Where and how do consumers really talk about brands and what impact does it have?

Talk about the latest buzz phrase, ‘earned media’, and typically one of the first things marketers think about is social media and its ability to make brand messages go viral. Social media is a growing and important channel for brands to create Word of Mouth, but does it offer brands the biggest opportunities for harnessing consumer power? Whether we’re sitting watching TV ‘en famille’, chatting in the school playground or talking around the water cooler, if there’s a great (or terrible!) new TV advertising campaign (David Beckham for H&M, anyone?), then this can also stimulate a hearty debate about the merits of the campaign or the product it’s advertising.

So, at inTV we decided to find out more about what kick-starts conversations about brands, where they take place and with whom – and, importantly, how these conversations influence the product considerations and purchases of others.  We wanted to understand the value of social media in Word of Mouth, but also to understand how online conversations fit into the overall picture; – sometimes we seem to forget that we still (most of us, anyway!), spend more of our lives actually ‘living’, rather than inhabiting the virtual world.

The results of the independent survey carried out by Insites Consulting were enlightening.  They showed us that 90% of conversations we have about products and services take place in the real world, rather than online.  83% are with family and friends, 28% with colleagues, 10% with business contacts and only 4% with social media contacts.  Importantly, in 91% of these conversations we also talk about brands.  This shows how valuable consumers are at ‘transmitting’ brand messages – so if brands harness the power of Word of Mouth can this provide a significant boost to the return on investment of advertising campaigns?

Well yes.  Interestingly, additional research also carried out by InSites Consulting shows that the best ads have 40% more ‘buyer activation’.  However, there’s an obvious caveat – brands need to take care to ensure that the majority of these conversations are positive.  The good news is that, in five out of the six sectors we surveyed, brand conversations were found to be significantly more positive than negative.  People like to discuss positive experiences.  The job for brands is to give consumers something to start the conversations – a great ad, a gift, an exclusive offer, the introductions of a new product and service or customer service that exceeds expectations.

But what if conversations are negative?  In Banking/Finance, for which 30% of conversations were negative compared to 24% positive, the balance is tipped the wrong way.  With 80% of conversations in this sector featuring a brand, the banking industry needs to be brave, listen to these conversations and start getting closer to its customers.

However, for all the sectors in the survey, including Banking/Finance, the real value lies in reaching brand ‘Champions’ – those consumers who may be small in number but who are incredibly important because of their reach and ability to influence others.  The research showed that Champions are over 40% more likely than average to trigger others to look up information on products/brands, 90% times more likely to convince others to choose a certain brand and 1.5 times more likely than average to make them buy or try a certain brand.

If a brand can catch the attention of a champion, they are tapping into a powerful resource that can shape brand conversations and transmit message exponentially.  But where do you find Champions and what do they look like?

In terms of demographics, the research showed that younger people are more likely to influence because of their sheer connectivity and their ability to convince their peers.  However, older people’s influence stems from their position as experts in a particular area – the wise counsel who can provide expert advice and information on products and categories.

To reach them, you obviously need to understand where they congregate – and this will vary from sector to sector.  However, by carefully matching a sample of international viewers with non-viewers, we were able to show that international TV viewers provide brands with a multiplier effect in every category.  These people LOVE talking about brands! But more importantly, their conversations are more likely to influence others to buy or try a certain brand.

The biggest learning for us, though, was that we had probably underestimated how many brand conversations take place.  It seems that whether we are talking to mum on the phone, to a colleague after work or liking something on Facebook, we are not shy about ‘talking brand’.  Indeed, if we chat about cars, we’re likely to bring more than three brands into the conversation!  The important thing for brands to take from this is the need to broaden the net of their Word of Mouth marketing – there is a world of consumer conversations out there.

However, if you want to know which brand was the most talked about you’re going to have to take a look at the report yourself.

Belinda Barker is Director at BSB Media and Chairperson at inTV.