By Jouko Ahvenainen, co-founder of Xtract and author of The Social Media Marketing book.
In marketing today, gaining a positive word-of-mouth effect for your brand has become a sort of Holy Grail. One needs only think of the iPhone, and how often it comes up in conversation, to understand the intoxicating effect of social trending and word-of-mouth recommendations for products.
There are quantitative reasons why marketers have come to view word-of-mouth marketing as a winning goal – when it’s done properly, it has proven far more effective than traditional forms of marketing. In fact, some studies have shown that social influence is more important than any other factor in consumers' purchasing decisions.
One research on car-buying showed that 71 per cent of car buyers are influenced by what their friends said, whereas only 17 per cent were influenced by TV ads.
In today’s connected world, talking to each other is easier than ever. The people who influence our purchasing decisions no longer need to be a close friend, family member or business associate.
It is now open to people we social network with; a follower on Twitter or a professional contact on LinkedIn. We need not have met; if they’re in our network and have engendered a basic level of trust, we tend to listen to their opinions on what is ‘hot’ and what is ‘not.’ And we can broadcast our opinions to large groups of people much more easily with these same tools.
Understanding the benefit of the tactic is easy; going about gaining word-of-mouth momentum for your brand is not so straightforward. At the heart of it, your product or service must be good – in some industries, even excellent – to capture this effect. Otherwise the exact opposite can happen and reputation damage is a real risk.
Companies like Ryanair, not known for putting the customer at heart, have probably suffered more than any in our Twittering, blogging, friending and following society. Perhaps this explains the first loss in that company’s history in Q2 09.
There is also undoubtedly an element of magic in what becomes trendy and what doesn’t. Serendipity can be a marketer’s best friend or most elusive myth. Some publishing companies have begun hiring actors to sit on public transport and loudly proclaim the merits of a book. If not done extremely smoothly, this can backfire due to the lost elements of magic, spontaneity and honesty.
Looking at it as pragmatically as possible, starting a positive word-of-mouth effect – and one which can be measured, so can be accepted as a reliable marketing tactic - requires:
-Identifying who within the social ecosystem of your customers is influential. In this way, any company can consider its customer base as a social network; we aren’t talking just about Facebook users
-Targeting these influential people (what can be called ‘Alphas’) with campaigns that are most relevant to them, which they are likely to want to share with their network
-Making real-time marketing decisions based upon actual data and the way it’s analysed
It may not be the easiest marketing campaign to implement the first time. But some of our homegrown research has shown that marketing and advertising campaigns are 20% more effective when focused on the viral, word-of-mouth effect.
Other studies have shown that in the realm of word-of-mouth, if a person who is already deemed influential recommends a product or service that recommendation is 8% more likely to be taken up. So it can be a very valuable investment to get to know your customers a bit better to understand who your Alphas are.
At Xtract, we have developed technology that determines measure of influence by looking at each individual in the social network as a 3D profile. This profile is built on demographic, behavioural and social networking attributes.
Using these three dimensions we can see factors such as how connected a person is, how outward facing their communications are, and therefore how influential they may be over their friends. Friends tend to make group decisions.
For example, a group of friends may be motivated to jump from one mobile operator to another to chase a better deal, to gain a new handset such as the iPhone, or just to gain better service. But undoubtedly people move in packs and this turbulence of customer churn is harmful to even the most solid business.
The first steps to starting the path towards word-of-mouth marketing are:
-Consider utilising analytics technology that can tell you more about your customer in a social context, as discussed above
-Use more viral forms of marketing that will make people talk
-Measure the 'mindshare' your marketing programmes are achieving - not just the number of people who may see it, but how they feel about it - through Twitter search and similar crowdsourcing tools
Improve your Social Media Marketing skills by signing up for the UTalkMarketing Social Media Skills Accelerator.
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