Who Influences Your Customers?

I went to an interesting event today. It was the monthly luncheon of the Oregon Chapter of the American Marketing Association and the speaker was talking about who it is that really influences your customers to buy your products or services. This has a major implication on where we spend our marketing budgets.

The speaker, Nick Hayes, Founder and President, of Influencer50, said that according to their research, in 1993, customers reported that 75-85% of their buying decisions were heavily influenced by journalists or industry analysts. In 2003 that number had dropped to 45-55% with blogs, online forums and other informal networks becoming much more important.

He further pointed out that in most companies, the budgets have NOT similarly changed. Public relations and analyst relations efforts and budgets have remained relatively the same despite the shift in importance.

A few companies (very few) have recognized this fundamental shift and have begun marketing to the new influencers. He cited the examples of:

  • Nokia’s Early Adopters Forums
  • Microsoft’s Online Gaming Communities
  • Virgin Mobile’s CEO Dinner Clubs
  • Intuit Business Advisor Communities

These companies have tried to establish a positive relationship with groups of people who either by word of mouth, blogs or other mechanisms tend to be respected by potential customers.

It is interesting to note that some of these influencers may never themselves buy your products or services in any quantity.

If you want to see Nick’s slides you can find them at the Oregon Chapter of the AMA’s website.

So who are your influencers? When your customers are looking for a widget in your industry how do they make their decision? Who do they ask?

For my business, the influencers will include other professionals who provide services to small businesses, and my (hopefully) satisfied customers. The local press will also still be important.

Take some time this week to think about the audiences you have been neglecting and what you might do to start a helpful dialog.

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