Going beyond a Wing and a Prayer: How Guardian Media Group’s efforts to measure the extent and effect of Word of Mouth should improve the quality of planning for us all

GMG_WOM_intro a very illuminating visit from Guardian Media Group this morning, with Chris Pelikarno and Mia Barnes coming into Vizeum towers to talk us through their recent Word of Mouth research.  the study, which follows on from their exposure and engagement research pieces, sets out a framework for identifying and measuring the extent of influence of individuals' propensity to propagate messages and information via word of mouth.

so Gladwell so good.  but the study went a great deal further than this, GMG have not aggregated significant amounts of existing research and information into this area, but have then gone on to fuse the data onto BRMB's TGI so that anyone with access can tangibly integrate WOM analysis into their planning.

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in a nutshell the research identified three traits and abilities make one person more influential than another… "Weak Ties, Bridging Capital and the Status Bargain are the core of what makes a person influential.  When combined these factors allow people to access and spread ideas and opinions faster and more persuasively than others".  the research then used Emmanuel Rosen's ACTIVE theory as a framework in both qualitative and quantitative research as a way of measuring the extent to which people have Weak Ties, Bridging Capital and are likely to make Status Bargains.

what was really smart about the research was the recruitment method for respondents…  ten individuals were selected and interviewed, as well as being asked to rate themselves on ACTIVE measures.  those individuals were then asked to recommend other people GMG should talk to.  they were then interviewed – including rating themselves and the person who have recommended then on ACTIVE measures – and asked to recommend more people and so on and so on till the research panel was 350 people strong with ten networks running throughout.  ten networks available for measurement and analysis of the extent to which different individuals and the traits they demonstrate affect the levels of WOM through the networks.  fuse this onto TGI via a recontact survey of 1,359 people and Bob's your uncle you have an integrated WOM analysis planning tool.

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the research – of course – achieved the task of demonstrating that Guardian readers are more influential than the average newspaper reader, but its achieved much more else besides.  by investing in both the aggregation of existing WOM theory and then following thru into practice with real people in real networks, GMG has advanced the agenda of one of the most important topics in planning of the moment.  as Mediation has commented previously, we too often plan brand communications with the ambition and expectation that people will talk about it, but its too often on a wing and a prayer…  we're planning blind, with fingers crossed that the right people will talk enough about what we put out there to propagate our message and – as the IPA have shown – increase the effectiveness of or efforts.

but the real story of this research has only just started.  in handing over control of the data and putting into potentially every planner's hands, GMG will see their efforts propagated far beyond the number of presentations they can give to media agencies.  this could and should help change planning culture: going beyond the crudity of awareness and reach measures and allowing planners to plan in and around the reason advertising actually works.  we're all better off for GMG's investment and generosity.  other research studies could learn a thing or two.

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