You probably remember walking through the mall with friends, and everyone was looking at products, making recommendations, telling you whether it was cool or not, telling you that you looked cute, or, at the very least, influencing some of your buying decisions based on what they may be wearing or talking about with their friends.

Fast-forward. Consumers are influenced differently in their purchasing decisions today. Now, it is the content creator or influencer who is moving the market for brands, products, food, restaurants, new stores, and just about anything that requires a consumer decision.

If you are a marketer, you know this story all too well. Not only can the athlete or celebrity wearing a product make the difference, but it can also be the high school student with a YouTube or TokTok channel that can ensure you get the lift you need for a product launch.

GRIN, the creator management platform, released findings from its 2024 Modern Consumer Survey, exploring the evolving consumer’s buying journey and the growing need for brands to leverage creator content, especially in the age of social media.

Taking insights from 1,011 U.S. consumers, ages 18 to 65+, the survey found that three out of four consumers purchased a product or service because an influencer recommended it. This highlights how influencer marketing has revolutionized consumer purchasing decisions, and these influencer-influenced decisions occur throughout the buyer journey.

“The survey’s results show that creator content is a critical part of the buyer journey for the modern consumer. Brands not doing it are missing out,” said Brandon Brown, co-founder and CEO of GRIN. “Brands need to be where their customers are, and they can show up in potential consumers’ daily lives through authentic creator content. Doing this aids in awareness, consideration, and purchase, and, ultimately, fosters a deeper customer connection versus traditional shopping experiences online.”

Influencers Have Made the Buyer Journey Look Different
From product awareness to consideration to purchase, today’s shopper looks to content creators’ recommendations during each stage of their buying journey. The report found that for Gen Z and Millennial respondents, TikTok is the most popular platform for discovering new products.

As consumers move into the consideration stage, they no longer depend on website product reviews, with only 16 percent turning to a brand’s website to read reviews. Instead, they want to see products or services in action before purchasing, with 38 percent of shoppers responding this is the primary reason they turn to influencers for recommendations. For Gen Z respondents, in particular, 66 percent watch reviews on social media before making a purchase.

When consumers are ready to purchase, they can do so within social media apps, thanks to the rise of shoppable ads. Nearly 68 percent of shoppers surveyed purchased products directly from social media apps, demonstrating the increasing importance of brands having a strong presence and creating a seamless shopping experience on social media platforms.

With awareness, consideration and purchase now happen without consumers having to leave a social media platform, today’s path to purchase can be extremely short.

Influence Extends Beyond Shopping
“Content creators and social media have not only influenced how consumers shop but also how they make decisions on what hobbies to pursue or where to go on vacation. In fact, 68 percent of consumers chose to visit a specific location, like a theme park or travel destination, because they saw it recommended on social media,” GRIN wrote in a release discussing the survey results.

“This influence also trickles down to other areas, like what media respondents consume—one out of three consumers said they consider influencer recommendations very often when deciding what to watch and read. Even consumers’ lifestyle choices are impacted by what they see online, with 43 percent stating social media inspired them to change their fitness and lifestyle goals,” GRIN continued.

Product Discovery
Move over, Google, TikTok is here to stay. Well, not if the U.S. Congress has anything to say about it, but that’s for another time. 

The survey results show that over 43 percent of respondents discovered new products online. Nearly 44 percent cited Google as their go-to location. TikTok was at nearly 28 percent, and 15 percent favored Instagram. However, TikTok zooms to 42 percent of Gen-Z respondents to the question, while the aging population of those over 35 years of age is still married to Google, with over 61 percent preferring that channel or app. The Google number falls quickly to 39.4 percent for the Millennial consumer, also moving toward TikTok, with nearly 32 percent citing the app in their response.

The report details tips on to optimize your social media content for search, especially on TikTok.

  • Use relevant hashtags. If you have a TikTok Pro account, you can use TikTok’s analytics to research hashtags; otherwise, GRIN suggests that you’re better off typing keywords into the search bar and checking the auto-suggested hashtags and their associated view counts.
  • Optimize video captions.Including relevant keywords in your captions informs the TikTok algorithm what your content is about, helping it put your content in front of interested viewers. Pick up to six relevant keywords and include them in your caption and on-screen text.
  • Leverage trending sounds and music.The algorithm loves videos that use trending audio. When you use a popular track, your content is more likely to appear on users’ “For You” pages.
  • Post at the correct times. Share content when your target audience is most active. TikTok Analytics can help you determine the best times to post for maximum visibility and more on the optimization conversation.

The Circle of Trust
Surveys regarding retail purchasing decisions over the last twenty years consistently showed trust in those helping to make purchasing decisions. Whether it was a car, house, or sneakers, family and friends were always in the circle of trust, with friends increasing for the younger consumer.

GRIN reported that modern consumers’ trust in influencers is evident. But how does that trust stack up?

The older crowd still turns to their inner circle for product recommendations; however, Gen Z and Millenials trust influencer recommendations more than friends and family. The younger generation trusts friends and family, but they want to see the product in a real-life scenario before they buy it. Seeing a product before purchasing was why survey respondents said they like turning to influencers for product recommendations.

What do consumers look for in a trusted source? Can a 50-something marketing exec become an influencer overnight and increase the numbers? Probably not, unless they want to influence Gen X or the Boomers. But what precisely is the consumer looking for that relies on influencers?

Qualities of an Influencer that Creates Trust
Do follower counts matter? Nope. Responses to that question were at the far right of the bar chart, with only 24 percent of respondents selecting that option.

The number one response was Similar Lifestyle, including age, children, pets, homes, diets, and more. The survey results found that over 62 percent of respondents chose lifestyle similarities as the key.

Other options the survey respondents selected were Similar in Appearance (45 percent), Aesthetic/Professional content (42 percent), and Brand Partnerships (34 percent).

Much more
The report details how to select an influencer and prioritize micro and nano influencers. To learn more about GRIN’s 2024 Modern Consumer Survey ebook, go here.

Methodology: The Propeller Insights survey commissioned by GRIN surveyed 1,011 U.S. citizens, ages 18 and over, across the U.S. in November 2023. Survey responses were representative of the U.S. population for age, gender, region and ethnicity. The maximum margin of sampling error was +/- 3 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence. GRIN said it is the pioneer behind the world’s leading Creator Management platform built to support every brand’s journey to connecting with consumers through authentic creator relationships.

Editors note: This content is not sponsored, and SGB Media was not compensated for coverage.