What people are saying about your brand matters – whether that’s online via social media or offline in face-to-face conversations. Both are of equal importance according to Brad Fay, Ed Keller, Rock Larkin and Koen Pauwels, writing for MIT Sloan Management Review.
They have carried out extensive research into how consumers drive other people’s buying decisions, studying information on more than 500 top international brands across 15 industries – 21 of those particularly closely.
SOCIAL MEDIA vs WORD OF MOUTH
There’s a common belief that the simple-to-quantify likes, shares and comments seen on social media are all that matters in terms of consumer conversations. That’s far from the case, according to the group, who measured the impact of word-of-mouth recommendation, or dissent, by conducting in-depth consumer surveys, asking people what they had said about brands in face-to-face conversations the day before.
They also looked at how people engaged with specific marketing initiatives on Facebook and Twitter and whether they had positive or negative reactions to those drives.
ONLINE AND OFFLINE CONVERSATIONS
The group concluded that both online and offline conversations have a major impact; 10% of decisions to purchase goods from the 21 companies could be attributed to word of mouth and 9% to social media interaction. Overall that means 19% of purchase decisions were down to customers talking to each other.
Although online conversations are more universally visible, the group’s survey found that two-thirds of people talk once a day to a friend, neighbour or relative about brands, as opposed to the 7% who tweet, post or comment online.
Overall there was minimal inter-relationship between online and offline, meaning that each area requires a distinct measuring, managing and marketing approach.
What kind of product or service you are selling – and how much it costs the consumer – also makes a difference. Surprisingly, the group found that face-to-face conversations with friends were far more influential in sales of tech brands like Apple and Intel, where more investment is required, while social-media recommendations drove sales for food brands like Campbell’s, where expense isn’t such a key factor.
HOW TO SHAPE A NEW MARKETING STRATEGY FOR YOUR COMPANY
Encouraging more positive conversations and recommendations, both online and offline, is a strong basis for an upgraded marketing approach. So how do you get started?
1) Link data about conversations or recommendations to results. If yours is a large company you can use your analytics team to collect and evaluate relevant data. Smaller concerns can get a lot of information from online customer reviews.
If they are largely positive, look at incentives to increase engagement with those customers. If comments are less encouraging, ask the writers to either tell you how you could improve, or to share what they like about your product or service.
2) Discover which satisfied customers could have most effect on sales and work with them. “Working with a major financial company in the United Kingdom, for example, we mined large databases for insights and found that focusing on the needs of affluent women and targeting them in marketing were the keys to generating the conversations that led to new accounts.”
Small surveys of customers about whether they recommend the company and why can also be helpful, as can targeting customers with large social media networks.
3) Take a creative approach to spark more conversation. Study social-media posts and reviews about your brand to assess the language people use when talking about your products or services. Use an offline survey to assess its appeal, then use the themes and language for your own messages. Or you could brainstorm ways to inspire a viral online conversation.
4) Examine the conversation potential of all points of consumer contact. Look at different areas of engagement, such as your product displays in shops. Could you encourage a selfie campaign in store with savings-coupon incentives for those who share branded images with friends? Or could people on your email list could get a bonus for sharing your message and inviting comments?
If you want your business to grow, it’s important to know how your customers can influence and potentially increase your sales. Taking time to talk to them, and analyse their responses, will give you valuable pointers for the direction your marketing needs to take.