“Why Successful Branding Still Happens Offline”

My view that the importance of online social media is vastly over-blown was backed up today by a WJS article forwared to me by Anne, our Managing Partner in Amsterdam.

The opening paragraph by authors Ed Keller and Brad Fay got me nodding vigorously:

“Online social networks are far from the Holy Grail of marketing.

For brands that want to be social and generate conversation, a far bigger and more powerful force is real world, face-to-face conversation.”

Here are a few nuggets from the article.

Screen Shot 2012-05-15 at 17.08.011. Offline word-of-mouth is bigger and better

Ed and Brad have done research showing that online social media is actually not that important for word-of-mouth. They say “90% of word-of-mouth conversations about brands take place offline, primarily face-to-face, in people’s homes and offices, in restaurants and stores, really anywhere people congregate”.

Furthermore, they found the quality of offline word-of-mouth is higher, not only the quantity: “These conversations bring greater credibility, a greater desire to share with others, and a great likelihood to purchase the products being discussed than conversations that take place online.”

2. Most online conversations don’t go viral 

Sellers of social media rave about how social media is “word of mouth on steroids”, with conversations spreading like wildfire to hundreds or even thousands of people. However, Ed and Brand point out that “Most links that are shared reach only 5-10 people”.

They also quote the same data I posted on here showing that 99% of Facebook likers of a brand page have no involvement with it at all.

3. Paid-for advertising sparks conversation

The article suggests that “The biggest and most productive channel to spark conversation is not online social media, but paid advertising.” They go on to say say that 25% of brand conversations include a specific reference to ad advert.

And guess which type of advertising is the single biggest driver of conversation. Yup. Good old TV advertising. The authors say: “Far from being a dinosaur, television and other traditional media play a key role in today’s social marketplace.” Indeed, most of the recent examples of viral online success were driven by TV advertising: Old Spice, Yeo Valley and John Lewis to name a few. See my earlier post on “TV is still the King” here for more on this point.

3. Make your marketing worth talking about

I agree 100% with the suggestion on how to get talked about in a social age: “Start a story that consumers will want to talk about.” Great and memorable marketing will get talked about and so make your brand more top-of-mind, as has always been the case.

The one bit where I disagree is the authors’ suggestion to “Tap the right talkers… the consumer influencers in your category, and your brand advocates?”. In research quoted here by Duncan Watts, 95% of word-of-mouth messages studied did not pass through influencers he called “super conductor” consumers. Duncan says: “Influentials don’t govern person-to-person communication. We all do.”

In conclusion, if you cut through the hype the key to conversation is the same as it always has been: create memorable, impactful and well branded marketing that gets people talking face-to-face.