A brand is worth a thousand words

New research reveals that people talk more about brands in their everyday lives than on social media.


Ninety per cent of ‘offline’ conversations about products and categories involve brands, and the top ones are connecting effectively with people to leverage the powerful medium of word of mouth, according to research by InSites Consulting. It asked people how they discuss brands and products in their everyday lives, asking about ‘real’ conversations rather than those on sites such as Facebook.

“The reason is that brands are the glue that hold the whole conversation together,” claims InSites business director Simon McDonald.

By concentrating on six product categories – watches, cars, travel destinations, airlines, banks and tablets/smartphones – the new study seeks to understand more about those conversations and what effect they have on brand consideration and sales.

The research, conducted for inTV, a group of nine international television channels, was carried out across a sample of 1,600 people in several European countries.

It finds that when people talk about smartphones for example, brands are very much part of this conversation, with 91 per cent of people talking about a particular make or model.

Unsurprisingly, Apple is the most talked about brand with 70 per cent of conversations mentioning the technology marque. Following on from that, Samsung is talked about in 53 per cent of conversations, BlackBerry in 17 per cent and Nokia in 16 per cent.

Conversation triggers

When conversations are about cars, 39 per cent mention Audi and 35 per cent Volkswagen; the top four brands discussed are all German. For travel, 45 per cent of conversations about destinations mention the US, 25 per cent Australia and 20 per cent Canada

brand usa
The US is the most talked about destination

For marketers, it is not only interesting to see which brands are being discussed but also how people talk about them. The banking category, for example, is the most talked about sector and within that Santander, Barclays and Allianz are the most talked about brands. The sector also has more conversations and brands mentioned than in any other, but most conversations are negative.

“What is important for banking brands to understand is that when people talk negatively about the industry, they are also talking negatively about brands,” says McDonald. “As a lesson, they need to get closer to their customers and understand the conversations that are taking place and work out how to get their message across in a more positive way.”

Aside from the finance category, it is clear that conversations about brands are in the main positive. The watch sector, for example, engenders the most positive tone of voice. The top brands that people discuss are Rolex and Omega, where 42 per cent and 31 per cent of conversations, respectively, mention the brands.

“We did not measure the triggers or drivers for conversations in this survey,” says McDonald, “but other work we have done shows that the main triggers for conversations about brands are about products including buying or trying, in-store experiences, customer service, someone else mentioning it and advertising and communication.”


The study identifies three different groups of influence on brand conversation. The first group are ‘connectors’, those who talk to lots of other people. The second are ‘mavens’, those who are experts in something and a person people ask to help them understand things. The third are ‘sales people’, who can convince others to consider or buy things. Above all of these are ‘the champions’, the super influencers who do everything that the other types do combined.


Connectors, mavens, sales people and champions are important, suggests the report, because of their ability to influence others and they talk about brands more. The type and level of influence varies between category: 9 per cent are champions in the automotive category, 16 per cent are champions in travel but only 2.3 per cent are as influential when discussing watch brands.

Demographically, those influencers vary too. Apple and Samsung have the highest number of mentions of any brand in the survey and smartphones and tablets are the category with the youngest average age of influencers. In the travel category, women are more likely to be champions for travel destinations than for any other category and have the most influence.

The value of identifying and connecting with influencers is seen when you examine their place in the purchase ‘funnel’. Here, the earliest entry into the funnel is some kind of consideration or awareness, which then filters down to the end where the ultimate aim of getting people to purchase is reached.

“The funnel comes to life when you think about influence,” says McDonald. “Obviously, the ultimate question for marketers is how you reach those people and how much influence they have on others.”

Purchase funnels illustrate how people who talk about brands influence other people – all the way through to the time of buying. Differences between categories are interesting – for instance, 18 per cent persuade others to buy or try a certain airline but only 5 per cent persuade others to buy or try a particular bank brand, highlighting the different purchase patterns of individual categories.

When people talk about cars, the number of brands mentioned is the highest of all the categories, but only 11 per cent of the conversations persuaded people to buy or try a car, although there is a lot of information being exchanged leading up to purchase and consideration. This highlights the need for brands to be constantly in the consideration set.

trends chart

The frontline

We ask marketers whether our ‘trends’ research matches their experience on the ground

christopher thompson

Christopher Thompson
Chief executive
Brand USA

People talk about their holidays to friends, family and colleagues, and recommend destinations or experiences. When people talk our aim is to ensure it’s positive about the US as a holiday destination.

People share their travel stories and photos on our Facebook page, and also ask for advice and source answers from our global community.

The fact that the USA brand is the most mentioned [in the travel category] is fantastic news. Brand USA launched its first campaign in the UK in May 2012 with a heavy media presence over three months, and with a spend of £2.3m. It shows the diversity of experiences available in the US in a fresh and unexpected light, inviting visitors to “Discover this land, like never before”.

In the UK, the percentage of those who intend to visit the US grew 14 per cent in the months since the launch. Consumer sentiment is also trending positively and the US is being described by people as ‘energetic’ and ‘having something for everyone’; is ‘optimistic’; and ‘a place with limitless possibilities’. Brand USA’s objective is to rekindle the holidaymakers’ love affair with America.

martin lay

Martin Lay
Head of brand

These research figures are broadly in line with those we work to. We know that for all the focus on online conversations, the majority of discussions are offline, involve brands and are generally more positive than we sometimes imagine: we just have to ensure that our brands are being involved in those discussions.

Word of mouth marketing is an essential ingredient for Vauxhall. When Reichheld’s Net Promoter score was touted as the next big thing, we decided, despite its shortfalls, that its simplicity made it a powerful tool. So we developed a version of our own that got prominence on our key business plan metrics.

For most people, ‘owner’ reviews provide so much more credibility. We have never gone as far as identifying connectors or mavens, but intuitively the classifications make sense.

As we launched our ADAM model, the approach we took was to identify early on that there is a core market for the car among those we call postmoderns – younger people of an artistic disposition – and it was vital that our car has credibility with them.

greg klassen

Greg Klassen
Senior vice-president, marketing strategy and communications
Canadian Tourism Commission

The research rings true for me and I think it is particularly important for travel categories to think about this aspect of word of mouth. Travel is a high-value, reasonably high-risk product category to buy, but you can’t try it on and you can’t see what it looks like in a showroom.

People tend to be insecure about destinations unless they know a lot about them. Because of that I think it is important to get personal recommendations on the brand.

In this case, the brand is our country and when people have had first-hand experiences they want to talk about them and it reduces some of the risk of choosing a destination. It is great to see that Canada is at number three in terms of conversations that people are having.

My question is how do I work harder to translate some of those conversations people are having about Canada and turning that into an actual booking?

We work to a ‘path to purchase’ model and find that the challenge is trying to translate

the good will and conversations into actual visits. In that situation, we find direct paid advertising works the best.


Andrew Garrihy
Director of corporate marketing
Samsung UK & Ireland

It is interesting to see the results of this research, particularly with regard to social media. Although the percentage of brand conversations via social media is not huge at present, I believe that as online communities increase in both size and number, word of mouth through channels such as Facebook and Twitter will continue to grow in importance.

Word of mouth is an important tool for any brand when targeting their customers if they are to create a deeper engagement with them and inspire them. Building a brand is vital to the success of any business. When a product is used by billions of people, the feelings they associate with that brand can make or break it.

Our experience tells us that a customer’s affinity with a brand can have a huge effect on success. One of our objectives in becoming involved in London 2012 [as a sponsor] was to increase our brand preference – we succeeded in increasing it by 93 per cent. In today’s competitive market place, it is important for any brand to create ‘fans’.

Engendering conversation

There are broadly four ways that people talk about brands in their everyday ‘offline’ conversations, according to the research. It defines these as: ‘bashing’, ‘ballad’, ‘barking’ and ‘bonding’. The ballad is the best place to be, where people are talking positively about brands and it has the potential to change other people’s opinions.

Brands are a key topic of conversation and in order to be part of it, brand owners need to give consumers something to “start the fire” notes Simon McDonald, business director at InSites Consulting. That should be positive messages about the brand – anything from “small acts of kindness” such as a gift, the introduction of a new product or service, good customer service, and advertising communication which surprises and fits the brand story.

What is key for brands isn’t just whether people are talking about them, but whether that conversation has the potential to change people’s perceptions.



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