Don’t ever underestimate the power of commonality and endorsement. –Bill Cates
I recently splurged on a digital SLR (define) camera. As a responsible shopper, I spent several weeks researching cameras and had my mind set on the Nikon D40. Then, something happened. On a Yahoo parenting group, one member had her blog address in the signature. Upon visiting this mom’s blog, I noticed she had fantastic photos of her children accompanying each of her entries. I wanted her camera. Through correspondence via the comments field of her blog, I found out she had a Canon EOS Rebel xTi; she also let me know the lens, flash, and camera bag she owned (and loved). Twenty-four hours later, I’d ordered all the above (and spent about a grand more than originally budgeted).
As marketers, we know word of mouth’s power, but online it takes on new meaning because of the medium’s social nature. In the last year, Yahoo and comScore Networks have been exploring the connection between social media and purchase behavior. In a joint study, “Engaging Advocates Through Search and Social Media,” released last December, Yahoo and comScore discovered brand advocates have tremendous influencing power and are heavy online users. Additional key findings included the following.
Who Are Brand Advocates?
Brand advocates are adventurous opinion leaders who are socially well connected (50 percent versus 12 percent of nonadvocates), express their opinions and viewpoints (65 percent versus 33 percent), and continually discover new content online.
Brand Advocates Embrace Research
Brand advocates are heavier searchers (48 percent vs. 39 percent for nonadvocates) and use search engines more prior to purchase than nonadvocates (76 percent vs. 64 percent).
By investing in the research process, brand advocates feel more satisfied with their decisions and use social media to spread the word.
Brand Advocates Spread the Word
Brand advocates believe good brands are worth talking about (60 percent vs. 25 percent of nonadvocates). Approximately 90 percent of advocates will write something positive about the purchase they made and are more often promoting than negating it. They have a near 2-1 impact on conversion compared to nonadvocates.
Social Media Is Interwoven Into Advocates’ Daily Lives
Post purchase, half of all advocates megaphone (to friends, family, and strangers) through a variety of online and offline channels.
Now that we understand the power of advocates, how does this impact our planning? What role does behavioral targeting play? To reach advocates, advertisers must think beyond traditional targeting criteria to focus on the attributes and behaviors that motivate advocates:
- First to know. Advocates have a reputation of being the first to know about a specific category/topic. They are basically self- and peer-appointed specialists. For advertisers, this means treating advocates like VIPs and providing them with insider information, product trials, and concept testing.
- Ability to share. Once advocates know about something, it’s their unofficial job to disseminate this information. Before the Internet, this dissemination was limited to phone and mealtime discussions. These were the people you would call when you were in market for an item (e.g., car, computer, trip to Europe, etc.). Today, blogs and groups have become the dominant form of dissemination, and, unlike the old days, these people are usually outside your social circles. Advertisers should help feed the content that advocates share.
- Recognition from others. Advocates need an audience. They need people who are checking their blogs regularly for more information. Advertisers should also recognize advocates by continuing to provide them with content, trials, samples, and the like, or highlighting them in their marketing activities, such as Subway’s spokesperson, Jared Fogle.
Behavioral targeting has an important role in this schematic. Through the use of technology, publishers and advertisers can create a profile on key advocates, then use this information to identify others with a similar DNA. Messaging to this audience should be unique and cater to the characteristics described above.
This is a fresh way of thinking about behavioral targeting. In the past, if you asked most marketers who was more important, the consumer who just looked up a trip to Italy or the consumer who actively posts on a group regarding Italy, most would say the former because she’s in market. However, the person who actively posts in the Italy group is much more likely to affect the purchase behavior of others.
Furthermore, building a DNA on these advocates can also guide strategy. For example, if a high propensity of members on Italy tourism groups are also searching for ski trips and items, that may prompt an interesting sponsorship, promotion or placement on a ski site. Thereby, behavioral targeting begins to take on new meaning beyond just a targeting tool; it serves also as a research tool. For now, we’ll save that for another column.