their products or services.
This entire process has been transformed with the introduction of the internet. Now, businesses are no longer dependent on their local customer base in order to survive and thrive – they can now, theoretically, attract and sell to a global customer base.
In line with global trends, the internet has had an enormous impact upon businesses in Qatar. For example, from 2000 to 2015, internet access grew in the Middle East by a compound annual growth rate of 27%. And, with regards to the actual number of individuals using the internet, in 2014 Qatar was ranked number one among all Arab countries, and 12th globally (91.5%). In comparison, in the GCC, this was more than Bahrain (91%) and the UAE (90.4%).
The rapid expansion of the Internet in Qatar continually engenders new opportunities for companies to market their products and their services to customers, and this is particularly evident through the continual growth and use of social media platforms to foster business success.
BQ Magazine spoke to Kristine de Valck, Associate Professor of Marketing at HEC Paris, to get her opinion on the strategic leverage of social media, its role within and influence upon consumer behavior, how to develop successful social media strategies, and what the future holds for social media.
Leveraging social media to drive real results
The internet has helped to expand the reach of small and medium-sized businesses towards new customers, in the main because social media has proved to be an excellent, adaptable and vital tool of communication. Indeed, it is arguable that a major key to business success in the 21st century is precisely how effectively a business uses tools like social media to communicate with their customers and research their competition. And yet, social media is much more than a communication channel.
Success depends upon how well businesses can leverage social media strategically to drive leads and sales. Indeed, as Kristine reveals, there are basically four key strategies for leveraging social media:
“The first is communication, or rather, the conversation with your audience (consumers, but also employees, suppliers, industry peers and experts, governments, etc.) The second is leveraging social media as a vehicle to get people talking on your behalf, i.e, creating word of mouth and recommending your company to others. The third strategy is care, i.e, using social media for immediate customer support as well as enhancing consumer experience. Finally, you can use social media for bonding with your customers after purchase, to build relationships that go beyond mere transactions.”
Impacts of social media on consumer behavior
The advent of social media has created a new business and social landscape, which establishes an entirely new grid of personal connections. Social media provides marketers with an entirely new set of tools to both interact with consumers and integrates them into brands through innovative ways.
Effective use of these tools can powerfully influence consumers in every stage of the purchasing decision process – and beyond. Kristine believes that social media has a great influence on the consumers’ purchase decision process, as she states: “Social media can play a crucial role throughout the consumer purchase process, from awareness (communication) through evaluation and preference (word of mouth), purchase and consumption (care) and post-purchase (customer relations).”
Research suggests that customers go through a five-stage decision-making process in any purchase. The steps of this traditional model have not changed since the marketing revolution of social media, but what has changed is the way these steps are carried out.
More specifically, this change is evident in the ways consumers seek information, evaluate products, and give feedback about those products. Marketing is no longer a binary relationship between the brand and the consumer – it is now between the brand, the consumer, and hundreds or thousands of the consumer’s friends and followers.
This article is from BQ Magazine’s Issue 42 – March 2017.
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