Measuring Offline Vs. Online Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Offline conversations are typically more trusted and positive than those taking place online. Here's how to get the most out of word of mouth.

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By Mikal E. Belicove • Nov 23, 2011

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Word-of-Mouth Marketing

The now commonly held notion that social media-related marketing is a requirement for business success may not carry as much water as once thought.

Despite all the technological advances in recent years, especially in the realm of social media, a recent study suggests that the vast majority of public discussion about products, brands and services occur in everyday word-of-mouth encounters with others, not online.

A yearlong study from the New Brunswick, N.J.-based research firm the Keller Fay Group, which included more than 32,000 participants, found that 91 percent of respondents' information about brands came as a result of face-to-face conversations or over the phone. Just seven percent of word-of-mouth conversations about brands occurs online.

The report shows that a well-rounded approach to word-of-mouth marketing and consumer participation is every bit as important as blogs, Facebook posts and tweets in getting the message out, says Chris Laird, CEO of Tremor, Procter & Gamble's in-house word-of-mouth marketing organization, which commissioned the study.

Your customer or potential buyer needs a reason to engage, a reason to care and a reason to tell others about your brand. It comes down to having something sharable that you can get out there, Laird says. Here are his three tips for getting the most out of word of mouth:

  1. Drive real-world conversation. Laird suggests that companies use social media tools to drive conversations out into the real world. In other words, discover ways to find and engage customers in online and offline conversations. As an example, the survey shows that 60 percent of respondents said they were "highly likely" to make a purchase based on an offline word-of-mouth interaction about a brand. Match that figure against engagement brought about by your social-media tools and you start to see why offline word of mouth is so much more valuable.

    Not only that, but the study shows that 67 percent of references to brands in offline conversations turn out to be positive in nature -- yet another good reason for businesses to promote such personal engagements.
  2. Have a plan for on and offline. A well-defined marketing plan should include a multi-channel approach with blueprints for both online and offline elements.
  3. Know how your products or services measure up. In the report, respondents described their past day's person-to-person conversations about brands, with food and dining topping the content list at 56 percent, and travel services at 22 percent registered as the least likely topic for discussion. Among other topical products and services were media and entertainment at 51 percent, beverages came in at 45 percent and shopping, retail and apparel came up in 36 percent of conversations.

Other findings in the study include:

  • At 59 percent, the majority of word-of-mouth conversations occur at home, whether offline or online.
  • Offline conversations occur most among females, those with a higher education, older consumers and married respondents or those living with a partner. Online conversations are more likely among males and younger consumers.
  • Online word-of-mouth advice is more likely to come from younger consumers while those over 40 years of age are providing such advice offline.
  • Most offline advice is likely to come from spouses, family or co-workers.

What does your business do to encourage offline or online discussions about your products or services? Leave a comment and let us know.

Mikal E. Belicove

Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media, and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook, is now available at bookstores. 

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