Spreading the word

As brands seek consumers to create a buzz about their products, Mary-Louise Clews discovers that the tools for encouraging personal recommendations are not just confined to the internet

The Royal Mail recently claimed it had identified a new “breed” of young, educated, urban and online social networking consumer. It called it the “recommendation generation”.

The report, compiled for the postal service by thinktank The Future Foundation, found that two-thirds (66%) of people who regularly use online social networks like Facebook and Bebo are more likely to buy something following a recommendation.

James Murphy, editorial director of the Future Foundation, says: “The development of the recommendation generation is part of a fundamental shift in the basis of consumer capitalism.

Ultimate endorsement

“Modern consumers are so confident in themselves that the ultimate endorsement of a product comes from the lips and clicks of their friends. This is an environment in which brands can benefit greatly, but they will need to be more sensitive than ever before to the voice of the consuming public.”

The report also admits that the role of key influencers on purchasing decisions is just as important in offline environments. For example, influencer marketing is an important aspect of consumer activation in many markets but none more so than those with a “fashion” basis to their adoption of brands.

“The trick with this type of marketing is to recognise who the early adopters are – whose voice and behaviour carries most weight and influence,” says Matthew Coles, partner at Cardinal Research.

However, he warns against trying to infiltrate the process with positive spin or guerilla techniques.

“A ‘good’ brand will enjoy natural spread, which may be accelerated by techniques such as staff recommendation incentives,” says Coles. “It is all about credibility – those same influential people do not want to be seen promoting something they don’t believe in, so the lesson is simple: work out what type of brand you have and who the audience for that brand really is. Then understand who that audience admires and respects. Above all be honest about the credibility of that brand and stay true to that.”

With new technology delivering novel ways to catch the eye, it appears ambient or outdoor advertising is experiencing a renaissance, and its purveyors are keen to point out their role in helping to create talk and a buzz about a brand.

As more people turn away from traditional TV advertising, not least because of new technology such as Sky Plus, advertisers are finding it harder to reach people as a group in order to stimulate off-the-cuff discussion about a product.

This is where the creative use of ambient poster sites comes in, according to Tim Bleakley of CBS Outdoor. “Outdoor is the perfect way to create a buzz about a brand,” he says. “Nine out of ten of us see some sort of outdoor advertising each week, and if viral advertising relies on people seeing or hearing something and passing it on, outdoor is positioned to do just that because it is one of the very few places where there is still shared viewing.”

The scale of coverage that outdoor offers means that, in theory, entire cities can be wallpapered with a brand. Even schools aren’t immune from the advertisers’ reach and agencies working in this area are keen to point out how poster sites in “heavy traffic” areas of schools to create discussion among young consumers.

Youth clubs

TenNine, a company which runs “responsible”, targeted poster and experiential marketing campaigns in secondary schools and youth clubs across the UK, says it is important to discuss how to carry out youth marketing responsibly rather than criticise all its forms.

“There is lots of positive marketing already occurring at secondary school level, where it is important that social issues, such as the effect of a knife crime culture, and health and hygiene issues are discussed with children,” says the company, which has carried health and crime campaigns for the Government, as well as advertising for the likes of Lloyds TSB and Universal.

Positive responses

The company says it uses a “responsible poster” checklist to ensure its campaigns are ethical. Independent research commissioned by TenNine revealed that 95% gave positive responses. By contrast, the agency points out that 49% of social network users say they don’t want ads appearing next to their profiles.

Such intelligence is crucial if brands are going to proceed down this route. Unless you understand your target key influencers very well you risk ending up red faced.

Direct marketing agency WDMP has established a specialist word of mouth division with which it is offering clients the use of data to identify and recruit influencers relevant to a product category.

“Data selection identifies individuals who are genuine influencers – people who are knowledgeable and passionate about a product category and who take personal satisfaction in making a brand recommendation,” says WDMP managing director Gavin Wheeler. “As long as they have had a positive brand experience you don’t need to pay them to spread the word as they do it naturally on your behalf.”

He claims that his agency has been able to deliver up to 80% referral rates using consumer-to-consumer programmes, and 70% brand advocacy.

However, new research by Rise into how people advocate has revealed a common misconception, the agency claims. While blogging and other digital mass communications are increasingly important, face-to-face conversation remains the primary drivers of word of mouth, with 92% of people advocating in this way, compared to 50% making recommendations by email, 46% using text messages and 35% using web postings.



Creative and Cultural Skills (CCSkills) is a Government-funded organisation that aims to help those wishing to enter or move around in the creative industries. Agency MWorks was briefed to raise both awareness of and registration with the Creative Choices website among CCSkills’ broad target audience of learners, teachers, careers advisers, career changers and those in creative industries. The brief demanded this was done in an innovative way that didn’t just rely on search and banner advertising but also used the web to create effective word of mouth.

The resulting campaign focused on online recommendation using bloggers who are influential in the creative sectors that CCSkills represents to act as advocates of the Creative Choices site. This involved encouraging them to blog at the Creative Choices site on topics relevant to the creative sectors and careers. The bloggers then promoted their posts to their broad “spheres of influence” through various online channels such as their personal blogs and social bookmarking. The campaign generated over 10% of the traffic that Creative Choices received across a three-month period. It also reached several influential individuals within the creative industries and also the mainstream press, helping Creative Choices reach broader audiences.

CASE STUDY: TEENAGE PREGNANCY AWARENESS As a part of a youth-focused ad campaign for Teenage Pregnancy awareness, the Department of Health used TenNine to promote its message to secondary school students.

The aim was to raise the profile of the campaign among teenagers in England, and also to drive traffic to the DoH youth information website ruthinking.co.uk, which targets 14- and 15-year-old boys and girls.

Six-sheet posters were displayed in 600 secondary schools across England and TenNine distributed brochures to students.

The campaign initially ran for a fortnight in March 2007. Posters reached an average of 1,200 students per school, each of which is seen about 25 times by every student over a fortnight. This means the campaign message would have been viewed over 18 million times during the two weeks.

Independent research by the Higher Education Information Services Trust and COI showed campaign awareness was 88% among students attending schools where the posters ran. The average roadside six-sheet poster typically generates an awareness level of 28%. Awareness of the website ruthinking.co.uk nearly doubled following the campaign. Only 23% of students surveyed had heard of the site before campaign, but 45% had afterwards, and traffic to the site increased by 67% after the display of the poster campaign in schools. The campaign also produced a 6% increase in the number of teenagers who said they could think of somewhere to go for advice.


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