Allow me to paint a picture: It’s a sunny summer afternoon, and I am driving to Myrtle Beach with my beautiful, patient wife and my four wonderful children, when suddenly I whisper, “Shhhhh, do you hear that?”
Several minutes later—and after a tow-truck ride with a charming man named Butch—we were left with one broken-down Suburban, a rental, and the beginning stages of searching for a new car. What happened next is why I love what we do …
I knew immediately I wanted a Jeep, although I was not convinced which model. My interest in the Jeep brand started long ago with an ad in a magazine, a heart-pounding commercial, and various trips to the manufacturer’s website that triggered dreams of off-roading with a family of six. I kept telling my wife that I couldn’t wait to tell people, “It’s a Jeep thing. You wouldn’t understand.”
My interest continued to build after I read countless ratings and reviews online and held offline conversations with family and friends. It finally culminated with my final trip to the dealership.
The result: My wife is now the proud owner of a new Jeep Commander that I never get to drive. (So much for my off-road adventures!)
But let’s get to the real meat of this situation. As marketers, there are lessons here that can teach us about the new age of market influence. It’s time for a tangent!
We live in a world where standards are constantly shifting and evolving, but one thing remains constant: Influence means power. There are many who subscribe to the theory that brands have lost control in this new era of social media and that we are all just along for the ride. However, I am from another camp; I believe this is the time for brands to harness the power of integrated marketing to create powerful, influential communities that care about our brands as much as we do.
A recent study, co-sponsored by The New York Times, Reuters, and MediaVest, identified a small portion of the global population that has a rather significant influence on its fellow consumers in areas such as travel, consumer electronics and finance. Coined “Global Multipliers,” these compelling consumers make an average of 16 recommendations to nine people each week, compared to an average of only 10 recommendations to six people from their non-Multiplier counterparts.
Why is this significant? These Global Multipliers represent only 1 percent of all worldwide consumers and yet account for 16 percent of all U.S. electronics purchases and $172 billion in U.S. travel purchases.
In addition to spending more than other consumers, they are also “early adopters,” who will often be among the first to purchase new products and pass their opinions on to their friends and family. It’s much more important to these Global Multipliers that they are the first to try something new.
Furthermore—and perhaps most importantly—these consumers respond incredibly well to integrated marketing approaches. They are twice as likely as the normal consumer to read newspapers, and they are more likely to share their opinions online by forwarding links, participating in social networking, posting user reviews, and blogging about their experiences. These consumers will talk about their favorite brands. And you know what? Other consumers are listening to what they have to say.
ONLINE REVIEWS INFLUENCE CONSUMER BEHAVIOR
While Multipliers are more willing than average consumers to forward good and bad reviews, consider that a recent Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) study found that 84 percent of Americans point to online reviews as influencers on their purchasing decisions.
The same study also found only 24 percent of these same participants claim to have posted a review online— further testifying to a small but powerful group that is influencing consumer behavior.
SHHHHH, DO YOU HEAR THAT?So let’s return for a moment to that sunny summer day that propelled my Jeep brand journey. I met many of these Multipliers along the way and felt their influence and their power firsthand. As one might imagine, there are many avid Jeep lovers out there just aching to tell others about their off-roading adventures. After days of research, I found there was a small sect of people who did most of the talking, and while their numbers were small, their power was mighty.
I found these influencers in many places: Facebook, Twitter, ratings and reviews sites, blogs and forums, even in my own office. But no matter where the message was placed, it was always consistent. It was also quite powerful because in many cases, it was informal and authentic. From corporate collateral to the blogger just passionate about his vehicle, the message carried credibility and increased my intent to purchase with every stroke of the keyboard.
As brands on and offline today, we must realize that we have an enormous opportunity. We have a small but compelling force of influencers unharnessed and ready to become a compelling force on others. But like any team loaded with potential, these influencers need guidance, and they are hungry for it.
So how does a brand harness the power of the Multipliers and create a robust community ready to spread the brand gospel? The answer is simple yet seems to elude sometimes even the most seasoned of marketers: Market with credibility; cultivate the trust; and celebrate the results.
MARKET WITH CREDIBILITYIn order to harness the power of the influential, a brand must first market itself, its products, and/or its services with credibility. This is achieved through integrated marketing plans with multiple touchpoints that provide consistent messaging across several channels. A message that is delivered with consistency via multiple outlets tells an influencer or Multiplier that the brand is credible, trustworthy, and ready to talk the talk and walk the walk.
While potential brand evangelists are willing to wield their swords of influence for the good of a brand, they must be met with authenticity and credibility, or they will turn away. They want to be educated. They want to try the product. They want to believe the hype, but they can’t be fooled— they can always smell a rat.
CULTIVATE THE TRUSTMany brands are beginning to realize that trust equals influence on and offline. And, consumers are becoming highly perceptive of these efforts—both positive and negative. Take, for instance, the blog that mysteriously deletes every negative post no matter how slightly off-brand. Now, I am not suggesting that brands should sacrifice all control when trying to build consumer trust—everything deserves some moderation (ask my wife). But, a blog filled with obvious brand- speak instead of authentic, informal discourse will show itself as a rat to consumers every time (see previous paragraph).
Brands can cultivate trust by listening and responding to their consumers. Influencers reward brands that demonstrate this willingness to engage, and for those brands that don’t—well, they typically get added to the overflowing bucket of fail that is littering the social media landscape today.
CELEBRATE THE RESULTSWhen a brand finds success in cultivating that trust and develops influencer assets to share with its extended audience, it is time to celebrate. It may also be time to break down the walls between online and offline marketing and use integration to help these brand advocates broadcast their thoughts and opinions.
When Global Multipliers tweet about their wonderful customer service experiences,
your brand can feed the updates live to a billboard. When they post on Facebook, your brand can e-mail their thoughts to thousands of your greatest prospects. And, when they blog about their experiences later that day, your brand can feed the posts dynamically to your online display ads. Let your biggest fans spread their word even further, while you bask in the glow.
INTERACTIVE AS A TOOL FOR INTEGRATION
Unlike the days of old, many brand journeys now begin and end online, but this does not mean offline should totally be forgotten. In many ways, it is actually experiencing a rebirth as a piece of a larger package. Traditional media is shedding its skin and starting to serve as an integral tool for increasing online conversions and brand recognition. We are finding that magazines provide great opportunities for driving online visitors the same way we are finding television fuels search behavior. When these campaigns are integrated and fused with consistency, brand awareness more than doubles, and online advertising leads to more direct offline purchases.
Using the Internet as a force for integration, a properly integrated marketing campaign can spread a brand’s voice and bring it to the attention of influential Global Multipliers. If these powerful opinion-shapers like what they hear, see and experience firsthand from a brand, they will provide their stamps of approval and impact the decision-making of their fellow consumers, specifically those already interested in what the brand has to offer.
My Jeep-mania was sparked by advertising from the brand, but my impression was solidified by the opinions of the Multipliers I encountered, both online and offline. These influential consumer peers took me to the brand promised land: an actual purchase decision that led to my picking Jeep over another manufacturer. While the product or service will vary by brand, all marketers should recognize the powerful sway influencers can have on their consumer bases; otherwise, their brands run the risk of receiving returns as robust as my broken- down, old Suburban.