Science of spreading the word

The importance of encouraging consumers to recommend a particular brand or service, voiced in terms that are likely to prompt purchase, is something that marketers should dismiss at their peril

Boy Girl%20InsightThe Net Promoter score created by Bain & Co initially quantified the value of consumer advocacy to a business. What actually creates advocacy in the first place and what steps businesses can take to create it, however, has been much less clear. Research by Rise and Iris has been developed to identify these drivers and destroyers of advocacy across a number of sectors.

The study “Creating consumer equity through advocacy” highlights the need to understand the core components that drive advocacy, and examines all contributing factors including pricing, promotions, distribution and brand.

Although experience is a prerequisite for advocacy other factors contribute differently by sector. Promotion (43%) is of significance in the mobile sector, but price (79%) is the biggest influence when selecting a network, while in the automotive sector the product or service delivered (46%) is fundamental to driving advocacy.

The study also allows analysis by brand and more detailed scrutiny of influencing factors. For example, in a Smirnoff and Bombay Sapphire comparison, Smirnoff has outperformed the sector on price, scoring 66% versus the sector average of 41%, and advertising (24% versus 16%). This means Smirnoff overcomes apparent under-delivery on taste (81% versus 86%) through its pricing and communications strategy. Bombay Sapphire, meanwhile, beats the average taste score (95% versus 86%), and has a bottle design whose 41% score significantly outstrips the sector’s 18% level.

The variations also show the dangers of not taking a holistic view of the origins of advocacy. Consumers experience all influences contemporaneously, so these should not be analysed in isolation from each other.

Some attempts to generate advocacy are undoubtedly wasted. The value of such statistics lies in the pointers they offer. There would seem little point, for instance, in Bombay Sapphire trying to improve its levels of advocacy by improving the product. However, its score of 27% on distribution versus the sector average of 44% suggests an area of potential opportunity that warrants further investigation, especially as distribution incorporates not only where it’s available but also the breadth of the range on offer.

Knowing what prompts advocacy is only the start. There is now clear evidence of what consumers actually say when recommending brands.

A positive experience tends to be expressed through recommendations on product quality and reliability. These are the most commonly discussed factors when recommendations are made, mentioned by 79% and 76% of advocates respectively. They talk less than might be expected about price, perhaps due to a desire to seem more sophisticated in making recommendations. That said, a full 52% will cite price deals when recommending a brand, as many as will mention the product design and look.

It is interesting that 48% of consumers view brand reputation as significant and are ready to talk about it when recommending products, but just 2% of consumers will mention celebrity endorsement when recommending a brand, compared with 61% who will cite value. It may appear that the use of celebrities has little effect in helping to create lasting reputation, however looking at sector averages often fails to show the one brand that is getting it right.

Uncovering how people advocate has revealed a common misconception. Blogging and other digital mass communications are increasingly important, but the most common advocacy communication remains face-to-face conversation – 92% of people advocate this way. Recommendations are also made by e-mail (50%), text messages (46%) and via the internet (35%).

With other new insights covering a range of areas, such as whose recommendations are most likely to encourage purchase, marketers can no longer write-off advocacy as a mystical art. Consumers are most likely to buy a brand they already know and love; failing that, they will go for one that has been recommended by somebody they trust. Encouraging those recommendations, voiced in terms likely to prompt purchase, is the science of advocacy and marketers dismiss it at their peril.

Finally, it emerges that while loyal customers are important, new buyers matter greatly because they are most likely to talk about the new brands in their lives.

Planning for advocacy will directly increase marketing effectiveness. To do this it is essential to analyse the drivers and destroyers of advocacy, which will vary by product sector and market, and to isolate drivers specific to your brand that can deliver competitive advantage. Marketers should consider what consumers will say and feed these topics of conversation through their communications. 

Ollie Joyce, partner at Rise Communications, and Sam Noble, managing director of Iris, contributed to this week’s Trends Insight

Industry comment: 

WoM comes of age Word-of-mouth has come a long way from being a happy by-product of traditional marketing, and this study illustrates the science and sophistication behind modern WoM thinking. When you consider the impact WoM marketing has on attitudes and brand choice it makes sense for every brand to know all it can about what influencers are saying, where and when they are saying it, who is listening and how these conversations affect key metrics. WoM is evolving at an incredible pace and although the majority of activity is focused on accelerating new production adoption, there is scope for brands to explore the potential of seeking insights from core influencers across a range of value points. All of this can be done before the product goes to market so the data is effectively real-time, providing the opportunity for adapting and refining communications. The Rise/Iris report demonstrates the immense value of including WoM as an integral part of any strategy.

Ivan Palmer, founder, Wildfire Word of Mouth Marketing

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