Marketing drives majority of WOM

15 October 2010

LONDON: Marketing and advertising drive a majority of word of mouth conversations among influential consumers, a new international study has revealed.

BBC Worldwide partnered with Carat and The Future Foundation to survey 9,000 "opinion leaders" - who regularly spread ideas and feedback - in nine countries, dividing this audience into three groups.

"Hub urbanites", a fifth of contributors, are usually early-adopters boasting 100 people in their personal network, and carry a trust rating of 63%.

Around 69% of individuals fitting this profile pass on information every day, primarily via social media and instant messaging platforms, motivated by enjoyment, status and supporting "what they believe in."

"Email evangelists", another 20% of respondents, have 82 immediate contacts and an overall popular confidence level reaching 47%.

Some 48% distribute news and similar material at least daily, typically after hearing it online rather than the more diverse channels - including TV, radio and social media - for hub urbanites.

"Offline influencers", 60% of those polled, disseminate WOM face-to-face or over the phone, and were generally inspired by traditional mediums.

This cohort has a 62% trust score and networks containing 64 people, but while only 48% circulate views each day, their interest marks one way of determining that word of mouth is entering the mainstream.

"Offline influencers" tend to dominate in developed nations like the US, UK, Spain and Germany, but digitally-engaged advocates made up the majority in markets such as the UAE, India and Hong Kong.

Participants in India, Hong Kong and the UAE also have greater numbers of contacts - at 103, 100 and 81 respectively - than the average of 70, a figure largely normal across the US, Germany and Australia.

Trust constitutes a particularly important currency for opinion leaders, and 59% of the panel regularly sought advice from someone they believed would provide useful insights.

Equally, 79% of the sample expressed their faith in personal recommendations when researching products and considering purchases.

In reacting to word of mouth, 82% of interviewees had distributed knowledge gained about the entertainment category, falling to 79% relating to travel, 78% regarding food and drink and 74% for technology.

When it came to making acquisitions as a direct result of brand advocacy, totals hit 81% in the food segment, 64% for luxury, 60% concerning finance and technology, 58% for entertainment and 56% for travel.

More broadly, 64% of messages referencing specific sectors are positive, while 2% were negative in tone and the remaining 28% can be defined as neutral.

Exactly half of all WOM represented stories from the media "overlaid by opinion", and advertising and marketing received credit for stimulating 58% of word of mouth.

Television was the main source for all three groups in terms of ascertaining breaking news, on 45%, ahead of radio's 15%.

For "early-stage" consumers, online has a heightened significance, with 30% of "hub urbanites" and 29% of "email evangelists" discovering items in this manner.

Personal experience was named as the top driver for recommending products on 56%, beating stories in the media on 46%.

"It's trusted quality digital media, not user generated content that first triggers word of mouth, brand desire/perceived value and advocacy," said Chris Dobson, evp, general manager, BBC Advertising.

"Marketers should be encouraged to integrate and spark those conversations themselves in the first instance."

Data sourced from BBC Worldwide; additional content by Warc staff