“…the average American talks each day about roughly ten brands, and that the typical brand conversation lasts between three and five minutes. More that two thirds of these conversations involve a recommendation to buy, consider or avoid the brand,” from The Face-to-Facebook, Ed Keller and Brad Fey, 2012
“Typically, messages passed within tight, trusted networks have less reach but greater impact than those circulated through dispersed communities,” quoted by Keller & Fay from a 2010 McKinsey study on Word of Mouth.
The impact of positive word of mouth about products and services on purchase decisions and opinions is growing. This has been a disputed trend for some time now. Some simply say that word of mouth has been around since the dawn of time and there’s nothing much new to respond to. Others claim that the efficacy of traditional marketing has forever slipped off of a cliff never to regain its footing. The truth lies in the middle – things have changed, word of mouth is more important today.
Often attributed to the flood of marketing and media messages beyond a manageable flow, a skepticism and distrust for institutions, and the added social connectivity to our network of close and weak ties via social media and mobile access, word of mouth or earned personal media is increasingly seen as the future of marketing. Still brands remain preoccupied with mastering social media and more recently with developing efficacy models that blend the performance of owned, earned and paid media. Very few admit that the real interest in social media is due to the earned media or word of mouth potential by disruptive ideas and customer engagement programs. Even those that are trying to measure owned, earned and paid start by treating the earned media – the positive word of mouth and even recommendations of friends and family – as just more media with an impression value. That’s crazy.
Still, I get it. We learned how to scale advertising. We are just learning how to scale word of mouth. That means we have an institutionalized machine to create, distribute and measure advertising. While we create methods for scaling the use of word of mouth, we will be required to compare that efficacy with advertising. But brand marketers should be looking at the real shift in the marketplace. That is the word of mouth. Within that simple discipline lies some of the most important concepts to modern marketing: influencer marketing, influencer scoring, community management, brand advocacy, content marketing, fan management and more. How should brand marketers get smart about word of mouth?
Read Face-to-Face Book
One of the best reads this year on Word of Mouth is The Face-to-Face Book by Ed Keller and Brad Fey. Ed Keller can be one cranky bloke. He wants a fight. He knows that 80-90% of word of mouth happens offline in face-to-face conversations and he’s tired of all of the fanfare falling to the 8% that happens online.
The thesis of the book is solid if told in provocative way. Integrated programs that feature compelling advertising, products that have talk value, and a art-and-science-driven approach to sparking word of mouth online and offline will drive sales.
Along the way he bashes social media. The Pepsi Refresh Project is called out as failure of marketers too ready to believe that social media could replace advertising. Certainly Pepsi came to the conclusion eventually that they were under-spending in advertising. Regime change. Budgets shifted. But social media did not get taken out of the mix. It remains relevant to Pepsi and thousands of other marketers around the world. Social media may get out-sized attention from brands, but what if we just used social media as a synonym for word of mouth? Isn’t the shift that media has become more social?
There is no good argument for why brands do not focus on generating relationships that drive positive word of mouth online and offline. Keller and Fay do a great job of uncovering facts and ideas that marketers need to be successful in this space.
Influencers do exist and are important
“The average American keeps in close personal contact – meaning real-world offline communications – with approximately 16 friends, family and acquaintances. Infleuncers, meanwhile, have a social network that is twice as large: thirty-three friends, family and acquaintances with whom they communicate often.”
“Whereas the average American has about 65 conversations per week about brands, Conversation Catalysts (their phrase for influencers)have nearly two and a half times as many: 150 conversations per week.”
"Pursway’s analysis (a research company) finds that these influencers can generate ten times more sales within their social circle than an average consumer.”
People talk about products, experiences and about advertising
“…word of mouth basics – being recommendable, easy to talk about, worth talking about, and something people feel proud to share with others – are far more important drivers of word of mouth than being new, unique, innovative or entertaining.”
“Yes, great experiences get people talking. Innovative products do, too. But to a surprising extent, ads are a tremendous source for conversational fodder (25%)”
The scale of social networks mask the real numbers
Here’s a place where my conclusions diverge from Keller and Fay. Their basic premise is sound: that of all the people who friend a Facebook brand page, only a minority are active. I see that as a community ‘power-law’ and not a hidden defect of social networks as part of a marketing model. You simply must think of segmenting fans, followers and then counting on action from an active minority.
Facebook routinely says that about 16% of a brand page fanbase sees an update in the news feed of the brand. Keller and Fay’s “informal experiment” in the book points to 10%. Either way, we know that the steady flow of Facebook updates is never seen by all and we should plan accordingly.
“…a fall 2011 study found that of the total number of (Facebook) fans, only a very small percentage (typically 1 percent or fewer) are active.”
Integrated social media works well
Even while the authors emphasize the importance of advertising to drive word of mouth and that the offline word of mouth dwarfs online, they also acknowledge that social media done well can drive big results.
“The campaign’s success (Old Spice) was immediately interpreted as yet another victory for social media over traditional media. But you don’t have to look too hard to see that’s not entirely the case. Put simply, the success would not have been possible without an integrated approach that involved smart consumer research, and an excellent creative idea delivered in a heavy broadcast presence with a smart social media component.”
As brand try and get the most out of social media, they will likely come to realize that a more holistic effort to drive word of mouth is really what they are after. Keller and Fay’s book, Face-to-Facebook is an important read along that journey.
Key word of mouth event in November 2012
You can dive into an immersive two days on this subject at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s Summit in Las Vegas. Join Ed, Brad, myself, and a few hundred-brand marketers to see and learn best practices from our peers. See the Summit Agenda and register here.