The great thing about online advertising is how trackable and measurable it is. On the other hand, it’s also the downside.
Marketing budgets have tighten over the last couple years and accountability has become necessary, requiring marketers to show a return for their ad spends and create cost per customer metrics or similar. While its probably led to a shift in marketing dollars to the online channel (being so trackable) its also be at the expense of building awareness, positioning, and online branding.
In a post called ‘How Social Media Exposure Leads to Brand Evangelists‘ the author went on to suggest online branding was as simple as just 3 steps:
- Phase One: New Customer – first exposure to the brand
- Phase Two: Knows of Brand – first purchase
- Phase Three: Regular Purchaser – Evangelist
This overly simplified overview was unrealistic in my view, and seems to be a bit misleading.
Online branding, social media, and search engine optimization are all hard work to create the desired results. If I were to draw out a process on the phases it would probably look more like this:
1. First exposure to need or offer, often through experience through:
- social media
- offline, and went online to research
2. Research phase
- possibly through search engine
- alternatively, through price comparison or review site
- most common is through reading reviews on blogs
3. Additional exposure phase 
- online advertising
- social media
- blogs, forums, reviews
- search results
While the above is still only three phases, it does go a bit deeper to provide a sort of rationale.
 About 65% of blog readers access blogs specifically to get an opinion, and over 90% trust user reviews over an in-store clerk
 From first exposure to a brand to actual purchase, potential customers usually do some research before buying
And finally we have step 4, the Conversion Phase.
Social media creates product purchasing influences at several levels, and since there’s no one size fits all answer its your job to find what works for you. Keep in mind a multi pronged approach has been a favorite.
The web has allowed us to stop taking ads at face value and perform our own due diligence. But as marketers we’re also in far greater control of creating opportunities, demand, and engaging with prospects to drive social commerce.
If you spend any regular amount of time online, you can’t help but run into fan pages, likes, reviews, referrals, comparisons, ratings and possibly a viral video once in a while.
In an article from the Harvard Business Review it mentions;
The majority of managers we spoke to in our global study told us they believe that a broad array of information diverts attention from the core offerings. But we found it helps customers search for solutions, invites them to think of all the ways the core products might add value to their lives, wins their loyalty, and entices them to buy. In fact, we found that exploiting consumers’ desire for engagement is the single dominant driver of superior shareholder value for e-commerce companies.
The bottom line is online merchants acheive higher conversions with social media shopping.