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    Mintel Social Media Series Examines Online Consumer Behavior

    Analysts identify key trends and discuss their impact on the current marketplace.

    NEW YORK -- More and more companies are learning that the Internet and social media are key tools in staying ahead of the curve and generating buzz around brands. To better understand these trends, Mintel's social media team has identified the top five trends in online consumer marketplace behavior identified from high-level research into the strategies employed by Fortune 500 companies across the United States.

    In the first report series of its kind, Mintel social media analysts Gabi Lieberman and Lizz Martinez discuss these trends and their impact on the current social media marketplace:

    1. The power of peers in high-spend sectors. When it comes to high-value and infrequent purchase sectors, consumers are keener to garner pre-purchase opinions from family, friends and their online communities. On the other hand, when it comes to lower-value everyday items, online conversation typically focuses on post-purchase opinions and experiences.

    2. The influence of online chatter in the mobile phone market. "As the battle between the iPhone and Android continues to rage offline, these are the two brands that people are most likely to search the Internet for reviews on as they seek to make up their own mind about taking the plunge or switching to the other side," said Lieberman. In addition, Mintel found that the wealth of information on the iPhone (8.7 million online mentions between August and December 2012) overshadows that of the Android (4.7 million within the same timeframe).

    3. Fictional characters help the unease of financial markets. The use of friendly -- albeit fictional -- characters by financial brands such as GEICO's Gecko and Progressive spokeswoman Flo serve as key conversation vehicles to drive discussion online, Mintel stated. Another example is Mucinex, which uses the voice of "Mr. Mucus" when posting on Facebook and adds personality to an "otherwise seemingly unapproachable topic of OTC [over-the-counter] medication," explained Lieberman.

    4. Online behaviors more impactful on consumer behavior. "With rising broadband penetration and smartphone ownership, would-be consumers are increasingly turning to information online to guide purchase decisions and opinions," said Lieberman. She pointed to Mintel's research that found this to be true among U.S. beauty devices, which "dominate online engagement with its brands" on social media pages, particularly Twitter and Facebook.

    5. Innovative campaigns to influence the future. Campaigns needs to get more creative in order to stand out from the competition. Lieberman and Martinez point to Lay's "Do us a Flavor" campaign, which not only created images and infographics on the most submitted flavors, but also pinpointed regional preferences for different flavors and ingredients. Another successful strategy was employed by Domino's, which has maintained its transparency in its rebranding process, the analysts noted.

    "Its dedication to customer satisfaction is shown through its pizza tracker, posting tweets and live feedback around the brand's virtual pizza tracker displayed in Times Square, and continually engaging with its fans and followers online," said Martinez.

    Mintel is a global supplier of consumer, product and media intelligence.

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