Selling to the E-Fluentials

As online marketers, we struggle to reach key decision makers, purchasers, and the hands that hold the wallet. Where are these people? Better yet, who are they?

In 1999, Burson-Marsteller and RoperASW conducted a study that gave birth to the term “e-fluentials.” According to the study, e-fluentials are a powerful group of online movers and shakers who can affect the purchasing decisions of an estimated 155 million U.S. adults, or 10 percent of the current online population. The group represents about 11 million Americans, and purportedly each e-influencer potentially influences up to 14 people. Simply put, this group reaches more people on more topics than average users.

Finding the Coveted E-Fluentials

The majority of e-fluentials (85 percent) rely more heavily on company Web sites than on online magazines (62 percent) and opinion sites (55 percent) as sources of Internet-based information.

In a survey, Burson-Marsteller asked e-fluentials about their choices for holiday shopping information. Surprisingly, 60 percent ranked newspaper articles and ads as their first choice. Forty-five percent ranked friends second, while family and Web sites tied for third place, at 39 percent each. TV ranked a measly 12 percent.

“Good old-fashioned newspapers are demonstrating enormous staying power as highly effective media outlets for holiday shopping sales information on a daily basis, even among the technological elite of the Internet,” said Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief knowledge and research officer for Burson-Marsteller, who conducted the survey. Swim where the fish are.

What the E-Fluentials Want

This group was interested in a variety of products and services this season. The study asked which brands were foremost on their minds today.

Toys led e-fluentials’ holiday shopping lists. Thirty-nine percent listed toys among the products and services they will recommend to friends, families, and others. (CDs ran a close second, at 35 percent.) Tied at 29 percent were clothing, portable music devices (such as CD and MP3 players), and jewelry, followed by sports equipment (27 percent). Fisher-Price was the most popular toy brand (22 percent), followed by Mattel (10 percent,) and Hasbro (6 percent). Retailer Toys “R” Us was named by 16 percent.

Building Awareness and Trust Among E-Fluentials

In his book “Clicks, Bricks and Brands,” my fellow ClickZ columnist Martin Lindstrom says, “Consumer trust is responsible for branding success: trust = brand.” The book cites the sheer number of Web pages created daily as evidence of the explosion of alternatives online shoppers have — a mere click away. We must consider the consumer’s mindset as she surfs for information.

ACNielsen conducted a study last year in which 75 percent of users said they are skeptical about information they’re exposed to on the Net. Nearly that many are concerned about online privacy and doubt the security of online purchasing systems. Lindstrom says this lack of trust is a symptom of weak brand management and mismanagement of consumers.

Gaining Trust Online

  • Partner with organizations such asTRUSTe, VeriSign, and the Better Business Bureau.
  • Respect consumers’ privacy.
  • Don’t spam. Carefully select an appropriate number of emailings, and choose content wisely. Going overboard can kill your brand.
  • Trust is built with time. Take it slow.

Consider the Facts

Creating buzz without connecting with e-fluentials would be an uphill battle.

According to a Jupiter Research (a unit of ClickZ’s parent corporation) survey, 45 percent of online shoppers choose e-commerce sites based on word-of-mouth recommendations, yet only 7 percent of companies are implementing tools that allow them to identify “viral influencers” through email pass-along rates.

“Businesses need to identify what influences their customers’ purchasing decisions, and they should start by building a broader view of consumers’ behavior,” says Jupiter analyst David Daniels.

Brand building has changed since the 1930s. Don’t rely just on the unique selling proposition (USP) of your brand. Think of the “me selling proposition” (MSP). The MSP says that a brand belongs to individual consumers or groups, not the manufacturers. Consider consumers’ needs, emotions, and online behavior before advertising to them.

E-fluentials are information sponges. Advertise right, and watch them spread your message.

Seana is on vacation. This column ran earlier this year.

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