New research shows that buzz plays a greater role than previously thought in getting consumers to buy and that the pool of the most effective influencers is largely untapped.
Over the past decade, marketers have increasingly turned to social-media networks like Facebook and Twitter to create buzz around their products. But what impact do tweets and other recommendations have on sales, and how can companies get a bigger return on their investments in these important channels?
To get a clearer view, we examined the purchase decisions of 20,000 European consumers, across 30 product areas and more than 100 brands, in 2013 and 2014. Respondents were asked how significantly social media influenced their decision journeys and about instances when they themselves recommended products.1 The research compiled social and demographic information, as well as data on social interactions on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. The data gathered cover a range of decision-journey touch points leading up to purchases, as well as social activities after purchase. We found that the impact of social media on buying decisions is greater than previously estimated and growing fast, but that its influence varies significantly across product categories. Moreover, only a small slice of social influencers are creating the buzz.
A growing importance
Social recommendations induced an average of 26 percent of purchases across all product categories, according to our data. That’s substantially higher than the 10 to 15 percent others have estimated.2 SeeConnected Marketing: The Viral, Buzz and Word of Mouth Revolution, edited by Justin Kirby and Paul Marsden, Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006. For the 30 product categories we studied, roughly two-thirds of the impact was direct; that is, recommendations played a critical role at the point of purchase. The remaining third was indirect: social media had an effect at earlier decision-journey touch points—for example, when a recommendation created initial awareness of a product or interactions with friends or other influencers helped consumers to compare product attributes or to evaluate higher-value features. We found that in 2014, consumers made 10 percent more purchases on the back of social-media recommendations than they had in 2013.
Nuances are essential
Consumers, we found, access social media to very different degrees in different product categories. At the low end, only about 15 percent of our respondents reported using social media in choosing utility services. For other categories, such as travel, investment services, and over-the-counter drugs, 40 to 50 percent of consumers looked to social recommendations.
Product categories tend to have their own discrete groups of influencers. Our data showed that the overlap of recommenders between any two consumer categories was very small—a maximum of 15 percent for any two pairs of products we analyzed. Timing matters as well: a first-time purchaser, for example, is roughly 50 percent more likely to turn to social media than a repeat buyer.
While the role of digital influence is expanding, the analog world remains important. Among the more than 100 brands we studied, about half of the recommendations were made offline—in person or by phone. Offline conversations were up to 40 percent more likely than digital interactions to influence purchase decisions of products such as insurance or utilities.
Power influencers and the long tail
Our research shows that a small number of active influencers accounted for a disproportionate share of total recommendations (exhibit). These power users are even more significant for product categories such as shoes and clothing: 5 percent of the recommenders accounted for 45 percent of the social influence generated.
Navigating in a changing environment
As companies look to maximize returns from their social strategies, they can both encourage would-be customers to engage in more social interactions and inspire more influencers to express enthusiasm for their products.
On the demand side, our research suggests that online articles written by journalists prompt consumers to seek out social media to further inform purchases (and that public-relations spending to generate such articles may be a worthwhile investment). Consumers who use search engines to gain some initial knowledge of a product are also more likely to tune in to social media before a purchase. Companies that spend effectively on search-engine optimization (to move their product mentions to the top of search results) can expect to benefit from a greater social-media impact, as well.
Television advertising, by contrast, tends to act as a substitute for social media rather than complementing it. Relatively few customers were prompted to seek out social influences after viewing a TV spot.3 Interestingly, this contrasts with consumers’ use of social media to comment on TV-show episodes. See “Living social: How second screens are helping TV make fans,” Nielsen, August 4, 2014, nielsen.com.
On the supply side, prompting the long tail of less active influencers may require creativity and a greater use of data analytics. Our research found, paradoxically, that if companies allowed endorsements only, they generated a less strong response than companies that invited any sort of comment. Positive remarks were three times more numerous than negative ones, and some companies demonstrated that they could turn negative vibes to their advantage by responding quickly.
Other companies are amplifying positive noise by making the recommenders’ data “speak.” Through machine learning and the application of advanced analytics to recommenders’ profiles, they obtain a granular understanding of product preferences and purchasing behavior. That analysis becomes a key input into sophisticated recommendation engines that identify potential customers and send them messages such as “purchasers like you bought this appliance” at key points along the decision journey. These engines are highly effective at converting customers,4 Others have estimated that these engines are responsible for more than 50 percent of purchases or viewer activity at digital leaders such as Amazon and Netflix. See JP Mangalindan, “Amazon’s recommendation secret,” Fortune, July 30, 2012, fortune.com; and Tom Vanderbilt, “The science behind the Netflix algorithms that decide what you’ll watch next,” Wired, August 7, 2013, wired.com. though with an important caveat: the influence the engines generate can be as much as 75 percent lower if messages aren’t highly personalized and targeted.
The pathways of social influence are shifting constantly. Looking ahead, better mobile devices and more robust social applications will make it even easier to share experiences about products and services. Companies can’t afford to fall behind this powerful curve.
About the author
Jacques Bughin is a director in McKinsey’s Brussels office.
The development of self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles is accelerating. Here’s how they could affect consumers and companies.
Autonomous vehicles (AVs) represent a major innovation for the automotive industry, but their potential impact with respect to timing, uptake, and penetration remains hazy. While high levels of uncertainty currently surround the issue, the ultimate role that AVs could play regarding the economy, mobility, and society as a whole could be profound. In an effort to look beyond today’s rapidly changing predictions on AV penetration, we interviewed more than 30 experts across Europe, the United States, and Asia and combined these findings with our insights to arrive at ten thought-provoking potential implications of self-driving cars.
The widespread use of AVs could profoundly affect a variety of industry sectors. To explore these implications in depth, we focused on three time horizons of AV diffusion: before such vehicles are commercially available to individual buyers, when they are in the early stage of adoption, and when they become the primary means of transport (exhibit).
Era one: AVs not yet available to consumers
1. Industrial fleets lead the way.
While it’s unlikely that any on-road vehicles will feature “fully autonomous” drive technology in the short term (for instance, by 2020–22), AVs are already a reality in selected applications that feature controlled environments, such as mining and farming. In these cases, the restricted nature of operations and the possibility to operate on private roads facilitate adoption. Some of the benefits of autonomy in these fields include labor-cost savings and the reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through optimized driving (shown to cut emissions by as much as 60 percent). Other adjacent equipment applications—for example, in the construction and warehousing sectors—should see the next AV applications for vehicles such as excavators, forklifts, and loaders.
In the medium term (through 2040), on-highway trucks will likely be the first vehicles to feature the full technology on public roads. Prototypes already exist, and companies are currently developing the software algorithms needed to handle complex driving situations. Long-term automated commercial fleets might include vehicles for parcel delivery as well as automated drones, which multiple players are already field-testing.
2. Car OEMs face a decision.
Automakers worldwide will likely define and communicate their strategic position on AVs in the next two to three years. We have identified four strategic stances they can assume when introducing their autonomous-vehicle offerings:
- Premium incumbents. Established premium players with extensive customer bases and strong technical and commercial legacies will probably take an incremental approach to AVs. This likely means they will gradually introduce increasing levels of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) in their vehicles.
- Attackers. New industry players developing “radically new” vehicle architectures—such as high-tech giants, first-tier suppliers, and mobility operators—will focus on the “accessible mobility” consumer segment to capture volumes quickly and sustain ancillary business models.
- Fast followers. These OEMs have significant technical and commercial legacies. They will most likely invest in AV research and then wait for the vehicle-level costs of the core technologies to drop while penetration in the premium segments grows.
- Late entrants/nonadopters. As the name implies, these automakers will avoid entering the AV market in the short to medium term.
3. New mobility models emerge.
While OEMs are developing autonomous vehicles, a variety of other transport-mobility innovations are already hitting the road. Many of these take the form of pay-per-use models such as car sharing, carpooling, “e-hailing” taxi alternatives, and peer-to-peer car rentals. These plays are attracting investments and seeing impressive growth rates. The e-hailing model in particular has experienced strong growth given both annual investment funding and market penetration.
Era two: AVs enter the early-adoption phase
4. The car-service landscape changes.
The proliferation of AVs could represent an opportunity for car OEMs. As of 2014, for example, roughly 80 percent of the car-service shops in Germany were “independent” from OEMs. Given the safety-critical nature of AV technologies, customers might strongly prefer strict adherence to OEM service processes and the use of original service equipment when it comes to maintaining and repairing AV systems. This could imply a disadvantaged position for independent service providers unable to afford AV-maintenance systems. Furthermore, our research shows that nearly 60 percent of customers would follow their smart cars’ recommendations for service locations. Beyond the benefits of a bigger after-sales revenue stream, OEMs will have a strong incentive to service these vehicles, since regulators could ultimately force them to take on the greatest portion of the responsibility and risk associated with crashes caused by AV technical failures.
5. Car insurers might shift their business model.
Car insurers have always provided consumer coverage in the event of accidents caused by human error. With driverless vehicles, auto insurers might shift the core of their business model, focusing mainly on insuring car manufacturers from liabilities from technical failure of their AVs, as opposed to protecting private customers from risks associated with human error in accidents. This change could transform the insurance industry from its current focus on millions of private consumers to one that involves a few OEMs and infrastructure operators, similar to insurance for cruise lines and shipping companies.
6. Companies could reshape their supply chains.
AV technologies could help to optimize the industry supply chains and logistics operations of the future, as players employ automation to increase efficiency and flexibility. AVs in combination with smart technologies could reduce labor costs while boosting equipment and facility productivity. What’s more, a fully automated and lean supply chain can help reduce load sizes and stocks by leveraging smart distribution technologies and smaller AVs.
Era three: AVs go mainstream
7. Drivers have more time for everything.
AVs could free as much as 50 minutes a day for users, who will be able to spend traveling time working, relaxing, or accessing entertainment. The time saved by commuters every day might add up globally to a mind-blowing one billion hours—equivalent to twice the time it took to build the Great Pyramid of Giza. It could also create a large pool of value, potentially generating global digital-media revenues of €5 billion per year for every additional minute people spend on the mobile Internet while in a car.
8. Parking becomes easier.
AVs could change the mobility behavior of consumers, potentially reducing the need for parking space in the United States by more than 5.7 billion square meters. Multiple factors would contribute to the reduction in parking infrastructure. For example, self-parking AVs do not require open-door space for dropping off passengers when parked, allowing them to occupy parking spaces that are 15 percent tighter.
9. Accident rates drop.
By midcentury, the penetration of AVs and other ADAS could ultimately cause vehicle crashes in the United States to fall from second to ninth place in terms of their lethality ranking among accident types. Today, car crashes have an enormous impact on the US economy. For every person killed in a motor-vehicle accident, 8 are hospitalized, and 100 are treated and released from emergency rooms. The overall annual cost of roadway crashes to the US economy was $212 billion in 2012. Taking that year as an example, advanced ADAS and AVs reducing accidents by up to 90 percent would have potentially saved about $190 billion.
10. AVs accelerate robotics development for consumer applications.
The broad penetration of AVs will likely accelerate the development of robotics for consumer applications (including humanoid robots), since the two share many technologies. These include remote advanced sensing, hyperprecise positioning/GPS, image recognition, and advanced artificial intelligence. In addition to sharing technology, AVs and robots could benefit from using the same infrastructure, including recharging stations, service centers, and machine-to-machine communication networks. These commonalities might push multiple players to invest in both applications, as already shown by the significant investments in robotics made by selected automakers and high-tech players.
In addition to transforming the automotive industry, the rise of autonomous vehicles will likely have a profound impact on society. The ten developments described here provide a snapshot over the wide spectrum of possible outcomes linked to the increasing penetration of AVs in the market, offering industry leaders a look forward at this evolving landscape as it unfolds before them. Defining how to shape this landscape effectively represents a significant strategic challenge for the industry and regulatory authorities in the coming years.
About the authors
Michele Bertoncello is an associate principal in McKinsey’s Milan office, and Dominik Wee is a principal in the Munich office.
Thank you Luke Wroblewski July 17, 2015
All too often mobile forms make use of dropdown menus for input when simpler or more appropriate controls would work better. Here’s several alternatives to dropdowns to consider in your designs and why.
Expectations impact conversion
No one likes filling in forms. And the longer or more complicated a form seems, the less likely we are to jump in and start filling in the blanks -especially on small screens with imprecise inputs (like our fingers).
While there’s two extra fields in the “painful” version above, the primary difference between these two flight booking forms is how they ask questions. One makes use of dropdown menus for nearly every question asked, the other uses the most appropriate input control for each question.
Interacting with dropdown menus on mobile and the desktop is a multi-step process often requiring more effort than necessary. First tap the control, then scroll (usually more than once), find & select your target, and finally move on. We can do better.
Stepper controls increase or decrease value by a constant amount and are great for making small adjustments. When testing mobile flight booking forms, we foundpeople preferred steppers for selecting the number of passengers. No dropdown menu required, especially since there’s a maximum of 8 travelers allowed and the vast majority select 1-2 travelers.
When working with steppers, generally simpler is better. Changing the basic design of a stepper control too much makes its function less clear. That’s true of any input control, really.
Radio groups, or segmented controls, are a set of closely related, but mutually exclusive choices. When comparing mobile flight booking forms, we found radio groups worked really well for selecting class of travel.
Steppers and radio groups aren’t the only controls that can used in place of dropdown menus. Switches support two simple, diametrically opposed choices. Sliders allow you to select fine-grained values from an allowed range. When starting with a dropdown heavy form, look at each question and consider if any of these controls is a more appropriate way of getting an answer.
Button inputs expose the options that would otherwise be hidden in a dropdown and make selecting them a single-tap v.s multi-tap action.
In some cases multiple dropdown menus can be condensed into one input control. The flight booking example I labeled “painful” above made use of six dropdowns to collect travel dates.
In our mobile flight booking research, we found a single input control for travel dates worked much better. From six drop-downs to a single date picker. Now that’s progress.
As a Last Resort
All these alternatives to dropdown menus don’t mean you should never use them in a user interface design. Well-designed forms make use of the most appropriate input control for each question they ask. Sometimes that’s a stepper, a radio group, or even a dropdown menu.
But because they are hard to navigate, hide options by default, don’t support hierarchies, and only enable selection not editing, dropdowns shouldn’t be the first UI control you reach for. In today’s software designs, they often are.
So instead consider other input controls first and save the dropdown as a last resort.
For a deeper look at this topic and lots more about mobile form design, check out my video presentation on Mobile Inputs.
What ‘digital’ really means
Everyone wants to go digital. The first step is truly understanding what that is.
July 2015 | byKarel Dörner and David Edelman
Companies today are rushing headlong to become more digital. But what does digital really mean?
For some executives, it’s about technology. For others, digital is a new way of engaging with customers. And for others still, it represents an entirely new way of doing business. None of these definitions is necessarily incorrect. But such diverse perspectives often trip up leadership teams because they reflect a lack of alignment and common vision about where the business needs to go. This often results in piecemeal initiatives or misguided efforts that lead to missed opportunities, sluggish performance, or false starts.
Even as CEOs push forward with their digital agendas, it’s worth pausing to clarify vocabulary and sharpen language. Business leaders must have a clear and common understanding of exactly what digital means to them and, as a result, what it means to their business (for a deeper look at how companies can develop meaningful digital strategies and drive business performance, see “Raising your Digital Quotient”).
It’s tempting to look for simple definitions, but to be meaningful and sustainable, we believe that digital should be seen less as a thing and more a way of doing things. To help make this definition more concrete, we’ve broken it down into three attributes: creating value at the new frontiers of the business world, creating value in the processes that execute a vision of customer experiences, and building foundational capabilities that support the entire structure.
Creating value at new frontiers
Being digital requires being open to reexamining your entire way of doing business and understanding where the new frontiers of value are. For some companies, capturing new frontiers may be about developing entirely new businesses in adjacent categories; for others, it may be about identifying and going after new value pools in existing sectors.
Unlocking value from emerging growth sectors requires a commitment to understanding the implications of developments in the marketplace and evaluating how they may present opportunities or threats. The Internet of Things, for example, is starting to open opportunities for disrupters to use unprecedented levels of data precision to identify flaws in existing value chains. In the automotive industry, cars connected to the outside world have expanded the frontiers for self-navigation and in-car entertainment. In the logistics industry, the use of sensors, big data, and analytics has enabled companies to improve the efficiency of their supply-chain operations.
At the same time, being digital means being closely attuned to how customer decision journeys are evolving in the broadest sense. That means understanding how customer behaviors and expectations are developing inside and outside your business, as well as outside your sector, which is crucial to getting ahead of trends that can deliver or destroy value.
Creating value in core businesses
Digital’s next element is rethinking how to use new capabilities to improve how customers are served. This is grounded in an obsession with understanding each step of a customer’s purchasing journey—regardless of channel—and thinking about how digital capabilities can design and deliver the best possible experience, across all parts of the business. For example, the supply chain is critical to developing the flexibility, efficiency, and speed to deliver the right product efficiently in a way the customer wants. By the same token, data and metrics can focus on delivering insights about customers that in turn drive marketing and sales decisions.
Critically, digital isn’t about just working to deliver a one-off customer journey. It’s about implementing a cyclical dynamic where processes and capabilities are constantly evolving based on inputs from the customer, fostering ongoing product or service loyalty. Making this happen requires an interconnected set of four core capabilities:
Proactive decision making. Relevance is the currency of the digital age. This requires making decisions, based on intelligence, that deliver content and experiences that are personalized and relevant to the customer. Remembering customer preferences is a basic example of this capability, but it also extends to personalizing and optimizing the next step in the customer’s journey. Data providers such as ClickFox, for example, blend data from multiple channels into one view of what customers are doing and what happens as a result. In the back office, analytics and intelligence provide near-real-time insights into customer needs and behaviors that then determine the types of messages and offers to deliver to the customer.
Contextual interactivity. This means analyzing how a consumer is interacting with a brand and modifying those interactions to improve the customer experience. For example, the content and experience may adapt as a customer shifts from a mobile phone to a laptop or from evaluating a brand to making a purchasing decision. The rising number of customer interactions generates a stream of intelligence that allows brands to make better decisions about what their customers want. And the rapid rise of wearable technology and the Internet of Things represents the latest wave of touchpoints that will enable companies to blend digital and physical experiences even more.
Real-time automation. To support this cyclical give-and-take dynamic with customers and help them complete a task now requires extensive automation. Automation of customer interactions can boost the number of self-service options that help resolve problems quickly, personalize communications to be more relevant, and deliver consistent customer journeys no matter the channel, time, or device. Automating the supply chain and core business processes can drive down costs, but it’s also crucial to providing companies with more flexibility to respond to and anticipate customer demand.
Journey-focused innovation. Serving customers well gives companies permission to be innovative in how they interact with and sell to them. That may include, for example, expanding existing customer journeys into new businesses and services that extend the relationship with the customer, ideally to the benefit of both parties. These innovations in turn fuel more interactions, create more information, and increase the value of the customer-brand relationship.
Building foundational capabilities
The final element of our definition of digital is about the technological and organizational processes that allow an enterprise to be agile and fast. This foundation is made up of two elements:
Mind-sets. Being digital is about using data to make better and faster decisions, devolving decision making to smaller teams, and developing much more iterative and rapid ways of doing things. Thinking in this way shouldn’t be limited to just a handful of functions. It should incorporate a broad swath of how companies operate, including creatively partnering with external companies to extend necessary capabilities. A digital mind-set institutionalizes cross-functional collaboration, flattens hierarchies, and builds environments to encourage the generation of new ideas. Incentives and metrics are developed to support such decision-making agility.
System and data architecture. Digital in the context of IT is focused on creating a two-part environment that decouples legacy systems—which support critical functions and run at a slower pace—from those that support fast-moving, often customer-facing interactions. A key feature of digitized IT is the commitment to building networks that connect devices, objects, and people. This approach is embodied in a continuous-delivery model where cross-functional IT teams automate systems and optimize processes to be able to release and iterate on software quickly.
Digital is about unlocking growth now. How companies might interpret or act on that definition will vary, but having a clear understanding of what digital means allows business leaders to develop a shared vision of how it can be used to capture value.