Sophisticated marketers have long recognized the importance of third-party influencers to consumer purchases. Companies that sell their products through distributors, dealers, channel partners or other businesses devote significant sales and marketing resources to influence these businesses because they drive consumer sales. It's called Business-to-Business-to-Consumer marketing, or B-to-B-to-C.
Consider the case of a specialty pet food manufacturer. They recognize the influential role veterinarians play in the purchasing decisions of pet owners and focus their marketing program accordingly. They provide veterinarians with extensive product information including sample packs, and institute sales credit programs and other incentives. To support these efforts with consumers, they distribute coupons and discounts redeemable only at the pet owner's veterinarian.
Now the dynamics have changed and companies must also consider the consumers' outside influencers.
1. Consumers are exposed to multiple purchase influencers. It used to be that product insights and competitive comparisons—the core information that influences consumer purchases—were available only within industry networks. To tap that information, consumers had to go to a dealer or distributor.
Now consumers can go online to find expert reviews of the pros and cons of competing products. They learn from the experiences of countless others who have bought before them. And they can poll their trusted friends, and their friends' friends, for their opinions and experiences. They can marshal these resources for virtually any consumer purchase, at any time of the day or night, from anywhere they happen to be.
Take the example of the pet food marketer. Certainly the advice of veterinarians still carries weight with pet owners. Five years ago, however, that advice might have been the only recommendation a dog owner would trust. Today that same owner can visit innumerable websites—and probably multiple Facebook groups—devoted not only to the care and feeding of dogs in general but to their specific breed. If their pet has a medical condition, the owner can find websites devoted to that, as well.