conversing, planning, researching

Word (of Mouth) Up: what Soup’s TalkTrack Study has to tell us about the simple and compelling truth about conversations and brands

Marketing_interview the power of word of mouth, cartoon from xkcd

the lovely Sharyn and Michele from word of mouth marketing agency Soup came in to Kent Street Towers yesterday to share the results from their TalkTrack research into word of mouth in Australia.  the study, which was conducted in partnership with Mindshare, ING, Foxtel and LG, consisted of a diary and quant with almost 3,000 Australians aged 16-69, who between them over the month-long course of the study had 30,000 branded conversations.  the report makes for fascinating reading…

turns out that the average Australian has 67.8 branded conversations per week, which equates to 1.2 billion conversations (or impacts if you like) across the Australia population every week.  this however is on average, 'influencers' – those people who are more passionate, knowledgeable and who tend to have more networks of connections – have 140 brand-centric conversations per week.

Telstra is the most talked about brand, but not necessarily positively – that title goes to Apple, which enjoys 1.7% of all positive brand-centric conversations.  in fact Australians are generally overwhelmingly positive about brands…  61% of all branded conversations are positive, whilst only 9% are negative.

but it's when you look at where conversations are had and what instigates them that it gets really interesting.  of all the conversations in the study, the vast majority were conducted face to face…  82% of the conversations we have about brands we have with real people in the real world.  this compared to only 7% online, which had fewer conversations than even over the phone (at 10%).

Mode of conversations Brand conversations overwhelmingly happen face to face; Source: Soup's TalkTrack study – for more information contact Sharyn Smith via here

there's a big flashing 'proceed with caution' here – because whilst we're all of us going about measuring with gusto branded conversations, turns out that in most cases (as most trackers are online-based) we're doing it with a sample of 7% of all conversations.  skews and distortions are therefore almost inevitable.

the other big news is that the research provides hard evidence as to what actually sparks conversations.  overwhelmingly it is customer or personal experiences with a brand or it's products and services that get's us talking.  compare this to media or marketing efforts – which people attribute to 49% of the brand-centric conversations they have.

Conversation drivers Experiences with brands, products and services cause more conversations than media or advertising; Source: Soup's TalkTrack study – for more information contact Sharyn Smith via here

it's here that online plays an interesting role…  it just outperforms TV in terms of it's ability to spark conversations.  Nielsen report that FY up to June '10, 28% of media money was invested in TV, versus 15% online – so online more than punching above it's weight in it's ability to get us talking.

proof, if it were ever needed, that – unless a brand has a very good reason otherwise – the best role for advertising is to amplify innovative products and services from a brand.  the best ad in the world, all things being equal, won't start as many conversations than an investment in relevant and engaging products and services.

I've talked about planning for transactions on these pages before.  I firmly believe that advertisers should invest in marketing to their existing customers via the creation of collateral – products and services – that add value to their lives.  the role of bought media is then best aligned to what it does best: amplify what a brand is doing with and for it's existing customers to a broader audience…

and now, thanks to the research described above, we have another crucial bit of evidence to prove how this model of approaching comms planning works: it sparks conversations which create intention to buy or try (33%) or consider (25%) a product.

kudos to Soup for commissioning this research.  research that proves that it's not he who shouts loudest that builds the biggest and best brands and businesses, but rather he who gives the most people the most compelling reason to talk about that brand or business.  and in the evolution of media and communications, this simple but compelling truth should be a game-changer for any brand and business brave enough to do it.  whether we do, is entirely down to us.

connecting, developing, integrating, internet, social networking

Ping vs. Fabulis: what Steve Jobs can learn from Jason Goldberg about Social Networks

Ping Steve Jobs launching Ping earlier this week

last week Apple continued their ascendancy with the unveiling of a revamped iPod range, but also with Ping; a social network, housed within iTunes, based – not surprisingly – in and around music.  so a small step for iTunes but a giant leap for Apple into the social networking space.

they're not the first.  back in July 2008 I wrote a post in response to news that MTV was launching a social networking initiative called House.  I expressed concern then, that brands sailing into social waters did so at significant risk…  there's simply only so many networks people can and will be part of…

at the time I ranked a very un-statistically robust sample of social network membership and (unsurprisingly) a long tail emerged…  whilst a small minority of sites (Facebook, MySpace) account for the vast majority of social networkers, there is the potential for a network to aggregate a strong and viable community around a niche topic or area.  but therein lies the rub…  if you're stuck in the tail then running a social network could be an expensive way to aggregate and entertain a niche audience.

but back to Ping, and as niche's go, it got to be said that if you're going to go after a vertical then music seems to be a fair vertical to choose; especially when you have one of the biggest and most significant music ecommerce platforms in existence, and MySpace – you're most significant rival with specific music credibility – is struggling to demonstrate a place for itself in the world.

but Ping is a somewhat limited experience.  on first use it feels like a twitter engine (you follow and are followed) with a Facebook framework.  but that's where the similarity ends and the problems start; the only way to connect with people is to invite them by email, and once you are connected there's no inter-network connectivity.  what goes on Ping, stays on Ping.

contrast this with Fabulis, the social network set up for gay men and the friends of gay men set up by Jason Goldberg (below) earlier this year. aims to help gay men and their friends discover where to go, what to do, and who to meet.

Jason_goldberg fabulis founder Jason Goldberg

two things struck me about fabulis.  one is how the site has an explicit 'currency' in the form of bits – points that you earn or win by interacting and engaging with the site and other social networkers.  for the record my meager 815 points currently rank me at 4,181st, so I've a bit of engaging to do (but then that's very much the point of points isn't it).

Fabulis fabulis tackling the onerous task of helping gay men and their friends stay in touch – it's a tough job but some networks got to do it

but the second and most interesting aspect of fabulis is how I never actually joined the social network.  I never registered a username or created a password.  nor did I upload a profile picture or suggest friends.  Facebook Connect did all of that, and moreover, fabulis was more than happy for Facebook to do it.  my sign-in, profile, and network were all ported happily and seamlessly across from Facebook.  Compare and contrast this with Ping's approach.

the fundamental difference between the networks is that Ping is insular and closed (and that's very much Apple's prerogative and indeed modus operandi) whereas fabulis is not only open in it's approach, but dependent on another network – namely Facebook – for a key element of its infrastructure.  if Facebook went down one day (run with this!) then fabulis would go down with it; it's a network built on a network, and its very much the better for it.

all of which makes Jobs' position on why Ping isn't connected into Facebook's (or another social network's) content very revealing…  in a post on cnet news, Kara Swisher describes how when she asked Jobs about the lack of connectivity on Ping, "he said Apple had indeed held talks with Facebook about a variety of unspecified partnerships related to Ping, but the discussions had gone nowhere … the reason, according to Jobs: Facebook wanted "onerous terms that we could not agree to""

Ping was a pretty unique opportunity for Apple to open it's doors and integrate part of its product into the wider web in a way that would ultimately have made Ping better for its users.  the fact that Jobs didn't says more about Apple than it does about Facebook's apparent 'onerous' terms.  it seems that Facebook's terms weren't too onerous for Goldberg, and fabulis is, well, pretty fabulis as a result.