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How to track 'word of mouth'

How to track 'word of mouth'

By Fiona Blades, Chief Experience Officer at MESH Planning

Everyone’s talking about Word of Mouth.  WARC is devoting a conference to it in December as well as setting up WOM awards. 

In the last 18 months WOMUK was set up following the success of WOMMA in the US.  The Net Promoter Score has been widely adopted as a measure of business success and specialist Word of Mouth agencies like Wildfire, have succeeded in creating powerful campaigns, such as that for the launch of new Rice Pringles which succeeded in getting over 4000 of its 5000 selected influencers to hold a Pringles party on the same day.

Intuitively most marketers have always believed in the power of WOM but the explosion of blogs and social networks has brought WOM right out into the open. Yet only around 5% of WOM happens online with around 95% person to person. 

And whereas, in a recent study by Tuned In Research, 10% of people trusted the information on an online forum or discussion board, 70% trusted a friend, colleague or family member.

However, that doesn’t mean brands should underestimate the power of online WOM and measurement is key to truly unlocking its value. But as Nima Yassini, Head of Digital at RMG Connect, commented in ‘How to use blogs to plan campaigns’, the technology currently used to measure online WOM can’t pick up on sarcasm. 

The online measurement tools give us some indications of how much buzz there is about a brand but not necessarily its effect.

Measuring WOM properly is vital to its growth as a marketing discipline, which is why in the US, WOMMA has created a Framework for Measuring Word of Mouth. 

This Framework is broad enough to allow for different research approaches to be used but tightly defines things like the WOMUnit (the WOM event), the Venue (where the WOM took place) and Outcome (what happened as a result).  This gives us a common currency to use and WOMMA regularly publish books on Measuring WOM.  Volume 4 is due out in November 2008.

Offline measurement of WOM can be extremely difficult for a brand to capture.  People quickly forget conversations they’ve had, so when asked to remember how many conversations and with whom, they make a wild guess.

Often people don’t recognise the chat they had with a friend about switching mobile network or popping out to buy a bar of chocolate as a WOM occasion. 

And in asking questions to try to identify how influential a person is, the truth can get buried under their own perception of how they want others to see them.

New research tools are starting to emerge that move beyond claimed behaviour and recall.  TROI, Touchpoints Return on Investment, captures experiences as they happen using a participant’s own mobile phone. 

Each participant agrees to text whenever they see, hear or experience anything to do with one of the brands in the study, creating ‘Experience Data’. 

This new Experience Data picks up everything from ‘TV advertising’ to ‘Seeing in Store’ to ‘Product Usage’ to ‘Conversation’.  This not only means that WOM can be picked up (whether person to person or online), but it can also be put into context. 

It can show how much WOM takes place in a market versus, for example, TV advertising (WOM tends to be a big touchpoint in relation to TVs but smaller for soft drinks, for instance).

This method can also identify what triggers the WOM, for example a TV ad or loss of network coverage, and what happens as a result of the WOM, for example, a visit to the website. 

Perhaps most importantly Experience Data shows how positive or negative the WOM Unit is (participants text the brand, the occasion and how it made them feel).  Unless the emotional response is captured in real-time it’s lost forever. 

It’s difficult enough to recall seeing a piece of advertising or taking part in a conversation, but Dr Andy Wells, a psychologist at the London School of Economics, has explained that it is almost impossible to recall emotion. 

Yet we know that the emotional response to WOM can have a big impact on brand equity.  Those people who had a positive conversation about the network provider 3 were found to have improved their favourability towards the brand significantly. The reverse was true for those that had a negative conversation about 3.

Within the last two years there have not only been an explosion of new research tools to measure buzz online, the industry is starting to see real-time approaches that can get much closer to the total WOM going on.

As new ways to measure WOM emerge and the industry gathers a body of evidence about its effectiveness, it will enable brands to more confidently implement strategies to generate it and to harness the organic conversations within their markets. 

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