Blessed be the word of mouth (and mouse)

‘It’s good to talk’, Bob Hoskins used to say in TV ads for BT. Well, if it was good then, it’s bloody marvellous now. We have probably never ‘talked’ more in the widest sense of the word. As technology has expanded, so have our means to talk. So the chatter on pillows, at bars, and over watercoolers that we always did has been supplemented by the chatter we now commit to the internet or via the ‘phones that are rarely more than a thumb’s reach away. Our day-to-day tête-à-têtes and heart-to-hearts don’t have to be conducted eye-to-eye or face-to-face anymore (although at least 90% of brand conversations take place offline).

Talking is unique to humans and there are many reasons we practise it: to seduce, to impress, to complain, to insult, to suggest, to warn, to avoid having to talk to someone else who is in the room and whom we don’t like or have made a drunken mistake with. And new research by Data2Decisions, commissioned by us, has examined a very specific subject that we seem to enjoy talking about: brands.

Brands are no shrinking violets; they want to be talked about. Every brand wants to become a household name, a readily accessible linguistic touchpoint that gets used in conversation – ‘it does what it says on the tin’, ‘simples’, the future’s bright’, ‘calm down, dear’. Few people actually start a conversation desperately wanting to talk about brands except lanyarded delegates at marketing conferences or the seriously weird. But brands do enter and enrich our conversation with ease; they are a normal part of our day-to-day discourse, part of the grammar of modern speech.

The research – called ‘POETIC’ (‘Paid, Owned, Earned: TV’s Influence Calculated’) – examined what things brands do that lead to people talking about them – that is, in addition to the heritage, market and seasonal factors which make up an ongoing level of talk which involves brands (some of which will have been influenced by previous brand activity of course – like my Bob Hoskins quote above).

POETIC examined over half a million data points for 36 brands across three of the biggest brand categories – retail, finance, and drink – including data from word of mouth specialists Keller Fay, YouGov’s Brand Index, social media monitor Brandwatch, and data directly from brands.

The main finding was that, in the categories the research looked at, paid-for advertising was responsible for driving three quarters (72%) of all the new conversations about brands (TV advertising was behind the majority of this). The rest of the new – or incremental – conversations were generated by PR activity, events, brand news or changes to products or services.

In recent years there has been a fair amount of talk in the ad industry about the power of word of mouth, especially because of the readily accessed and highly visible chat that takes place online. But we shouldn’t confuse where the conversation takes place with what actually caused it; we don’t credit the pillow, bar or watercooler, yet some do seem to think that Facebook makes all the conversations that take place on it happen.

It is true that getting a brand talked about adds sales and profit to a brand (some brand conversation will inevitably be negative from time to time, of course, so brands need to create a big store of positive chat and goodwill first to balance it). What is clear from the research is that conversations about brands don’t just appear out of thin air; brands have to pay for people to say.

  • Lindsey Clay
    Lindsey Clay
    CEO, Thinkbox
  • Posted under
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