A recent Nielsen report explores the always-important and ever-evolving question of what content types influence consumer decisions the most. So does expert content from travel bloggers have any actual impact on the purchase process?
The report was commissioned by advertising advocates Inpowered, which allows brands to discover organic media and expert coverage of their products and use that coverage to anchor advertising. This allows social proof to be built into advertising in a different way - something that would work especially in travel, as social recommendations already drive a significant amount of organic interest for travel products.
The following was the methodology deployed by Nielsen:
To evaluate the impact of expert content and branded (or owned) content online and its role in the purchase process, an experimental design was used to expose consumers to content and then measure the impact of that content in creating product awareness/familiarity, influencing perceptions (i.e. likeability) and increasing purchase consideration. The goal of the experiment is to evaluate the relative impact of content from users, experts, and brands themselves.
Nielsen created a lab testing situation to judge just how different types of content perform for 900 respondents that were matched as consumers to the content types they would be exposed to.
Most popular sources of information during the purchase process
Consumers didn't reveal any surprises when it comes to which content sources they use more and which they use less when considering a purchase.
The main difference from conventional wisdom is that the power of word-of-mouth is below even online advertising.
One expects social media and user reviews to be the most used - especially given that they are the latest form of digital word-of-mouth - but it is unexpected that online advertising would be considered more often than word-of-mouth.
TV and radio advertising continue to be less useful than their counterparts, with radio being the least vital when it comes to influencing purchase decisions.
When consumers are sifting through these content types, expert content is a powerful force. For the purposes of clarity, branded content came directly from a brand's website, user reviews were taken from publicly available review sites and expert content came from third-party websites and blogs dedicated to that specific product category.
In fact, the expert content tested with this lab group was far more effective than branded content - or even user reviews, which traditionally enjoy higher priority from both marketers and users.
This is welcome news for travel marketers considering blogger outreach campaigns, as it demonstrates that these travel experts are indeed valuable as far as familiarity, affinity and purchase consideration.
Further extensions into travel content
While the respondents were not directly exposed to travel content in this test, the results offer additional clarity as to the question of the real-life impact of experts such as travel bloggers.
The breakdown of lift per product is shown below, with the percentage increase signaled by the number and the darker shade marking a relatively high lift for that category.
The study found expert content had the highest impact on purchases above $1,000 - fitting along nicely with the larger average purchase for travel.
Here's how much more effective expert content was at impacting lift for higher-priced items:
The report explains the result in the following manner:
It is important to note that branded content was effective at driving familiarity and affinity for big ticket purchases, but it was not as effective at persuading purchase consideration. User reviews had even less relevance for these types of purchases. Ultimately, expert content influenced all three phases and was most effective at driving final purchase consideration. The higher the price point, the more efficient expert content was in educating and persuading consumers.
Again, this specific report didn't consider travel (perhaps Nielsen will consider one for travel purchases!). Nonetheless, the core principles remain solid as far as understanding how third-party expert content impacts travel purchasing.
The reality is that, for higher-priced, more emotional and aspirational purchases such as travel, consumers are more skeptical of pure-play branded content. And when it comes to user reviews, travelers leverage this content to determine specifics about places to stay or other details about a potential portion of a purchase.
But when it comes to destination marketing and selling larger packages (such as tour packages and cruises), experts are seen as knowledgable, less biased contributors to the purchase decision. Content from these sources should be high-quality and demographically targeted, so be sure to carefully consider which bloggers and travel experts are best suited to offer their perspective to prospective customers as part of a digital marketing campaign.
The report is available for download here.
NB: Indecision image courtesy Shutterstock.