The next social-marketing revolution

At Social Media Week Chicago yesterday, our CEO, Chris Maher, and Keller Fay Group COO Brad Fay talked with a packed house about “the next social-marketing revolution,” which will be led by the marketers who realize that everyone’s darling, social media, represents only one piece of the social-marketing puzzle — that the real way to harness the power of consumer advocacy is through carefully planned campaigns that get people talking online and offline.

Of course, even when marketers aren’t paying attention to it, consumers are already chatting about brands everywhere. According to Keller Fay’s research, there are 25 billion branded conversations on social media each year — a big number, for sure, but consider it compared with offline conversations, where those consumers are spreading 30x more brand messages. In the words of Brad Fay, “Social media is big and growing, but it is still dwarfed by the analog world in which people live and interact.”

It’s easy to get caught up in social media: it’s fun, it’s flashy, it’s relatively simple to see and measure. But, as P&G’s Global Brand Building Officer, Marc Pritchard, has argued, “We may have fallen…in love with the technology and have taken our trusted friend — the idea — for granted.”

The best marketing rightly employs technology as a means, not drives to it as an end. Brands who really understand how word of mouth (WOM) works, according to Fay, “put the consumer, real people, at the center of their planning, their strategies, and their execution.”

Often, putting consumers first means working hard to engage them in a memorable way and ensure that their interactions with your brand are as positive as possible, because good experiences are one of the primary triggers of WOM — in fact, 83% of WOM includes a mention of a personal experience.

And those conversations — the ones where consumers can speak first-hand about encountering a brand — are often far more valuable to that brand than other WOM, which is why more and more marketers are considering strategies that can spark experience-driven WOM at scale. Relatively speaking, that WOM is:

  • More credible. WOM resulting from a branded experience is rated 19% more believable than that sparked by seeing standard media or marketing.
  • Most positive. 80% of experience-driven WOM is viewed as positive. (Only 3% is negative.)
  • More impactful: Over half of experience-driven WOM contains an explicit recommendation to try or buy the product.

Perhaps most importantly, research has shown that WOM campaigns that drive conversations through branded offline experiences really do move the sales needle. A series of Nielsen matched-panel analyses, for instance, have revealed that moderately sized House Party campaigns — that is, campaigns of 2,500 parties — result in an ROI of $5.00 (after six months), while larger campaigns can return an ROI of over $6.00.

We’re social animals, and shouldn’t forget, in Fay’s words, “the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice.” The goal is not to get consumers to see your ads or hear about your brand, but to do that in a way that will make it impossible for them not to talk about that encounter with others. The smartest marketers know that they’ll never be as good at selling a brand as that brand’s fans are — which may be humbling, but if you recognize its implications, it’s exciting, too.