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Brand discovery is changing. Big time. The way people find out about products isn’t the way it used to be – and millennials, Gen Z, Gen X, and baby boomers are all looking for your brand in different places. 

If you want to capture their attention, you’ve got to meet them at their hangout spots.

We’re here to give you the most up-to-date look at brand discovery in 2023. Stay tuned for answers to these key questions:

  • What is brand discovery?
  • How do consumers find new products in 2023?
  • How does each generation discover new brands in 2023?
  • Does brand discovery vary by sector?
  • How is brand discovery changing for today’s consumers?
  • How do consumers research new products?
  • What role does social media play in brand discovery?
  • Are consumers becoming more impulsive with their shopping habits?
  • How important are reviews and recommendations for brand discovery?

First, let’s kick off with a definition of brand discovery

Discovery is the first phase of the customer journey. It’s the moment consumers first come into contact with a new brand, its products, and its services. 

In short, brand discovery is how consumers find you.

If they like what they see, they’ll explore things further. Win-win. If they don’t, they won’t. Uh oh. 

The top ways consumers find new products in 2023

Let’s get straight into the details. When we asked internet users around the world how they typically find out about new brands and products, these were the top 10 results:

  1. Search engines (31%)
  2. Ads seen on TV (30%)
  3. Word-of-mouth recommendations from friends or family members (27%)
  4. Ads seen on social media (27%)
  5. Brand/product websites (25%)
  6. TV shows/films (23%)
  7. Ads seen on websites (23%)
  8. Online retail websites (23%)
  9. Recommendations/comments on social media (22%)
  10. Consumer review sites (22%)

Some of the least likely places consumers discover new products are articles in printed magazines, ads seen at the cinema, and sponsored content on podcasts. 

While search engines hold the top spot across the board, it’s quite a different story when we look into how different generations find new brands. 

How does each generation find new products? 

Every marketer knows that you can’t target Gen Z in the same way you’d reach a baby boomer, and this is especially true when it comes to brand discovery.

How does Gen Z discover new brands? 

The top way Gen Z typically finds out about new products is through ads on social media (28% say this) followed by search engines (27%), and ads seen on TV (27%).

How do millennials find new brands?

Millennials typically discover new brands and products via search engines (30% say this), followed by ads seen on TV (29%), then ads seen on social media (28%).

How does Gen X discover new brands?

Wondering how important word-of-mouth recommendations are when it comes to brand discovery? For Gen X and baby boomers, they’re a pretty big deal.

Gen X typically finds out about new brands through search engines (34% say this), followed by ads seen on TV (33%), and (yep, you guessed it) word-of-mouth recommendations from friends or family members (30%).

How do baby boomers find new brands?

The top way baby boomers typically find out about new brands and products is through ads seen on TV (40%), followed by search engines (35%), and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends or family members (35%).

How does brand discovery vary by sector?

It’s natural for brands to wonder about the extent to which brand discovery varies by sector. If you’re a luxury clothing brand, you’ll need to know how consumers are likely to find you. 

But the results – when split by industry – are surprisingly underwhelming. 

We looked at the following groups of buyers to get a lay of the land:

  • Car buyers
  • Beauty buyers
  • Online grocery buyers
  • Luxury clothing buyers
  • Sportswear buyers

This may come as a surprise considering how prominent the beauty community is on social media, but beauty buyers are most likely to find new brands and products through search engines. In fact, all of these buyers are.

Coming in second place for all of them is ads seen on TV. In third place, it’s word-of-mouth, apart from car buyers, who use ads seen on social media. Interestingly, there are very few differences between these sector buyers, unlike the generational differences we explored earlier. 

There are a couple of things to point out, though. 30% of online grocery buyers find new brands through word-of-mouth recommendations, while 25% of car buyers rely on TV shows/films for brand discovery – which is a promising sign for those sneaky product placements we’ve come to expect on our screens.

The key takeaway? While there are minor differences among sectors for brand discovery, you’ll get a much more nuanced understanding of purchase behavior when you’re looking at age groups. Ultimately, you’ve got to lean on the data.

How is brand discovery changing for today’s consumers? 

Now that we’ve established where consumers typically discover new brands, it’s worth zooming out to see how the brand discovery landscape is changing – because it is, and there are two major shifts brands and agencies need to know about.

  1. Social media is shaking up the brand research game
  2. But researching products isn’t as important as it used to be

The next stage of brand discovery

Let’s imagine you’re a beauty brand trying to capture the attention of millennials in the US. You’ve decided to focus your marketing efforts on TikTok, because almost half of US millennials use the app, with a third logging on daily. Plus, you know ads on social media are a top way millennials discover new brands.

So, because this generation of TikTok users is the most likely to participate in hashtag challenges initiated by brands, you launch a sponsored influencer marketing campaign that sets a new makeup tutorial trend – using your wonderful products. 

The trend catches on, building up steam throughout the beauty community. Everyone wants to know more about your products – especially millennials in the US (no surprise there, because you used GWI data to hit a home run).

So what’s next? How do consumers actively search for extra info about your awesome products? Or get the lowdown on your brand’s story? 

How do consumers research new products? 

After consumers discover your brand, the next step they’ll likely undergo is actually researching it. When consumers are actively looking for more information about brands, products, or services, these are the top online sources they use. 

  1. Search engines (48% of internet users say this)
  2. Social networks (43% of internet users say this)
  3. Consumer reviews (36% of internet users say this)
  4. Product/brand sites (34% of internet users say this)
  5. Price/comparison websites (28% of internet users say this)

But once again, age plays a huge part. 

For Gen X and baby boomers, search engines hold the top spot in their search for extra info (by a strong majority of 53%) followed by consumer reviews (38%).

But for Gen Z and millennials, social networks are the top channel for researching products, with 47% using them to weigh up their purchases. 

In fact, social media’s been a bit of a game changer in the brand discovery space. Here’s why.

What role does social media play in brand discovery?

For almost as long as the internet has existed, Google has been synonymous with looking something up. Cheating in a pub quiz? Google it. Want new shoes but don’t know which brand to choose? Google it. Need a restaurant recommendation for your weekend away? Google it. 

But the rise of social media and entertainment giants like TikTok has thrown a spanner in the works. 

Social media is the new search engine for younger consumers.

Now, if that sounds sensationalist, you don’t have to take our word for it. You can hear it directly from Google. The tech giant’s senior vice president, Prabhakar Raghavan, explained that younger consumers are using social media apps (like Instagram and TikTok) for brand discovery, instead of Google Search or Maps.

“In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search,” he said, according to TechCrunch. “They go to TikTok or Instagram.”

Do consumers research products before buying them?

Here’s another interesting trend we’re seeing play out among consumers. Since Q3 2020, there’s been a 9% drop in the number of people who research a product online before buying it. As it stands today, just 37% say they carefully do research before buying anything online – although this increases to 42% of baby boomers.

Are consumers impulsive with their shopping habits? Well, younger consumers certainly are.

Our data shows that Gen Z and millennials are more likely to make impulse purchases than older generations, with 65% making an impulse purchase at least once a month, compared to 38% of Gen X and baby boomers. 

Meanwhile, just 10% of baby boomers make an impulse purchase once every 2-3 weeks, rising to 41% of Gen Z and millennials, and rising again to 48% among daily TikTok users. 

But this is hardly surprising. When we interviewed Mahmoud Shammout, head of research & insights for TikTok for business in the METAP region, he gave us some insight into this trend.

“TikTok’s experience is built to amplify inspiration – its video-first, native style, and sound-on format leads to more impulsive purchases and higher spending when compared to other channels.”

How important are reviews and recommendations for brand discovery?

Reviews have long been a staple of inciting brand trust. They’re basically crowdsourced nods of credibility (well, the good ones at least). 

And though the sponsored #ad space on social platforms has thrown up questions about how genuine some endorsements are, a whopping 60% of female consumers have bought a product or service recommended by them.

So do consumers listen to what others have to say about a product or service? Well, our data shows that consumer trust in reviews is waning. The number of internet users who trust what online reviews say about products and services has dropped 7% since Q3 2020. 

And on the luxury side of the scale, the number who look for expert opinions before buying expensive products has dropped 6% in the last year.

The bottom line 

So, what do brands and agencies need to know? Well, you’ve got to do your research. Stop guessing, and start knowing how your consumers are likely to find your brand – all with the help of GWI.

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