“Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend,” Mark Zuckerberg once famously said. “A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.” Many brands have conducted customer research that confirms word of mouth recommendations are the #1 way people to decide to use their product.
As a brand or marketing manager, can you have confidence that consumer conversations drive revenue? Or is the impact of buzz something softer than that, a metric that perhaps demonstrates the brand has consumer relevance but not something that you would want to take to your CMO or CFO?
The answer is that word of mouth (WOM) is a hard metric that truly drives revenue. And if you don’t know how it works for your brand and your category, you’re missing out on a key driver of marketing ROI and revenue growth.
In 2014, we were part of a groundbreaking study by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association which proved that word of mouth drives sales – 13% of sales, on average. For high consideration categories (think technology products, for example) the impact on sales is above 20%. The study also revealed that offline conversations drive two-thirds of the sales impact, while online social drives a third.
Now, in 2016, we at Engagement Labs continue to see the importance of WOM and have expanded the analysis of the relationship between conversation and sales to a much larger group of brands – already over 150 brands (compared to 6 in the WOMMA study), and the number of brands being added to our analytic model is still expanding.
What have we found? This increased brand-level data consistently reaffirms that there is a meaningful relationship between word-of-mouth marketing (whether offline or online) and sales. It also further demonstrates clearly that offline conversation is by far the bigger driver of sales impact.
The takeaway: it’s imperative that brands who seek to drive revenue with social influence don’t rely on social media alone. You need a holistic social strategy—which is why we named our new product “TotalSocial”—designed to measure BOTH word of mouth and social media. Social media alone will get you part way there, but only an integrated strategy will allow you maximize the power of social influence.
6 Ways to Drive Brand Conversation
- Start With a “Talkworthy” Story.
Do you have a story that’s worth sharing, and easy to share? Our research testing demonstrates clearly that some ads, for example, are far easier to talk about and WOM is far greater as a result. Make sure your marketing, whether on air, in digital, in store, or wherever you are communicating gives content that people will be eager to share. Make this something you test for and track.
- Target the Talkers.
It’s one thing to focus on marketing to new prospects, but it’s the people sharing positive word of mouth that will have the greatest impact on your sales. Many of them are already customers who possess considerable “social value” in terms of their ability to drive trial across their personal social networks. Identify your advocates and make them a central part of your marketing activity, giving them new reasons to recommend you.
- Change You Perspective on Influencers.
When you think influencers, think of everyday peer influence. Celebrities with the large followings on Instagram are seductive to many marketers who want to pay them to get their message out. But far more influence comes from the “influencer next door,” the friend we all know keeps up with what’s new and becomes our go-to-source for advice before we buy. Make sure you know where your brand stands among these real-world influencers and focus on sparking them to spread the word.
- Reach People When They are in a Social Context.
When people consume media, watch a football game, attend an event or in general are gathering together they are far more likely to talk about, not only at the time they are consuming it but in the days that follow. If you want WOM to amplify your paid and owned media, then media planning for WOM is a critical priority.
- Convert URL to IRL, and Vice-Versa.
Upwards of 25% of all offline conversations now include people talking about what they see in digital media. It’s a clear reflection that consumers move seamlessly between their offline and their online worlds. Brands must do so as well. Break down silos. The #1 digital driver of conversation is the brand’s own website. Make sure it’s full of good content worth talking about and sharing.
- Retain Current Customers with WOM.
It’s expensive to acquire a new customer. In addition to the role of WOM in influencing new buyers, we have also learned that WOM has an important role to play in reducing churn. When a customer is looking around for a good deal and wondering if the competitor’s offer is worth considering, they check in with their friends to see what they think. Another important reason to make sure your passionate advocates are armed with the latest news and talkable content to share with others.
WOM is a vital brand asset. Like any other asset, if it you nurture and manage it well, and actively, it will provide great returns on investment.
As a marketer, what are you doing to maximize your brand’s social value?
This post was written by Ed Keller, CEO of Engagement Labs
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