Asda’s decision to put mothers at the heart of its marketing strategy is no surprise; there is little doubt that as the main shoppers and decision makers for family purchases, this level of insight can be very powerful.
What is commendable is Asda’s willingness to look beyond shopping behaviours to social trends. While appearing to be unrelated these trends often have a profound effect on the nature of a consumer’s bond with a brand, through a broader understanding of their lifestyle. An empathetic appreciation of people and the context within which they live is crucial for any brand hoping to play a role in their lives.
For example, I believe that Helicopter parenting is dying. Over the last couple of years I have scaled back my kid’s extra-curricular activities and now like nothing better than homework-free evenings kicking back with a TV show (and not even an educational one!) and a cuddle. My friends can’t believe it. I was the one always complaining if work wasn’t set or rushing them around to ballet lessons, drama classes and chess club.
The reason? I now think kids’ lives are stressful enough without actively adding to the pressure. Almost every activity came with exams attached, and I now sincerely believe that creating stronger bonds in the home creates a happier, more successful child.
What has this got to do with a supermarket? Everything. I can think of several products, services or communication that could tap straight into that insight and immediately create an emotional link with me. Family fondue night anyone?
It would be interesting however, to know how the sample for the Mumdex panel has been profiled; the assumption being that it’s representative of the existing Asda demographic. If so, caution is needed to avoid the temptation to extrapolate the findings to all mums. No doubt there will be a quarterly release of data that will happily make the pages of the national press; the source simply cited as ‘UK mums’.
Equally has Asda considered identifying those mums on the panel with the most influential clout? In a world where brands need to rely increasingly on Word of Mouth both on and (more crucially for this audience) offline, our research shows that it is a certain type of woman across all social classes who is shaping others’ attitudes and preferences, much more than any form of brand communication. Understanding these women and how, when and where they influence is key, not only to gaining valuable insight into the development of social trends, but also to creating a WOM strategy that goes beyond the mummy blogger and into the real world.
This week I discovered a handy graphic from author Geoff Livingston that tracks the history of ‘influencer theory’.
The idea of the influencer – that well-connected, vocal and trusted trend-setter who spreads advocacy and sales through his or her online network – has been hugely important in the development of social campaigns. However, it far precedes Gladwell’s 2000 ‘Tipping Point‘.
Back in the late nineteenth century the theory about how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures – a field dubbed diffusion of innovations – was already being developed by the likes of French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, US sociologist H. Earl Pemberton and German and Austrian anthropologists such as Friedrich Ratzel and Leo Frobenius. And in his 1962 ‘Diffusion of Innovations’, Everett Rogers went on to explain how the adoption of innovations could be harnessed by individuals and organisations.
My point? The influencer was not a concept created by social media. Marketers have somewhat embraced influencers as ‘the answer’ to social traction online, but in fact, few influencer campaigns actually generate big results. The ones that do – for example, our Tron Legacy/Nokia N8 campaign for Nokia as described in this month’s Marketing Week Digital Strategy supplement – carefully target influencers but also plan for much bigger, messier and more inclusive participation beyond the same old ‘opinion leaders.’
So I would suggest that we keep four things in mind when thinking about ‘influencers’:
Influencers don’t just live on the web. Don’t forget that you can reach online influencers through offline means (often much more emotionally effective), but also that some hugely powerful community leaders don’t care a fig about Facebook. How are you going to reach the most trusted mum at the school gates, as well as the tech king with 20,000 followers?
To get big results you need to focus on the influenced as much as the influencers. How can you create something adaptable and customisable so that each person can make it their own and maintain the spreading momentum? How can you make it easy for the lazy or the non-content creators to be touched?
Every one of your customers and potential customers deserves a great experience, not just those who have a high Klout score. Do not focus on making just the obvious, identifiable influencers happy – everyone has influence in their own way.
Stop thinking about influencers. Start thinking about people.
Is your company still playing the ‘number of Facebook fans’ game? Do you still measure success by how many Twitter followers you’ve gained that month?
I know – let’s send our product sample to Ashton Kutcher!
Well, if your colleagues haven’t got the message that participation, emotional resonance, change in behaviour and depth of brand advocacy are far more valuable indications that consumers are developing loyalty and driving sales, maybe this nice whitepaper will help.
In ‘Influence and Passivity in Social Media’, HP’s Social Computing Lab created an algorithm for Twitter influence that improves on the volume-focused PageRank and H-index by examining not just the size and structure of a user’s network but the diffusion behaviour within it. And what did they find?
“An important conclusion from the results is that the correlation between popularity and influence is quite weak, with the most influential users not necessarily the ones with the highest popularity.”
That’s right. It doesn’t matter if an individual has a theoretically massive ‘reach’ – if their network is not full of active and engaged users with an emotional connection to the content, it simply won’t spread.
Looking at behaviour rather than numbers is the way to ensure word of mouth – we’re talking about human beings here, after all.
As with the offline world, the most influential guy isn’t the one who shouts the loudest. He’s the one who knows how to whisper in the right ears.
Yesterday we looked at the motivations for why people engage in different social venues; this morning I came across an interesting new study looking at what typeof social network best influences behaviour.
Because it’s all very well if a network spreads information like wildfire, but if that information doesn’t prompt users to do something – buy the product, sign up for the event, stop smoking, change the way they talk about the brand – it’s all so much worthless WOM.
The study, from MIT assistant professor of system dynamics and economic sociology Damon Centola, looked at the spread of health-related behaviour in two different types of social networks – one based around ‘long ties’, or many distant connections, and one based on denser clusters of more closely connected people.
Sociologists have traditionally believed that long ties are the key to the rapid and broad spread of word of mouth, an insight reinforced by a Guardian study presented at a WOMMA UK briefing last year. However, Centola found that to change behaviour, you’re much better off focusing on clustered networks.
It makes human common sense. It’s easy for us to quickly pass on a piece of content via a loosely connected contact; but to understand something more complex, or change ingrained behaviour, we’ll need exposure more than once, and from trusted and emotionally impactful sources. There is more work to be done, but as Centola says,
“For about 35 years, wisdom in the social sciences has been that the more long ties there are in a network, the faster a thing will spread. It’s startling to see that this is not always the case.”
The study is intended to help improve the design of effective health networks, but it has obvious implications for marketing. We’ve always emphasised the need for multiple entry points with a word of mouth campaign, in order to foster both deep and broad engagement. This ensures rapid visibility but also concrete behaviour change, leading to sales, subscriptions and changing attitudes.
This kind of insight is invaluable in tailoring engagement, according to both the brand’s priority and the nature of the community. Great stuff.
A couple of recent articles have posed a timely challenge to the concept of what sort of person is most important to a brand in spreading word of mouth. The three most likely qualities you will hear cited for ‘influencers’ is that they must be 1) highly active content creators 2) well connected with big, strong networks and 3) already interested in and advocating your brand. Of course, this makes a lot of sense, but there’s also evidence to show that companies might be neglecting other equally, or more, important behavioural types.
Over on Social Media Today, Francois Gossieaux has highlighted a couple of whitepapers (here and here) by Yale academics David Godes and Dina Mayzlin, which found that the impact of WOM on sales was greater when it came from non-loyal customers than loyal ones. When you think about it, it makes sense – while loyal advocates’ networks may have got used to their recommendations, a new or uncharacteristic nod from a previously uninterested or derogatory person can hold a lot of impact.
Seem sensible? Remind yourself of the importance business giant Peter Drucker put on non-customers, and consider the three ‘tiers’ these untapped conversationalists fall into courtesy of Blue Ocean Strategy below.
Morevoer, the studies also found that among those non-loyal conversationalists, it was less likely to be the opinion leaders talking about a new product – more the regular members of the ‘herd.’ That brings us on neatly to Mark Earls, author of Herd: the hidden truth about who we are, who recently remarked:
‘It’s not that what people say to each other isn’t important in shaping our behaviour. Nor, indeed that recommendation (or advocacy or whatever you call it) in particular, is completely irrelevant. It’s just that the really important mechanism lies in what other people see, hear and feel going on around them: it’s in the eyes and ears of the advocate’s peers and not in the words of the advocate or recommendor. It’s at the “influenced” end of the telescope and not the “influencer”.’
Here at 1000heads we emphasise the importance of achieving breadth and depth, as well as reaching out to untouched frontier audiences, in our work for every one of our clients. So if you’re spending all your time focusing on the same old ‘influencers’, take a moment to think about everyone else, and how you can connect with them – past customers, detractors, prospects, people from very different passion groups, and the thousands of us who prefer to follow rather than lead.
What is ‘a trusted source of information’ for you nowadays? If you’re in the majority, it’s a close friend or family member – someone in your social network who you can rely on to filter facts through an intelligent viewpoint and root out the interesting and relevant stuff. That’s the principle behind Google’s Social Search, launched this week.
The idea is that Google scrape the WOM from your contacts on the likes of FriendFeed and Twitter – any account you’re willing to add to your Google profile – to get their take on whatever you’re looking for. It’s a big step in the right direction for those of us who use our relationships with others as our chief filter in the great untamed wilderness of social media; many of us have been using Twitter to do that for a while.
However, there’s still a big search gap to be bridged between ‘high page-ranking official blurb’ and ‘stuff my friends happen to be nattering about’. As Matt Morrison, Global Head of Digital for Porter Novelli, aka @mediaczar, discussed in this morning’s presentation about Social Network Analysis for WOM UK, homophily (‘love of the same’) tends to mean that we gather likeminded folk around us, but also become more like them as we spend time interacting. It’s one of the chief social glues, but it also means we can get trapped in closed and self-reinforcing microcosms.
The truth is that search will never be the only, or even the best, route to discovery. Many of my passions – theatre, literature, Hitchcock films, gin – are only shared by few of my close friends, and the real discoveries I make in social media happen when I leap a couple of connections to find new global voices discussing these things. So often the best way to really find out about what you love is to socialise, not search – mine existing networks for interesting new members, click through the blogrolls of your favourite writers – the equivalent of bumping into people at a party in a place you love.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m having great fun playing with Social Search today and discovering just how much my mates like talking about over-the-knee suede boots – although it’s still very restricted on the ‘friends’ it can identify. But it’s also reminded me that word of mouth impacts on my life in incredibly disparate, random and amorphous ways, beyond the visible island of my ‘inner circle’ of trusted influencers.
So 22 days of cricket later and the Ashes are regained by England to the delight of many on the rainy side of the pond. One of the most vocal and passionate of England’s supporters was Lilly Allen who has a genuine passion for the game. Via Twitter she’s been able to voice this serially to her existing fan base, many of whom would not have tuned in otherwise. What’s also interesting is that the old stalwarts of cricketing journalism (@aggerscricket, @bumblecricket) have jumped on her enthusiasm and shared and commented on it with their existing followers. And so The Twitter Ashes was born.
There’s an interesting lesson for brands in here. It illustrates the power of Social Media and WOM in the way it connects people through shared passions. Now Lilly and her followers know the ‘cricketscape’ a little better and the reverse is true. Both spheres of influence increase. Her passion became a bridge. It will be interesting to see whether all this sustains itself but it’s clear how important a connector can be.
So, who are the passion connectors for your brand? Who can take you into new conversations?
If you are thinking about your conversational landscape then drop us a line should you want to begin explore it in detail. You won’t know *who* your fans are or *where* they are until you do…
Back in the day, bloggers were heralded as the new journalists, and subjected to all kinds of spammy PR approaches that didn’t respect their unique culture and aims. Nowadays, marketers are much more skilled at approaching them in a more personalised and mutually beneficial way, but the new fear is whether bloggers are the ones brands should be pursuing after all. Measurements of blog influence are becoming increasingly nonsensical, but it can be even harder to define the influence of those using other venues.
As always, a good rule of thumb is to look behind the tools to the individuals using them. Bloggers still have a unique and defined position in social media, and microblogging isn’t just an ‘evolution’ of blogging. Historically, bloggers have identified themselves in a more self-conscious way than tweeters, or social networkers, or forum members. They invest more time and space in constructing their own view of the world, in a more sustained and permanent way. They encourage people to migrate to their own property, rather than co-existing on one shared platform, and maintain a more rigid hierarchy of author and commentor as opposed to conversational free-for-all.
This doesn’t mean that blogging is in danger now that we’re all more semiotically promiscuous than we were when blogs first came on the scene. Just as in real life we sometimes want an in-depth discussion about Socrates on the sofa, and at other times we want to toss out a truism about Madonna at the bar, there will always be space for all forms of self-expression on the web. Brands need to always look at who is talking and what their passions are, and then tailor their word of mouth strategies to engage with different people at different stages of the campaign. A link to a twitpic of an exclusive new product has a different appeal, audience, and home on the net than a detailed review of a two-hour hands-on trial session organised by a brand.
We’ll probably be writing a nostalgic piece about Twitter in a couple of years, but I can guarantee that people will still be talking, sharing, recommending, on all the different platforms at their disposal, just as they always have. The fuss about ‘hot’ and ‘obsolete’ platforms is actually driven by anxiety over measurement – how marketers can keep a handle on the influence and effects of new tools. That’s understandable, but that fear shouldn’t stop brands from embracing and utilising all platforms in a flexible and inclusive way.