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The "Conversation Commander" Brands that Excel at Offline and Online Social Influence

Published by Engagement Labs September 22, 2020

Part 1:45 Brands (Out of 650) Earned Conversation Commanders During 2019 and 2020

Conversation Commanders

Before consumers make buying decisions, they talk. Online AND Offline – through social media, product reviews, face-to-face or via Zoom, by text or IM, or via whatever channel – we all seek recommendations, feedback and validation in our choices of entertainment and products. These conversations, reviews and the counsel of our peers have enormous impact on consumer choices and thus on brands in terms of sales, brand health, and other KPIs.

At Engagement Labs we have demonstrated that for most brands, there is little to no correlation between what gets talked about online in social media and what gets talked about offline. At the same time, our analytics have also demonstrated that offline and online each contribute about equally to business outcomes. Across a market basket of brands, offline WOM drives 10% of sales and online social media drives 9%.

The clout of consumer conversation is real – and it is an imperative aspect of any marketing strategy today. Brands that achieve strong performance both offline and online are in an enviable position. Their ability to activate both offline and online engagement drives millions of dollars to their topline. We call these brands Conversation Commanders because of their commanding position both offline and online. Sadly, only a small percentage of brands really excel. But there is much to be learned from those who do.

We have analyzed brands that achieved Conversation Commander status during the six months since COVID-19 hit and consumer behavior took a dramatic turn. We also looked at brands that were Conversation Commanders during the same six month a year prior.

There are 45 brands (out of 650 studied) that were Conversation Commanders during both years. They have achieved enduring success and include some of the country’s most notable names that should make all brands aspire to the same position. These are the brands that we want to highlight – and celebrate – in this blog post.

In addition, there are 30 brands that have risen to Conversation Commander status in 2020 that were not there a year ago. And 37 brands that were Conversation Commanders a year ago but lost their position in 2020. We will focus on those subsequently.


Brands that are Enduring Conversation Commanders

Who are the brands that are Conversation Commanders now and were a year ago as well? They are some of the best-known brands in the country. Amazon is in the top 10, satisfying our shopping needs. So are Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, along with the Food Network and Nintendo, all helping to entertain us. Nike and Adidas too. Toyota. And Avon.

Taking a look at the full list of 45, there is a diverse list that is led by media/entertainment brands, followed closely by retail/apparel and technology, but also includes a good representation from food/dining/grocery and beauty. The categories break down as follows:



How Do Offline and Online Performance Compare?

Conversation Commanders are brands that are above average both offline and online. Across the full set of 45 that are featured here, performance is about equal both offline and online. But there are some notable differences, in particular brands that are relatively stronger offline versus online. For example, Amazon’s offline performance is +18.8 points stronger than its online performance, representing the largest gap and demonstrating that eCommerce can drive superior offline performance – there are no silos that constrain consumers. This is followed by Adidas (16.5), Toyota (15.2), Sephora (14.7), Nike (14.7), Oreo (11.2), and Apple Mac (10.3).

What about the flip side, where online performance outperforms offline? Only Spotify has a double-digit differential, with a 14.3 point stronger online performance vs. offline. The rest of the top 5 that are stronger online are Kindle (9.9), MLB (9.5), NBA (7.5) and ESPN (7.2). The power of media and sports to drive online performance is evident here, remembering that these brands are also strong offline performers.

Looked at another way, only two of the Conversation Commander brands earn top 10 honors in both the offline and online lists: Netflix and Food Network.

TOP 10 Conversation Commanders by Mode of Conversation


Change versus 2019: The Enduring Power of Disney World is on Display

The power of these Conversation Commanders can be seen in the consistency between 2019 and the very different and much more difficult 2020. Disney World received one of the top honors in our 2019 Most Loved Brands. Feeling the impact of Covid-19 that devasted so many travel brands, Disney World saw the biggest decline in its TotalSocial score, dropping 11.7 points -- but it is a testament to its power as the “most magical place on earth” that despite the decline it nevertheless retained Conversation Commander status.

MLB declined by 5.6 points, due a sharp decline in net sentiment as players and the league entered into acrimonious negotiations about how to open the MLB season; and Betty Crocker which declined by 5.3 points as a result of a sharp decline in our brand sharing metric, which is likely due to reduced ad spending during Covid-19 when demand for baking goods was high but in short supply.

Amazon Prime Video was the biggest gainer among this group rising 6.2 points, followed by Vans (+5.9).

None of the other brands that were Conversation Commanders in 2019 and 2020 rose or fell by more than 5 points.


Case Studies

Brands that command consumer conversations achieve “social success” through a variety of methods. To illustrate that point and provide insights into pathways to achieve Conversation Commander status, in next week’s blog we will profile five brands that were “Conversation Commanders” before the pandemic and remain so in 2020. This will include Amazon, Budweiser, Food Network, Sephora and Vans.

We hope you will return to read this analysis.


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