You Don’t Have To Be Famous, Just Motivated: Anyone Can Influence Brand Behavior

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My friends at Keller Fay Group (Ed Keller and Brad Fay) have conducted research which once again demonstrates that everyday people, i.e. consumers, customers, suppliers and employees, can have a significant on the product and service vendor decisions individuals make in the marketplace. Ed Keller should know: he’s a world expert on peer-to-peer influence. He is co-author of a very informative book called The Influentials, identifying how, and why, certain people in society can leverage the behavior of others.

Keller Fay defines an influencer (as distinct from someone who makes, or is likely to make, a recommendation) as “a person who has a greater than average reach or impact through word-of-mouth in a relevant marketplace”. These are ordinary people, not celebrity actors or pro athletes, government bigwigs, or corporate executives.

Influencers are individuals who have the means to interact with others through their social network, who actively use multiple channels to seek information, and who are frequently sought out for their opinions. In ham radio terms, they actively send and receive brand-related messages. For marketers, understanding why influencers do what they do is a key consideration in communication planning and stakeholder strategy.

Over the years, we’ve seen decision-making influence almost completely shift from outbound, managed corporate print and editorial advertising to informal peer-to-peer communication, through digital contact, social media, and face-to-face. There is lots of current research evidence to support the roles, and power, of an influencer. A recent Keller Fay blog, for example, reported results from the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey which measures the public’s trust in business, government, and institutions. These latest results show that 78% trust family and friends communicating on social media, compared to 49% for company executives.

Ambassador, a word-of-mouth marketing company in Detroit, has identified other key b2c consumer trust and informal communication statistics:

– 68% of consumers trust online opinions from other consumers (Nielsen)

– 88% of people trust online reviews written by other consumers as much as they trust recommendations from personal contacts (BrightLocal)

– 74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decisions. 32% feel this way if there are multiple customer reviews

– 72% say reading a positive customer review increases their trust in a business. It takes, on average, 2 to 6 reviews to get 56% of them to this point (BrightLocal)

– 77% of brand conversations on social media are people looking for advice, information, or assistance (Mention)

– Millennials and Baby Boomers ranked word-of-mouth as the #1 influence in their purchase decisions about big ticket items (travel and electronics) and financial products (Radius Global)

And, as also reported by Ambassador, word-of-mouth influence is perhaps even more impactful among b2b consumers:

– 91% of b2b purchasers are influenced by word-of-mouth when making their buying decisions (USM)

– 61% of IT buyers say that informal colleague communication is the most important factor in their purchasing decisions (B to B Magazine)

– 56% of b2b buyers use offline word-of-mouth as a source of purchase information and advice, which increases to 88% when online word-of-mouth sources are included (BaseOne)

Keller Fay has stated that, based on their evaluations, brands can generate up to four times more sales through campaigns which encourage ordinary individuals – you and me – to talk about preferred brands. And, brands that inspire more emotional response receive three times the word-of-mouth activity compared to less emotionally engaging brands.

The influential people exhibiting this connective and vocal communication behavior are amplifiers, what Keller Fay calls Conversation Catalysts, who can be highly persuasive when it comes to the behavior of others. In fact, they prove the economic value of word-of-mouth when, as amplifiers, they socially communicate with high volume, have authenticity and credibility, influence others who would purchase, and are actively involved in social media. This is supported by MarketShare, whose work has shown that word-of-mouth can improve marketing effectiveness by up to 54%. And the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) has also weighted in on the value of influencers and advocates. Their recent “State of Word-of-Mouth Marketing” industry survey found that, among marketers:

– 64% agree that word-of-mouth marketing is more effective than traditional marketing

– 70% are planning to increase their online word-of-mouth marketing spend, and 29% are planning to increase their offline word-of-mouth marketing spend

– 82% use word-of-mouth marketing techniques to increase brand awareness, and 43% expect this form of marketing to directly increase sales

We’ve often discussed, and presented compelling research and analysis on, how customers can be vocal advocates for a brand if their experiences have been positive. And alienated customers can be ‘badvocates’, even saboteurs, if their experiences have been negative. Likewise, employees can significantly impact customer loyalty behavior toward their employer through a range of attitudes and actions on behalf of the brand, company and customer. These attitudes and actions, like customers, range from highly positive to highly negative; and it is evidenced whether employees have direct, indirect or minimal involvement with customers. Employees have real influence both inside and outside the company.

Among employees, we most typically concentrate on what drives active, positive, vocal commitment to the enterprise, the value proposition, and the customers, i.e. ambassadorship or advocacy; however, it is at least equally important to identify where employee indifference and negative attitudes and behaviors exist, why they exist, and how they can be mitigated or eliminated. If employee ambassadorship is the North Pole, then alienation is the South Pole.

To summarize, stakeholder influence and advocacy are functions of human emotions and memory of experience. And, influence and advocacy is typically positive or negative, rarely neutral. Each component of the customer and employee journey needs to be analyzed and contextualized for its brand-building impact. The important thing for marketers is that ordinary people, especially employees and customers, can be a pivotal component of a campaign or communication strategy, an opportunity to drive profitability and growth for a brand.

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