coke

A load of WOM-bull

As Uncle Bulgaria could have told you, it’s a lifetime’s work clearing up the rubbish that litters the marketing landscape.  One of the current topics flapping annoyingly in the breeze is all the nonsense uttered about ‘word of mouth’, or WOM for short.

Most weeks you’ll find a story about some brand abandoning brand advertising and instead investing in a WOM strategy.  Last year, I attended two conferences where the same speaker – a renowned expert in the social media space – put up a chart headed “Word of mouth is the new television”.  

It’s difficult to know quite where to start with such a statement, but I’ll have a go.

It makes the frankly barking assumption that the ‘old’ television – i.e. real television – is being replaced; it thinks of media experiences as neat little silos that don’t overlap; and it fails to recognise that ‘word of mouth’ of any significance cannot exist in a vacuum and relies on the media it is apparently ‘replacing’ to provide the oxygen.

Part of the problem is that practitioners in this space see WOM as a new media channel, primarily via social media online.  But WOM has existed since the dawn of language. It has always been part of the marketing ‘eco-system’ and it is indeed very important.  At least we can agree on that.

New research from US WOM specialists Keller Fay puts the debate into focus. They have produced a WOM monitoring tool, based on the reported conversations of over 36,000 people. Not only does the research demonstrate the huge influence WOM has on our brand perceptions and experiences, it also highlights where these conversations are taking place and which brands they feature, as well as what causes them.

Only 6% of brand-related conversations take place online.  A further 15% are conducted on the ‘phone, whilst over three quarters are conducted  via our preferred social media platform: face-to-face.

Another sobering thought is that the conversations digerati might be having among themselves are not necessarily a reflection of the wider world. The top categories for brand-related conversations are food and dining, followed by media and entertainment. Technology is sixth on the list. Similarly, the top five talked about brands are Coke, Pepsi, Wal-Mart and two telecoms companies; not a Twitter or Apple amongst them.

But perhaps the most exciting finding for those of us in the marketing industry is that almost half of all consumer brand conversations refer directly to those brands’ marketing or media activity, and that the biggest single factor influencing those conversations is good old brand advertising.

If we bring into the mix TV’s ability to create talkability and ‘buzz’ around brands (as demonstrated by both the IPA ‘Marketing in the Era of Accountability’ study and YouGov’s Brand Index data) then we realise how much we need tools to identify and optimise these amplification effects.

Our recent research with Facebook started to explore the rich rewards available to brands which recognise and nurture the relationship between TV ads and facilitated WOM.

The good news is that the IPA Touchpoints study will be including metrics based around the Keller Fay findings in this year’s data. I’m looking forward to using it, not least to  finally bin the ridiculous notion that TV and word of mouth are unrelated and replacements for each other, rather than the fabulously complementary phenomena that they are.

  • Dave Brennan
    Dave Brennan
    Former Research and Strategy Director
  • Posted under
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