Word of mouth or “buzz” marketing is by no means a new concept. For years people have been passing on their opinions and recommendations about products and brands to family, friends and others.
It has always been highly valued by advertisers as a form of communication with high source credibility. So why does it deserve special attention now? Well, some things are changing…
First, the abundance of new online platforms such as blogs and social networking sites means that the current consumer generation has broader social networks than ever before, creating countless opportunities to share information and spread word-of-mouth recommendations. Facebook, for example, has over 90-million active users worldwide. Consumers are no longer passive, but in control.
Additionally, fragmentation and multiplicity of buying options have given consumers an unlimited selection when it comes to the products and brands they choose.
So whilst word of mouth has always existed, it seems to have a bigger impact now on the way in which consumers make purchasing decisions than ever before, and therefore has even more value as communication.
Traditional media planning is based on first contact. But what about the people that they reach? What we are talking about is using word of mouth as a complementary medium to extend the reach of an advertising campaign. While consumers welcome and often actively seek word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family, at the same time they are providing recommendations of their own. Some people have a greater predilection to do this than others.
Target Group Index (TGI) recently started carrying questions designed to identify the consumers who have the greatest potential influence on others. The questions cover a range of product sectors: clothes, food, healthy living, household products, pharmaceutical products, alcoholic drinks, toiletries, home furniture/furnishings, financial services, cars, mobile phones, TV and video/audio equipment.
Borrowing some terminology from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, we can use TGI to identify three types of word-of-mouth transmitters: connectors, mavens and salesmen.
The next logical step is to narrow down the target audience further by defining a group of word-of-mouth “champions” for each of the product sectors. This definition combines the responses from all three questions – those who talk to many different people and who can give a large amount of information about the products, and who are very likely to convince others about their opinions.
An interesting point that we found was that championship tends to be specialist in nature – in other words, people who are champions tend to have this status in one or two sectors only.
Word-of-mouth champions discriminate by gender: Men are more likely to be champions of categories like cars, phones, finance, TV and audio equipment and alcoholic beverages; women in categories such as clothes, toiletries, food, pharmaceutical and household products.
The value of targeting and influencing these word-of-mouth champions – assuming that the messages they pass on will be positive ones – is potentially enormous, because they can act as brand advocates. Is a brand well-placed to do this however?
Any word-of-mouth marketing activity by advertisers will have much greater credibility if the champions are already convinced by the brand and if this is the case, they are more likely to carry positive messages forward.
It is of critical importance that any new approach to audience measurement is measurable as well as innovative, and this is what TGI has set out to achieve with our word-of-mouth system.
As mentioned previously, traditional media planning models are based on the first contact. This new method considers not only the people that can be reached with a marketing campaign, but also the extension into the people they themselves can reach, and seeks to place a real value on this, which can then be used to inform mediaplanning decisions.
Our method involves the calculation of Gross Amplification Points (GAPs) to sit alongside the well-established measurement of Gross Rating Points (GRPs). For the purpose of setting up our model, we have made the following assumptions:
• Word-of-mouth “champions” are worth, on average, three times as much to us for reaching members of our target audience;
• Other influencers (in other words all “connectors”, “mavens” and “salesmen” who are not “champions”) are worth, on average, twice as much to us to reach members of our target audience.
In practice, a planner might choose to apply a different set of weights to the different word-of mouth groups (and our estimate is probably on the conservative side); however, we are making that assumption here for the purpose of illustration.
An example is used to demonstrate how the amplification factor works. We’re focusing on two publications with very similar readership levels among category users. The category is vitamin users, and the print titles we have chosen to look at are The Daily Telegraph and the Reader’s Digest, both in the UK.
So, although the standard readership level amongst vitamin users for The Daily Telegraph is higher than that for Reader’s Digest, when we take into account the number of amplified contacts, Reader’s Digest performs slightly better than The Daily Telegraph.
This example illustrates the potential augmentation of a message that might result from the word-of-mouth effect. We can extend the concept into the construction of print schedules, by optimising them to perform well among word-of-mouth “champions” in any given sector. The amplified contacts can be used to calculate what we are calling GAPs, in the same way as we would use standard reach figures to calculate GRPs.
Taking this approach into consideration could not only result in different media decisions being taken, but could well be used by media owners as a powerful tool for supporting advertisement sales.
Barbara Cooke is co-founder of Target Group Index (TGI). This piece is based on a presentation made by Polly Carter of the KMR Group.
- This article first appeared in The Media magazine (October 2008).
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