Word of mouth influence is older than the apostles, but the advent of the Internet has taken it to new levels. Of the 24% of adult consumers who say they ‘regularly’ make online purchases, twice as many say they ‘regularly’ seek advice from others before buying than adults who never or occasionally purchase online.
Peer-to-peer communication is most influential to consumers’ decisions across the seven product categories (Car/Truck, Electronics, Apparel/Clothing, Groceries, Medicine, Telecom and Eating Out) that were measured in nearly every age group, but it was especially true of younger people, many of whom belong to one or more social networks such as Facebook, Blackbook2, Myspace or Xanga. Research shows that 18-34 consumers are especially influenced by the opinions of their friends in the categories of ‘electronics’ and ‘eating out’. Friends or social networks for those 18-24 are even more pronounced with over 50% of purchases influence the figures.
The Viral Bandwagon:
With figures like these, it is little wonder that online and offline marketers are racing to build a marketing infrastructure and measurement systems to enable more effective word of mouth marketing campaigns. Everyone from Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp to Carnival Cruises is building – or buying -- a social network. According to Emarketer, 43% of marketers are planning to use a word of mouth marketing campaign within the next 6 months.
But What Do Consumers Want To Talk About?
According to Blogpulse (Nielsen Buzzmetrics), only a fraction of the online conversations concern brands and products. This raises the question, ‘how can marketers consistently give consumers the tools for initiating dialogs that influence brand standing and sales?’ Do we, as marketers really know how to translate brand strategies into ‘viral’ messages?
Traditional market research is not a lot of help in this new “Viral" world. Consider for a moment that the basic tools of market research are about as foreign to social marketing as corporate procurement is to EBay.
- Recruit random samples of strangers
- Put them in an artificial environments
- Ask them to reacte to marketer devised creative ideas or worse, ‘concept statements’
- Control the dialog with little ability to capture consumer language or emotion
- Allow little respondent interaction
Identifying "Viral" Potential:
Social marketing (influence Pillars) is about understanding what consumers find worthy of talking to others about in the environment where those conversations take place – social networks. Social Pillars include music, clothing, sports, culture, etc.
Working in partnership with an existing networks, identifying respondents by their interests and viewing conversations so you can identify which ideas have the greatest ‘viral’ potential.
It Starts With A Community:
Brands that already have an online community are natural candidates for using the Social Marketing to gain insights about how consumers interact – or would like to interact – to spread the word about the brands they love.
We have identified thousands of brand communities within its network covering a wide range of brands and topics, everything from Apple to Kraft Easy Mac to soap operas. For instance, with no marketing effort at all, 650 communities have sprung up to share experiences about Jeep alone! There are nearly 20,000 people who initiated or joined a group with the word ‘soap opera’ in the name.
There are numbers of Urban boards that have been responsible for the start of "Viral" communications for brands. Starbury Sneakers success is due to these boards. Understand - Brand (sales) success starts in Urban communities and spreads to suburban communities. Hush Puppies is another great example of the power of Urban "Trend Setters" and "Influencers".
Companies that have started a customer or consumer panel are in an especially good position to explore opportunities for viral marketing. For example, Sam’s Club has built a panel of small business members who are eager to connect with similar like-minded business people. However, any online community can provide a starting point.
Blurring The Line Between Research And Marketing:
Researchers have always known that the mere act of asking a question influences the response. Social Network Marketing takes this basic insight and leverages it to not only gain insights, but to influence the network. By studying which ideas stimulate brand conversations, marketers will be better able to consistently identify the most powerful viral ideas. Consumers want to talk about brands and products. Now marketers have a way of learning how to influence the process.