Offline WOM Impressions Now Stands at 14 billion per week, an Increase of 6%
WOM Sentiment is More Positive, an Increase of 13%
Billions and BillionsBillions and Billions was the name of a book by the famed astronomer Carl Sagan. It is also the amount of weekly word of mouth impressions about products, services and brands. Then, as now, people are often shocked by the sheer volume of people talking about brands. Back in 2007, there were an eye popping 13.2 billion weekly offline word of mouth impressions about brands. (By offline, we mean conversations taking place face-to-face, phone, emailing, texting, IM’ing, video chat – in other words, via any channel other than posting on social media.) That, of course, was when Facebook was in its infancy, having just opened itself to anyone, and there was no Twitter, no Instagram, and generally online social media was quite nascent. So where do things stand today? The volume of offline WOM impressions now stands at 14 billion per week, an increase of 6%. The takeaway: Far from eroding offline WOM, social media and offline WOM coexist quite well.
Changing WOM Landscape by Category: Food/dining is the Biggest Gainer, Automotive and Telecom Saw the Biggest DropsThe top 5 categories for offline WOM in 2007 remain largely the same today. All have about the same volume today as then, with the exception of food/dining which has grown dramatically:
- Media/entertainment: 1.8b weekly WOM impressions, 97% of what it was in 2007
- Food/dining: 1.8b, +25%
- Beverages: 1.4b, +4%
- Retail/apparel: 1.3b, +1%
- Technology: 1b, +1% from 2007; Sports/Rec/Hobbies: 1.4b, +5% in 2020
Offline Sentiment is Quite Positive – Both Then and Now – and Becoming Even More SoUnlike social media, where people come to share the best of their lives but also express their frustrations (often to the brands themselves), offline WOM is different. We have long understood that the “ask” in offline WOM is for advice about good products and services to buy. In 2007, nearly two-thirds of offline WOM was mostly positive, while less than 10% was mostly negative. The overall net sentiment was +41. (We calculate net sentiment by subtracting mostly negative and mixed — (some positive and some negative — from the mostly positive.) Today, the net sentiment is even higher: +47, representing an increase of 13%. This is on the strength of increasing positive WOM — +7%. Fully 69% of all offline WOM conversations are now positive. Only 7% are mostly negative. Categories with the highest net sentiment are personal care/beauty, children’s products, beverages, food/dining, and household products. All have net sentiment scores in the high 50’s or low 60s, and all have seen increases since 2007. Personal care/beauty’s net sentiment is up 17%. Categories with below average net sentiment include health/healthcare, sports/recreation/hobbies, telecom and financial services. Notably, telecom’s net sentiment was a paltry +10 back in 2007 and has now risen sharply to +33, a gain of 226%. Health/healthcare’s net sentiment has declined by 10%, to +23.
Offline WOM Was Mostly Face-to-Face Then. And Still Is.Our firm gained notoriety when we published statistics in our early years that over 90% of WOM takes place offline. At the time, 74% was face-to-face, and another 17% was by phone. Today, even during the pandemic, 66% of WOM is face-to-face, and phone remains even at 17%, for a total of 83%. In the year prior to the pandemic, face-to-face was at 71%, nearly identical to where it was nearly 15 years earlier. Of the remainder, the next biggest factor is IM or texting, which accounts for nearly 8% today (they were less than 3% in 2007), video chats account for 3% today (and were unmeasured then), and 3% take place on social media (vs. 1% in 2007).
Digital Media Drives Offline WOMMedia and marketing play an important role in driving word of mouth conversation. What people see on TV or in digital, at the point of sale or in promotions, or via email, radio, magazines or direct mail – all help to spark people to talk. In our early days, TV was the biggest media driver, followed by digital media of all types. Today, digital is by far the biggest force, growing by 116% since 2007. Nearly a quarter of all offline WOM now include people talking about things they see in digital media. It is a phenomenon we have dubbed, from URL to IRL: How Digital Marketing Drive Conversation, Online and in Real Life, noting that “if you’re a brand, you need an entirely new and holistic approach that bridges the online and offline divide.” TV, meanwhile, remains the second most important factor, but at a level that is close to 20% less than it was ‘back in the day.’
Real Relationships Still Rule, Even in a Digital MarketplaceWe wrote a book a few years ago called The Face-to-Face Book: Why Real Relationships Rule in a Digital Marketplace. It was true then, and as these statistics attest, it remains as true today. Don’t get us wrong, we completely believe in the importance of social media. We also know that it’s not a replacement for offline WOM. That’s why we created our TotalSocial platform, providing an integrated view of offline and online. As our analytics demonstrate, the two are very different AND about equally important in driving business outcomes. Our purpose is to sound a clarion call for an integrated, holistic approach to social engagement that measures and activates both offline and online advocacy, and to avoid the trap of focusing disproportionately or even exclusively on social media at the expense of offline. As our long-time client and friend, Greg Pharo, Global Director, Media Analytics & Advertising Research at The Coca-Cola Company said in a recent Q&A when we asked him about the relationship between social media and offline WOM: “It’s like breathing: we have two lungs and we need to use both of them. Social conversations are important, but offline WOM is even more important. We should measure both using fit-for-purpose methods and understand that integrated marketing communication planning requires both to succeed.”
It’s our 15th Anniversary. Making it 15 years as a business is a pretty good excuse to celebrate and recognize a few of our advocates who are innovators and acclaimed marketing leaders. We are hoping that this year’s anniversary can be a great opportunity to look back – as we also look forward – and inspire during an otherwise tumultuous year. We caught up with four of our earliest clients who share their expertise and thoughts on the importance of consumer conversation data and word-of-mouth marketing in driving business outcomes. We hope you enjoy the following Q&A interviews conducted by Ed Keller, CEO of Engagement Labs. Click on the names to read the entirety of each interview.
On deploying WOM as part of communications and media planning or evaluation“I think there were 3 main ways we deployed the learning at SMG
- We formalized the need to include WOM in our accountability work, both on and offline, how much volume and what was the positive/negative splits over time.
- We formalized the need to include both on and offline in our communication planning insight work, how and in our insight work, what was driving the WOM – topics, sources, people
- We used the data for important but ad hoc questions that came up over time, for example to see how much the financial crisis in 2008-9 and the ad spend of the companies in those categories impacted two significant industries (auto and finance) in terms of brand favorability and advocacy. We used the data to support of continued ad spend but changes in strategy for the brands that we worked on.”
On value of word-of-mouth research/insights and undertaking serious modeling with Engagement Labs word of mouth data
“There were three very important findings. The most important one was that WOM was almost as important as media in driving sales. Second, we found that WOM works both ways: positive WOM increases sales, while negative WOM subtracts from sales. And third, there are significant synergy interactions between WOM and advertising: advertising generates additional conversations, and conversations make advertising more effective at driving sales.”
On social media and its relationship to offline WOM
“It’s like breathing: we have two lungs and we need to use both of them. Social conversations are important, but offline WOM is even more important. We should measure both using fit-for-purpose methods and understand that integrated marketing communication planning requires both to succeed.”Click here to read Greg’s full Q&A interview.
On importance of word-of-mouth today and how the advertising world embraces it
“I think today word of mouth is more important than ever, as consumers have become increasingly wary of “fake news” and product reviews. I am concerned that the industry mistakenly views social conversation as word of mouth. As Engagement Labs proves daily, the overwhelming majority of brand conversations do not occur online. Word of mouth is still driven by face to face (or Zoom) conversations between friends and family. Word of mouth continues to be the #1 influencer on purchase decisions. NUMBER ONE!!!”Click here to read Gregg’s full Q&A interview.
On word-of-mouth measurement and use of Engagement Labs data
“What struck us was that WOM was not just driven by the brand’s advertising, there were competitive brand interactions too. This meant that a brand’s WOM didn’t just depend on its advertising and other activities, it could be eroded by competitive marketing communications too. We also included a brand’s WOM weekly data in our Marketing Mix Models, and we clearly saw its sales impact there in two ways. First, advertising drove both sales and WOM, but, interestingly, second, the WOM also subsequently drove sales as consumers talked about the brand.”Click here to read Graeme’s full Q&A interview.
Full Q&A Interviews with Ed Keller
Kate SirkinKeller: Hi Kate. It’s been 15 years since we launched what was then called TalkTrack. Social media listening was just beginning with firms like BuzzMetrics; we were the first to measure offline word of mouth. You and your colleagues at Starcom Mediavest were very enthusiastic about the idea and became our first client. First, I want to say thank you. I am forever grateful. Can you think back to 2005 and recall what made you and your clients interested in word of mouth at that time? Who were the clients who were most interested and why? Sirkin: We were aware of the importance of word of mouth both on and offline from our channel planning tools (Market Contact Audit/Touchpoints) and while we had good social data, we did not have a continuous way to track the volume and quality of the off line word of mouth for our client’s brands and categories. We had very particular interest in the travel, electronics and beverage categories. Do you recall what was particularly valuable/notable about our word of mouth research/insights? Sirkin: A few items were particularly interesting, the volume of word of mouth and the differences by category and the variability over time, which helped us in our measurement work. Additionally we saw the large differences in the technology category between online and offline which helped us to develop strategies to take advantage of the online conversations and leverage them in offline media to drive more offline conversations. How did the agency deploy WOM as part of your comms and media planning or evaluation? Many people still wonder whether word of mouth can in fact be activated. So any insights you can share about then . . . and now . . . are appreciated. Sirkin: I think there were 3 main ways we deployed the learning at SMG
- We formalized the need to include WOM in our accountability work, both on and offline, how much volume and what was the positive/negative splits over time.
- We formalized the need to include both on and offline in our communication planning insight work, how and in our insight work, what was driving the WOM – topics, sources, people
- We used the data for important but ad hoc questions that came up over time, for example to see how much the financial crisis in 2008-9 and the ad spend of the companies in those categories impacted two significant industries (auto and finance) in terms of brand favorability and advocacy. We used the data to support of continued ad spend but changes in strategy for the brands that we worked on.
Greg PharoKeller: Hi Greg. It’s been 15 years since we launched what was then called TalkTrack. Social media listening was just beginning with firms like BuzzMetrics; we were the first to measure offline word of mouth. You and your colleagues at AT&T were very enthusiastic about the idea and became early and long-term clients. First, I want to say thank you. I am forever grateful. Can you think and recall what made you interested in word of mouth at that time? Pharo: Ed, our customers kept telling us that that recommendations and advice from friends and family were major reasons for switching carriers or getting a new type of mobile phone. We knew that word of mouth propelled our business, but we didn’t have a way to measure it or diagnose what types of conversations consumers were having about us and competing brands. So as soon as some of us in the market research department at AT&T/Cingular heard about TalkTrack we were very excited. Fran Linnane, our new head of market research, decided to give it a try – this was right before Apple decided to launch the first iPhone. We were playing in the hottest consumer category at the time, and its was absolutely necessary to have an insightful yet disciplined approach for understanding conversations and recommendations. Do you recall what was particularly valuable/notable about our word of mouth research/insights? In particular, you were the first client do undertake serious modeling with our word of mouth data. What did you find and why were the findings significant to AT&T? Pharo: We were getting a lot of value using TalkTrack for diagnosing consumer conversations. And, as a marketing scientist, I was particularly intrigued by the depth and richness of the TalkTrack data set. It got me thinking that TalkTrack’s WOM could be added into our AT&T Market Mix Model, side by side with media, pricing, distribution and other causal factors. We introduced the TalkTrack data into our MMM, and it went right in – it actually improved the model by reducing base effects and explaining more of our sales. There were three very important findings. The most important one was that WOM was almost as important as media in driving sales. Second, we found that WOM works both ways: positive WOM increases sales, while negative WOM subtracts from sales. And third, there are significant synergy interactions between WOM and advertising: advertising generates additional conversations, and conversations make advertising more effective at driving sales. A few years later we decided to try a new type of market mix modeling to see if media and WOM could explain not only our sales but also explain customer churn rates, Our hypothesis was that advertising might decrease churn and that negative WOM could increase it. We constructed what may have been the first churn-based MMM in our industry, and found that TalkTrack WOM data had a causal relationship to customer defections. Positive WOM was mathematically related to lowering churn, and negative WOM conversation increased it. Advertising also played a role in churn reduction: but our own advertising was much better at generating sales (new customers) than preventing customer churn, and customer service and product quality and pricing were important churn-determining factors. What changes to marketing or media strategy and execution did AT&T do as a result of the models that showed the importance of Word of Mouth? Pharo: We immediately realized the need to make our messages buzzworthy: make ads that people want to discuss and share with others. It became clear that ads which people talked about drove higher sales. It was one of the factors that inspired us to come up with more memorable characters in our ads and to use certain types of humor that got audiences laughing, talking and sharing. You were at AT&T when we started working together and now you are at Coca-Cola. Decisions about wireless purchases are considered purchases which you might expect word of mouth would help influence. What about at a fast-moving consumer good company such as Coke. Is WOM important in soft drinks as well, and if so why do you feel that is? Pharo: Beverages and telecommunications are about as far apart as categories can be. And yet, WOM is just as important for Coca-Cola as it is for AT&T. While beverages are considered “low consideration” purchases the truth is that people care a lot about what they put into their bodies – and they develop strong emotional attachments to food and drink. And what better way to understand emotions than to listen to what people are talking about? In fact, we have some of the most discussed brands in the world, with very high Brand Love scores. WOM is a wonderful way to understand dhow our brands motivate and impact consumers; which ad campaigns resonate with them; and how sponsorships activate consumer behavior. How does Coca-Cola look at the measurement of WOM and its role in marketing strategy and planning? Pharo: We aspire to have consumers love our brands. It’s not just about the purchase – it’s about the passion. Tracking emotional intensity requires more than just measuring impressions or shopping basket: we have to know what consumers feel deep inside if we are to understand what they love and what beverage experiences they desire. And what better way to do so than by listening to what they have to say? Social listening goes a long way – but we prefer to listen to consumers across all modes of conversation and all types of experiences. The voice of the consumer shapes new product plans, flavor formulation, packaging, distribution, brand personality, and so many other aspects of our brands. How do you see things today? Is word of mouth more or less important? How has it evolved? And how has the corporate embrace of word of mouth changed? Pharo: One of the biggest trends today is for companies to diversify beyond paid advertising for brand communication. We measure not just paid media impressions but also Earned and Owned interactions. WOM is the most significant form of Earned interactions, and C-suite executives increasingly want to activate a balanced approach to brand messaging using Paid-Owned-Earned. Brands are increasingly aware that experiential marketing holds great promise. There is not Nielsen-measured GRP for consumer experiences – but WOM is an excellent way to quantify and diagnose large-scale, sustained experiential marketing campaigns. How do you think about social media and its relationship to offline WOM? Pharo: It’s like breathing: we have two lungs and we need to use both of them. Social conversations are important, but offline WOM is even more important. We should measure both using fit-for-purpose methods and understand that integrated marketing communication planning requires both to succeed. SIGN ME UP TotalSocial Briefing
Gregg LiebmanKeller: Hi Gregg. It’s been 15 years since we launched what was then called TalkTrack. Social media listening was just beginning; we were the first to measure offline word of mouth. When you were at CNN you were very enthusiastic about the idea and became early and important client. First, I want to say thank you. I am forever grateful. Can you think and recall what made you interested in word of mouth and our work, at that time? Liebman: My role at CNN was to support their cross-platform ad sales efforts. We were looking for a syndicated solution to demonstrate the value of CNN viewers as influencers or brand ambassadors. Do you recall what was particularly valuable/notable about our word of mouth research/insights? And what the particular value was to CNN? Liebman: Part of our positioning at that time was that news is “social currency” and those in the know not only discuss politics, weather, news, etc., but are the same people evangelizing goods and services. The ability to report on Influencers at the brand level was unique and a compelling point of differentiation for TalkTrack. After you left CNN you became a client again at Telemundo. What do you recall about word of mouth among Hispanics and how it helped with ad sales there? Liebman: Hispanics were quickly becoming the “it” crowd – leading significant cultural change in the U.S. TalkTrack was a third-party respected data source that enabled us to quantify (put numbers) to this narrative. The data proved that Hispanics were leading the conversations about brands across every measured category. Our “Los Influyentes” presentation was highly effective in raising the importance of reaching Latinos beyond just their collective spending power. It was one of the sales initiatives I am most proud of. How do you see things today? Is word of mouth more or less important? And how has the advertising world’s embrace of word of mouth changed? Liebman: I think today word of mouth is more important than ever, as consumers have become increasingly wary of “fake news” and product reviews. I am concerned that the industry mistakenly views social conversation as word of mouth. As Engagement Labs proves daily, the overwhelming majority of brand conversations do not occur online. Word of mouth is still driven by face to face (or Zoom) conversations between friends and family. How do you think about social media and its relationship to offline WOM? Liebman: I think it’s fascinating that, according to your data, the two typically act independent of each other. I think offline WOM deserves the same, if not more, attention from Marketers than social media. Unfortunately, for most marketers, this is not the case. Is there anything else you’d like to add about the value of word of mouth and our measurement system? Liebman: Word of mouth continues to be the #1 influencer on purchase decisions. NUMBER ONE!!! The ability to see which media environment drives these valuable conversations should play a significant factor in media selection. Media agencies would be well-served to incorporate WOM measurement into their proprietary models. It might not be new and “sexy”, but WOM drives purchase decisions. It always has and it always will! SIGN ME UP TotalSocial Briefing
Graeme HuttonKeller: Hi Graeme. It’s been 15 years since we launched what was then called TalkTrack. Social media listening was just beginning with firms like BuzzMetrics; we were the first to measure offline word of mouth. You and your colleagues at UM were very enthusiastic about the idea and became early and long-term clients. First, I want to say thank you. I am forever grateful. Can you think and recall what made you and your clients interested in word of mouth at that time? Who were the clients who were most interested and why? Hutton: What triggered the interest in face-to-face word mouth, WOM, was the novelty of being able to track something that had previously often been thought of as untrackable. In other words, to know the previously unknowable, to quantify the unquantifiable. At the time Engagement Labs started, back in 2005, the relationship between advertising and WOM was not yet proven. Consequently, it was great to have a weekly series of consumer response data on WOM because we could align it to our weekly media weight and assess the relationship between the two. What was immediately apparent was that there was not a linear relationship between word of mouth, and an ad campaign but a multivariate one. In other words, looking solely at a brand’s total weekly media spend or weight did not yield a clear relationship with WOM. But a multiple regression showed an immediately different picture – even a simple multiple regression in Excel would reveal a clear relationship by media channel. Critically, the effect of advertising on WOM wasn’t dependent on the total media spend or activity, the impact on WOM varied by media channel. Typically, video and digital led this impact. We tended to focus on clients who were in high interest categories since it was easier to demonstrate the effect. Do you recall what was particularly valuable/notable about our word of mouth research/insights? Hutton: Yes, what was useful was to see, in any category, for example spirits, what was the relative lift in WOM caused by advertising for each brand. Some brands’ WOM was much more responsive to media advertising than others. This could be used as a measure of the relative ad effectiveness of a specific brand in a category. It provided a comparative metric of the ‘vibrancy’ or power of advertising for each brand. You used our data in your media models and found them to be good predictors of consumer behavior. Can you discuss what you did, what you found, and what it caused you to conclude about word of mouth and our word of mouth measurement? Hutton: What struck us was that WOM was not just driven by the brand’s advertising, there were competitive brand interactions too. This meant that a brand’s WOM didn’t just depend on its advertising and other activities, it could be eroded by competitive marketing communications too. At this time, little was understood about the power of advertising in driving WOM, indeed did it exist at all. Now we could see for a brand’s advertising that it definitely lifted its level of WOM. Advertising’s lift varied by brand. The first time we assessed it in detail, we saw a lift of about +30%, but equally it could be eroded by the competitive spend with the net effect that the actual level attributable to advertising was halved to just +15%. In other words, the impact of competitive Share of Voice was very visible and almost visceral! We also included a brand’s WOM weekly data in our Marketing Mix Models, and we clearly saw its sales impact there in two ways. First, advertising drove both sales and WOM, but, interestingly, second, the WOM also subsequently drove sales as consumers talked about the brand. How do you see things today? Is word of mouth more or less important? How has it evolved? Hutton: The world has shifted quite dramatically with the introduction of influencer marketing from about 2015. Previous to this, the industry often spoke about viral marketing, which currently is hardly referenced at all. Influencer marketing is a direct way of triggering consumer involvement. Today, UM has clear, undeniable evidence of how this new type of activation can directly influence a consumer’s consideration of a brand. As a result, influencer marketing has really come to the fore. One excellent book capturing the moment of change was Hit Makers by Derek Thompson, published in 2017. Hit Makers was to influencer marketing what Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, over a decade earlier, was to understanding the viral growth of a fan base and the general virality of trends. Hit Makers cleverly dissected the underlying reasons of how and why social media could be harnessed by one person, an influencer, who had an online following of millions to drive true influencer marketing and help build sales. We have real evidence to show that influencer marketing definitely drives the middle to lower end of the purchasing funnel. This is not to deny some of the criticisms of influencer marketing, but the principle of this form of word-of-mouth marketing definitely holds true. Is there anything else you’d like to add about the value of word of mouth and our measurement system? Hutton: One other area I like about the weekly tracking of face-to-face WOM is that it unambiguously tells us the consumer sentiment of a brand, and this also extends to detailed demographics, age, gender and so forth. This provides us with an important validation of the viral impact of our media and related activities.
Short-form video is quickly taking over social media apps and is changing not only the way users interact with each other but also how consumers interact with brands. The average time spent on mobile has increased to almost 5 hours per day in the US. Social media has evolved from status updates on Facebook and Twitter to highly engaging user-generated short-form video on apps like Snapchat and Instagram Reels. With the rise of Bytedance’s TikTok and its US-based competitor Triller, short-form video is more mainstream (and more addictive) than ever before, especially for Gen Z. Knowing that 49% of Teenagers have used TikTok, brands can’t afford to ignore these apps if they want to reach younger audiences. With the explosion of usage growth and no sign of it slowing down any time soon, it’s evident that short-form video creation and consumption is evolving with rising attention spent on these platforms. Expectedly, brands are quick to follow suit, leading to the parallel growth of advertising dollars spent on these video platforms. A recent report by InMobi revealed that time spent viewing video on mobile has increased x2.5 times in 5 years, while ad spending on mobile video has grown by over x7.5 times in the same period. eMarketer has forecasted that by 2022, mobile ad spending will account for almost 48% of all media spending by platform in the US. But it’s not enough for brands to be advertisers on these platforms. They need to participate in the content conversation on these apps in order to effectively reach Gen Z audiences. Brands that do not pivot to recognize the changing expectations of their consumers will become lost in the noise with diminishing ROI and increasing irrelevance. This participation is easier said than done. Apps like TikTok are harder to crack with their elusive algorithms and fleeting trends, making the Gen Z consumer difficult to reach. At QYOU, we have become expert at navigating this area for our brand partners with some special techniques of our own. For Gen Z there is no silo between social media and real-world chatter – but what gets talked about online is quite different from what gets talked about offline. Marketers should pay attention to both because analytics by Engagement Labs show the offline and online conversation each contribute about equally to business KPIs. The team at QYOU understands that the magic happens at the intersection of product, platform, and people. QYOU has spent the last few years connecting brands to consumers with creative influencer marketing campaigns and seamless integrations. From the start, QYOU ran successful influencer campaigns on Musical.ly (before it became TikTok), and won the ThinkLA IDEA award for Best Social Campaign in 2018 for our work for DreamWorks’ Trolls. QYOU has since provided hundreds of millions of views, engagements, and UGC activations for brands on these social platforms. More recently, QYOU partnered with Universal DreamWorks again to drive awareness and excitement for The Croods: A New Age on TikTok. The influencer and content campaign, supporting both the theatrical and premium video on demand releases, surpassed 110 million views with nearly 600,000 subscribers, making it the most followed movie channel in TikTok history.
“Influencers are an essential ingredient for brands looking to reach and engage with Gen Z audiences at scale. We are proud of our tried and true techniques that continually deliver outstanding results for our clients.” – Glenn Ginsburg, President of Global Partnerships, at QYOU.QYOU’s success is credited to the team’s expertise and focus on finding the right fit of brand, formats, influencers, and platform. Data is increasingly important to identify this fit, and at Engagement Labs, they are doing really solid work for their clients identifying the data that proves how effective and essential these platforms are for Gen Z.
“We work with high-profile social media, media and tech companies that demonstrates the value of our data, authority and expertise. In this next normal, we understand the difficulties many brands have in generating buzz among Gen Z and our data and analytics can help measure attribution and effectiveness behind their expenditures and objectives.” – Ed Keller, CEO at Engagement LabsIn 2021, brands will need all the help they can get from companies like QYOU and Engagement Labs to strategically prepare for drastic shifts in consumer preferences, including the incorporation of Live content marketing and e-commerce capabilities in order to stay connected to their target audience in meaningful (and profitable) ways. TikTok’s recent partnership with Shopify is already a major step in that direction. Brands need to participate in the conversation happening on offline and social video apps as both content creators and consumers. And with new technology in the mix in 2021, smart influencer marketing is essential. Request more information QYOU and TotalSocial
Word of mouth about retail and apparel is on the rise as the nation heads into the all-important holiday shopping season – Americans are engaging in 4% more offline WOM conversations about brands in this category over the past 8 weeks versus the same time a year earlier. Further, buzz about children’s products is up 7%, more than any other category measured by Engagement Labs. This compares favorably to an overall decline in brand WOM of -2%. This should bring good cheer to the nation’s retailers, and lends support to the just released National Retail Federation’s forecast that holiday sales will grow between 3.5% and 5.2%. “Given the pandemic, there is uncertainty about consumers’ willingness to spend, but with the economy improving most have the ability to spend,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Consumers have experienced a difficult year but will likely spend more than anyone would have expected just a few months ago.” But not all categories of retail & apparel are poised for growth, if WOM is an indicator as we have demonstrated it is. The biggest gainers are discount stores, which are garnering 57.4m more word of mouth impressions each week now versus a year ago – an increase of 10%. Athletic brands and stores are up 34.3m (+21%), and home centers and hardware stores are up 17m (+8%). This all reflects a desire to spend smartly despite difficult economic circumstances for many Americans, as well as continued investments in physical fitness at home, and home renovations and enhancements. Department stores, in contrast, are seeing significantly less WOM than a year ago, with 17m fewer word of mouth impressions this year versus last, or a 21.8% decline. More specifically, the 10 brands seeing the greatest year-over-year growth come from a diverse set of brands including some who’s word of mouth has grown 100% year over year. The list includes athletic shoe and clothing giants Nike, whose word of mouth has grown by 15.7m weekly WOM impressions over a year ago, or 19%, and Adidas (+9.9m, or 30%); discount retailers Walmart (+13,8m or 4.6%), Costco (+12.3m or 72%) and Target; HomeGoods (+10.4m or 100%) and Ashley Furniture (+10m or +60%) in the home goods category, Ace Hardware (+8.7m or 49%) and Home Depot (+8.4m or +12%) for the DIY’ers; and Shein, the fast fashion ecommerce platform (+6m from only 500k weekly WOM impressions a year ago). In the children’s category WOM has grown by 7% overall, more than any other category (as noted above). This is consistent with the Black Friday forecast just released by Publicis entitled, “Toys Set the Tone This Cyber Weekend.” Publicis notes, “there are a number of reasons toy deals are rising to the top. Families may want to give them a little something extra in light of smaller holiday gatherings or are preparing for at-home family game nights, especially those in the northern hemisphere as winter approaches and outdoor activities decrease.” The children’s brands showing the biggest gains are seen for Hasbro (+5.9m WOM impressions per week, or +183%), Gap Kids (+4m from only 600k a year ago), likely due to the success of their masks, Lego (+2m or +14%), and Baby Einstein (+2m or +70%).
Despite Impressive Gains for Some, There are Sharp Declines for OthersThe rising WOM tide in retail and apparel has not lifted all boats. As impressive as some of the gains have been both in absolute as well as a percentage gain basis, there are more than 35 brands in the category that have seen declines over last year. Leading the way is Forever 21, the fashion brand that is being shuttered (-9.2m WOM impressions versus a year ago, or -55%). This is followed by Macy’s (-5.6m or -27%), Best Buy (-5.4m or -23%), Marshalls (-4.7m or 59%), and Kohl’s (-4.5m or -14%). “We know this holiday season will be unlike any other,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said as he released his forecast. “Consumers have shown they are excited about the holidays and are willing to spend on gifts that lift the spirits of family and friends after such a challenging year. We expect a strong finish to the holiday season.” With WOM trends as a leading indicator, there is sure to be gifts a plenty in the stockings for many of these retailers, but sadly also coal for others unless there is a holiday miracle that will help them quickly turn things around. Wishing you good cheer and a safe holiday season.
Consumer Conversations Provide Guidance to the Post-2020 LandscapeFor many marketers, 2020 was the year when engagement in social issues became almost impossible to avoid, with issues related to race relations, a global pandemic, climate change, and the future of democracy taking center stage during a watershed election year. That’s not likely to change just because voting in the 2020 Presidential election is behind us. Record voter turnout and razor-thin margins are reflective of a much more politicized environment for the foreseeable future—offering opportunities for brands that get engaged skillfully, and hazards for those who don’t. One case in point is the Hispanic food brand, Goya, which exploded into the national conversation after CEO Bob Unanue praised President Trump in a White House meeting. Online and offline conversation levels for the brand exploded and turned rather negative, especially on social media, yet the brand appears to have benefited. The private company revealed third-party sales data to the trade publication Food Dive to back-up its claim that sales are soaring, and the company is building a new $80 million plant in response to demand. While progressive leaders and celebrities in the Latinx community launched boycotts of Goya, the brand likely benefited from the fact that the long-time niche brand was introduced to Donald Trump’s voter base just at the moment people are looking for new home cooking solutions and flavors during a pandemic that has reduced restaurant patronage. The Goya experience mirrors—from the opposite side of the political divide—the Nike experience of two years earlier when the brand controversially embraced former NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s crusade against police brutality sparking an explosion of negative talk among conservative voters but driving up brand sales nonetheless. In 2018 Dick’s Sporting Goods invited negative conversation about its brand when it sharply restricted gun sales in its stores following the tragic school shooting in Parkland, FL, but that hasn’t stopped its stock price from doubling since then amid the rising demand for home exercise equipment. Gillette weighed in with ads about toxic masculinity. And this year a multitude of brands joined the conversation about voting, race relations, climate change, and a host of other topical issues. The NBA is an example of a brand that may be suffering from the increasing political activism of its stars. LeBron James has led NBA players in advocating for black lives and in promoting voting. While this could be a factor in the 49% reduction in audiences this year, there are so many other unusual circumstances during the pandemic it is hard to know for sure. But there’s no question the conversation has changed—the NBA is showing up in social media conversations about racial justice, and the net sentiment of conversations has been volatile—particularly in social media. Having said that, racial justice is the #1 issue being discussed by NBA fans, more so than Covid-19 or the election or schools, and in that regard the league’s support of its players and their activism about racial justice fits well with their fan base. This is why it’s important to understand the fit between a brand’s audience and the issues agenda it supports.
How Best To Navigate the Nation’s Issues AgendaFor brand marketers, is it possible to anticipate consumer reaction to forays into politics and issues? While the 2016 political campaign showed the challenge of predicting politics, conversation trends can provide guidance. One powerful approach is to analyze the overlaps in political and brand constituencies. Indeed, many of the same people who engage in political advocacy are also engaging in brand advocacy. It is important to know which issues your brand’s most loyal supporters care about and are advocating about—and which ones turn them off. Take the issue of racial justice. Unsurprisingly, the people talking about racial justice are about 2.5 times more likely than the average person to also talk about the Twitter and TikTok social media platforms which have provided a forum for racial justice discussion. But would you also have anticipated that those same people talking about racial justice are also the most likely to be talking about Scott brand tissues, Arizona beverages, and Chipotle restaurants? People who talk about racial justice—whether on the side of Black Lives Matter protestors or against them—index at a 273 for talk about the Scott brand, meaning they are almost three times as likely as the average consumer to talk about the brand. Consumers who talk about Arizona, Chipotle, Apple, and Metro by T-Mobile also stand out on racial justice, as do those who talk about Chick-fil-A, a brand that has long engaged in political issues from a right-leaning perspective. Another issue that has become increasingly political this year is the public policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This issue also correlates to the people talking about specific brands, among them the Walgreens and CVS drugstore brands and United HealthCare, companies that are playing important roles for COVID advice, sterilization products, and an annual flu vaccine. Other brands with a strong association with the COVID-19 conversation are Fox News, Neutrogena, Microsoft, and Hulu. People who talk about the environment stand out as particularly influential for consumer brands. Environment talkers are more than four times as likely as average consumers to talk about the GMC automobile brand, Arm & Hammer, Sephora beauty products, and the Spotify music streaming service. They are also three times as likely as average to talk about the brands Ulta, Angel Soft, Scott tissue, Apple, 24 Hour Fitness, and ESPN. Indeed, people who talk about the environment stand out as the people most engaged with brands in 14 of the 15 consumer categories we measure in TotalSocial, most notably beauty (average index of 184), travel services (177), telecom (171), and technology (170). Only the category of financial services is not the most talked about by people talking as well about the environment—but in that case, the environment is the second most correlated issue, after economy-related issues. The political tumult of the 2020 election has motivated many people to engage in political advocacy, including retired military leaders, celebrities, and normally neutral journalists. But politics are likely to become a larger factor in the consumer marketplace, as well, as we head in 2021. For brands venturing into these turbulent waters, it makes sense to listen to the conversation that’s already happening among their most loyal consumers and use this as a mapping tool to help guide your agenda. SIGN ME UP TotalSocial Briefing
● Biden Holds 20-Point Word of Mouth Sentiment Advantage ● Republicans More Activist than Democrats, Especially on Social Media
Just before James Comey’s late October surprise about Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016, the two major party nominees were generating very negative conversation about themselves—particularly Donald Trump. This October, the Democrat again has the advantage in word-of-mouth sentiment, but the incumbent Republican President is enjoying higher levels of activism and advocacy from Republicans than Joe Biden is getting from Democrats. In 2016, the 2016 candidates’ “net sentiment” stood at -53 for Trump and -29 for Clinton, based on subtracting negative from positive opinions about the candidates. Immediately after the October 28 James Comey letter, the conversation flipped for the first time in the campaign, with more negative for the Democratic (-46) than the Republican (-42) nominee—and the rest was history, as we described it in our widely reported post-election analysis. This year, the two nominees are again in negative territory, but not as deeply negative as four years ago. Again, the Democrat, now Joe Biden, is again less negative (-7) than Donald Trump (-27). Absent another late surprise, it appears that Biden has a clear edge in the word of mouth sentiment battle, as we’ve seen for the last five months. Indeed, three weeks ago, Joe Biden briefly flipped into positive territory after the first Presidential debate, although he has since slipped back slightly to net-negative. The word of mouth trends for the candidates have been highly polarized in recent months as Republicans’ conversations have been consistently positive toward Trump and negative toward Biden, while the opposite has been true among Democrats. One potentially important shift can be seen among independents who affiliate with neither major party. In September, word of mouth among independents was less negative for Trump than Biden, but now those conversations favor Biden by a 16-point margin. Overall conversation engagement in the elections is slightly lower this year than in 2016, with 33% talking each day about the elections compared to 37% then. One reason may be the reduced social contact people have due to the pandemic, cutting down on the chances to have these conversations outside of the home. And the other might well be a larger number of important things to be discussing including family health, children’s educational needs, and overall economic concerns.
Offline Word of Mouth is Bipartisan, But Social Media Leans RepublicanWord-of-mouth conversations remain the most important way that Americans engage in the Presidential election. For each of the last three weeks ending October 25, an average of 37% have been talking at home about the election, 23% have talked face-to-face outside of the home—despite pandemic-related restrictions—and 23% have talked over the phone about the election. Social media have been a factor, with 18% of Americans posting about the election, followed by 13% who have written private emails and messages, and 9% who have posted their opinions on news websites. While members of both parties engage at similar levels in face-to-face word-of-mouth, Republicans are more engaged with the campaign and in election-related advocacy via social media. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to post opinions on social media, to post comments on news sites, and to display yard signs and bumper stickers. Republicans are also more likely to engage in a variety of “activist” behaviors such as attending campaign events and protests. Democrats stand out in just one area—using a telephone to talk about the election. These patterns may be related to different responses to the pandemic—with Republicans more willing to attend real-world events while Democrats prefer virtual ones. But it also suggests that President Trump has been successful in driving enthusiasm among his key supporters. Political independents lag partisans on almost every measure of engagement, which is typical of infrequent voters who are less committed to either side. Turnout among these low-involved voters will be a priority for the Biden camp in the last days of the campaign. Political conversations help to explain campaign momentum, as people respond the larger national campaign narrative, and they amplify the impact of that narrative among their friends and family. In 2016, conversation trends helped to demonstrate the shift in narrative in response to the Comey letter, even before it showed up in traditional opinion polls. As of now, the narrative appears to be holding steady, with Biden enjoying less negative criticism than Donald Trump. However, the Trump campaign clearly has had success in activating its core supporters, who are more actively promoting their candidate online and in their front yards compared to Democrats. That enthusiasm gap probably would be valuable in a low turn-out election, but this year with half of last year’s total vote cast a week before Election Day, high levels of voter turnout is already a given, advantaging the Biden campaign and its superior word of mouth sentiment.
About Engagement Labs and the StudyEngagement Labs has a unique methodology that captures the word of mouth conversations of Americans – the true kitchen table things people talk about. Our data and method has found some notoriety after the 2016 campaign and was written up in the Clinton and Lanny Davis books as evidence of the impact of the Comey letter. Engagement Labs measures offline conversations using an online survey about political candidates, issues and brands talked about “yesterday.” For this report, analysts focused on the offline conversations of representative national sample of people 18-69 years old. The study involves approximately 32,000 people surveyed per year (600 per week).
How Can They Command Both Offline WOM and Social Media to Grow their Brands?Insurance agents, financial advisors, and bankers all know how important word-of-mouth is to their success in the marketplace. Few consumers or investors are willing to put their financial futures in the hands of an agent or company not recommended by somebody they trust. It is the reason they put so much focus on customer referrals. Yet financial brands perform poorly, as a rule, in our TotalSocial® analytics platform that measures conversation performance. The vast majority are what we call “Whisper Brands,” underperforming on both offline and online conversation. Why does this matter? The clout of consumer conversation is real – and it is an imperative aspect of any marketing strategy today. Brands that achieve strong performance both offline and online are in an enviable position. Their ability to activate both offline and online engagement drives millions of dollars to their topline. One without the other will not drive brand performance as well, and one is not a surrogate for the other. A reasonable number of financial brands, particularly investment brands such as Fidelity Investments, Edward Jones, and Charles Schwab are “Word of Mouth Mavens” performing above average in real-world offline conversations but not in social media. Just four brands including American Family, State Farm, Kaiser Permanente, and US Bank perform above average online but not offline, earning the label “Social Sirens.” But the largest number of financial brands, 23 of 41 in our database, fall into the “Whisper Brand” category because they are below the average US brand both in social media and in real-world, offline conversations. Banks earn among the lowest scores, including BB&T and SunTrust (which merged to become Truist but for now each remain the brand name face to their customers), Citizens Bank, and TD Bank. But they have plenty of company from insurance, investment companies, and payment cards. Why do financial companies, and especially banks, perform so badly in terms of consumer conversations? One reason is that people don’t talk very often about financial companies, leading to low scores for volume. Brands in food, beverages, and entertainment benefit from the fact that they are relevant to everyone and represent daily conversations—what to have for lunch or dinner, or what to watch on television. But investment brands are likely to come up only when quarterly statements arrive or when there is a dramatic change in the stock market. Insurance companies may not come up in conversation until you need them—when you have a claim, or when you are buying a new car or home. Thus, we find the average performance for brands in every type of financial institution is below average for offline conversation volume, and only credit cards perform above the average in social media. Investment companies—which are unlikely to be topics of conversations for people without investable assets—have the lowest performance, both online and offline. Another problem for financial companies is that they are generally unpopular, earning below-average sentiment score due to fairly high levels of negative conversations, particularly insurance companies and banks. Whereas investment companies perform poorly on volume, but they are strong performers on sentiment, especially offline, perhaps due to the fact that the stock market has held up fairly well, even during the pandemic. Credit card companies stand out for having the most positive conversations in social media.
Pathways for Financial Services Brands to Achieve Conversation Commander StatusMerely one financial brand, GEICO, qualifies as a “Conversation Commander” excelling at both online and in real-world offline conversations. Financial services is a real outlier compared to many other categories which have greater representation in this coveted quadrant. Give credit to the generous advertising budget of GEICO, which spent $1.6 billion in 2019, significantly more than the other big spenders in the property & casualty insurance category. The heavy advertising levels for all auto insurance companies like GEICO, Progressive and State Farm reflects the fundamental challenge of trying to be top of mind—and tip of tongue—when the category’s relevance to a consumer is infrequent. GEICO’s paid media strategy helps the brand perform well above average for both offline and online brand sharing – when people talk about GEICO they talk about its media. This is a reflection of the size of their spend, to be sure. But it’s also about the creative, where GEICO is a strong performer with its Gekko but by no means is it alone. Progressive’s recent success was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal for its response to COVID-19 in an article entitled, “Coronavirus Upended Advertising. Here’s How Brands From Progressive Insurance to Budweiser Responded.” A more modest investment in social media content is also a highly effective way to move a brand from being a Whisper Brand to a Social Siren. That’s what State Farm has done, at half the ad spend level of GEICO. Much smaller brands can achieve Social Siren success as well by learning the lessons for driving sharing of social content. What prevents State Farm from being a Conversation Commander is it’s offline sentiment, which trails the category average by a fair degree. Several brands perform very well among offline influencers – people who are sought out for advice and recommendations and whose advice is trusted and acted upon. Financial brands that do particularly well with influentials are Progressive, Citi, GEICO, TD Ameritrade, American Express, Edward Jones, and Regions Bank. In a category like financial services, that’s a key audience to identify, engage with and let them become your advocates. A tactic we’ve seen work well for driving offline conversation is to enlist your most socially-connected customers into a VIP community that can help distribute your news and content, both online and offline. These influentials are a real asset to call upon. Fidelity, TD Ameritrade and American Express are examples of brands we call “WOM Mavens,” strong performers offline but are merely average online. Fidelity, for example, has the highest offline TotalSocial score of any financial services brand. However, its online volume is below the category average as is its performance in sharing of its social content. American Express, as stated above is a strong performer among offline influencers, but its online influence performance is among the lowest in the category. There’s no question that financial brands are at a disadvantage in the word-of-mouth game, but category is not destiny. Consumers are hungry for advice from trusted friends before making big-ticket, long-term financial decisions. That’s why it pays to make a plan that puts your financial brand at the center of the conversation.
27 Point Difference Between Biden and Trump Sentiment About Former VP Stands in Sharp Contrast to Clinton in 2016Published on October 20, 2020 in MediaPost “Biden Word-of-Mouth Sentiment Turns Positive For First Time” Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden is being talked about slightly more positively than negatively for the first time during the campaign, according to the latest 3-week rolling average from Engagement Labs. Joe Biden has a “net sentiment” of +1, meaning slightly more kitchen-table conversations about the candidate are positive rather than negative, a big improvement from three weeks ago when he was at -18. By comparison, conversations about Donald Trump for the three weeks ending October 11 are at -26, similar to three weeks ago (-24). This is the headline finding from the most current weekly tracking of word of mouth from Engagement Labs, using a methodology to measure everyday conversations that in 2016 helped prove the crucial role of the James Comey letter in swinging the election to Donald Trump in the campaign’s final days. Even when in negative territory, the conversation about Joe Biden has been less negative than Trump’s every week of the campaign since Memorial Day when Biden emerged from seclusion due to COVID-19, wearing a mask. At that time, Trump was at -37 and Biden at -38. Word of mouth trends in the 2020 presidential campaign are quite different than four years ago when conversations about both nominees, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, were consistently more negative than today. During the second week of October, Clinton was 38 points worse than Joe Biden now, and Trump in 2016 was 29 points worse than now. Over the last three weeks, improvements for Biden have been driven by improvements among groups that were quite negative about him before: white voters (20 point better now), Hispanics (37 points better), and those who have a high school diploma or less education (29 points better). The conversation shifts among Hispanics and those with less education are particularly dramatic, coming in the first two weeks of October and corresponding to a series of major news events, including the first presidential debate, the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and the president’s COVID diagnosis. The conversation data do not necessarily indicate how specific groups will vote, merely the conversation momentum that may influence future behavior. Three weeks ago, women’s conversations were more negative about Biden (-23) than men’s (-13) despite overwhelming evidence in traditional polls that women favor Joe Biden much more than men do. Since then, men’s and women’s conversations have become more positive toward Biden. Trends in conversation topics for Biden suggest the shift could lead to increased support at the ballot box. The biggest topic of Biden conversations among those with a high school diploma or less is about “wanting to vote for the candidate” (47%) while fewer people are talking about “disliking the candidate (32%). Biden conversations among these voters now more closely resemble those among college graduates. Another change in recent weeks is the rise in conversation frequency about Joe Biden. With the benefit of incumbency, Trump’s ability to drive news has 58% talking about him each day compared to 43% for Joe Biden, but the gap between the two has been much smaller since the two nominating conventions. Conversation dynamics can be a leading indicator of both consumer and voter behavior because conversations tend to precede action whether at the cash register or the ballot box. Consumer research has shown that conversations are responsible for approximately 19% of consumer purchases. In 2016, a dramatic shift in the voter conversation helped signal that Clinton’s candidacy was in trouble following the release of the James Comey letter about Clinton’s emails 10 days before the election.
About Engagement Labs and the StudyEngagement Labs has a unique methodology that captures the word of mouth conversations of Americans – the true kitchen table things people talk about. Our data and method has found some notoriety after the 2016 campaign and was written up in the Clinton and Lanny Davis books as evidence of the impact of the Comey letter. Engagement Labs measures offline conversations using an online survey about political candidates, issues and brands talked about “yesterday”. For this report, analysts focused on the offline conversations of representative national sample of people 18-69 years old. The study involves approximately 32,000 people surveyed per year (600 per week). SIGN ME UP TotalSocial Briefing
The following is a transcript of Ed Keller’s thoughtful acceptance speech at his induction into the Marketing Research Council’s Hall of Fame. In 2014, Keller was also elected to the Word of Mouth Marketing Hall of Fame by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). Chartered in 1927, the Market Research Council is the oldest and one of the most prestigious market research organizations in the world. The MRC Hall of Fame annually recognizes outstanding marketing research professionals since 1977 celebrating leaders such as Arthur Nielsen, David Ogilvy and Burns Roper.