Imagine only answering half your phone calls, responding to half your texts or opening half your mail. In the same way, by only listening to customers’ online mentions and ignoring word of mouth feedback, brands are missing out on half of the conversations that matter about them.
For consumer-facing businesses, understanding how their brand and products are viewed and talked about by customers is vital to developing an effective marketing strategy and driving sales. In our increasingly digital-focused world, however, businesses’ attention has been skewed towards social media activity.
While social media mentions add value to brands, we’ve found that word of mouth conversations are just as important. Research by our partner Engagement Labs shows that 10 per cent of purchasing decisions are driven by face-to-face conversations, compared with nine per cent which are influenced by online posts. There are some crucial steps that brands should take to ensure they maximise their marketing potential and hear the full conversation.
Value offline conversations
Social media activity tends to be driven by extremes, both positive and negative, which can give an inaccurate picture of consumer preferences and behaviour. People are more inclined to show off their views on trendy, fashionable items or lament poorly performing products. At the same time, the number and kinds of people posting is not always demographically representative. In contrast, we all talk to friends and family. Our day-to-day conversations are more likely to cover a wider range of products and the in-between sentiments as well as our loves and hates, giving a clearer perspective on people’s everyday interactions with brands.
Just as there are online influencers, our research shows that there are social influencers away from the internet too. Everyone has a friend or relative who is best placed for advice on homewares or knows which detergent is most effective. Depending on the brand, the conversation between friends over a cup of tea could have a much greater impact on customer retention, loyalty and sales than an Instagram post.
Ask the right questions
Tracking offline conversations is challenging and a sophisticated survey tool is the best way to understand what customers talk about in their daily lives. The devil is in the detail and more personal anecdotes are often much more powerful for revealing how consumers feel about a brand. Insights teams should seek to structure questions in a way that will encourage people to elaborate on personal experiences – what made them discuss a certain item or service, with who and why? Brands should also ensure they are asking questions that give the answers they need, not just the ones they want to hear.
Acknowledge the negatives
Businesses will ultimately want to receive positive feedback but there’s value in acknowledging negative conversations too, both on and offline. Negative feedback often has a bigger impact on people’s behaviour and is more damaging to brand equity than praise is beneficial. Brands should recognise their flaws and use this as a chance to show improvement.
Be a two trick pony
Just like people, some brands are strong on social media and some better face-to-face. While doing one well is better than doing none, by committing equally to offline and online, brands can cover all bases, maximising opportunities for peer recommendations and building brand awareness.
Take Asos as an example. The assumption would be that this successful online retailer’s brand and sales would benefit most from social media engagement. Yet, our analysis has shown that while it does well digitally, it’s Asos’ focus on word-of-mouth recommendations that has really driven brand recognition over the past year. Alongside other initiatives, this dual focus on offline and online marketing has helped the retailer achieve a 28 per cent increase in sales in 2018.
Start the conversation
Driving customer conversations through both channels relies on brands delivering a great experience or service but they should also seek to make themselves interesting and current – whether that’s through challenging assumptions or investing in impactful marketing.
Iceland’s Christmas advert is an interesting example. It has now been banned from being broadcast for its political messaging, but it communicates the retailers’ values and will no doubt continue to feature among social media posts as well as conversations around the water cooler.
Social media matters but businesses shouldn’t lose sight of day-to-day conversations. Brands who make sure they understand the chat around the kitchen table, just as much as what’s said about them on Twitter and Instagram, will be the ones who stay ahead in their sectors.