Measuring Word of Mouth

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by: Mark Rogers

How do you measure word of mouth? The increasing importance of social networks to brands and advertisers has raised this problem very sharply in the last few weeks. Media owners, pharmaceutical companies, automotive manufacturers all need to know the same thing: how am I doing?

If a brand can establish how it is doing in “word of mouth” in relation to other brands this information can drive decisions about the allocation its marketing or campaign spend.

We would need to agree what a ranking in the word of mouth market means.

In the Market Sentinel methodology there are three possible ways of ranking in word of mouth:

  • Buzz (numbers of citations)
  • Approval (sentiment compared to benchmarked competition)
  • Authority

“Buzz” is chat, pure and simple. Measuring it gives you an indication as to whether something is worth mentioning. Britney Spears has buzz. It ebbs and flows. The weakness of buzz as a measure is that you can be talked about without your product necessarily being purchased, or your value endorsed. Key to consumer brands is the central flaw that not all brands have talk-about-ability. Some products and brands are worthwhile, and do their job well (like car insurance) but they are just kind of boring. That doesn’t mean that they are bad products, or that they aren’t relied on, but it means that using “buzz” to track them is bound to fail.

Approval is better, as it equates to the likelihood of customers to recommend your products. We measure it using the “Net Promoters’ Index” – that is a simple index of how many people promote and how many detract from a product or brand in relation to industry benchmarks.

Authority is best of all, it equates to trust, which means that your marketing messages are more likely to be believed, and it corresponds approximately to Google ranking, since it relies on authorities citing you and linking to you. We measure this using a “Stakeholder Analysis” – an index of all the stakeholders in a topic as to who they view as authoritative.

Here is how we would address the problem of benchmarking a brand in relation to word of mouth:

  • Identify the topic in which the brand seeks greater authority
  • Benchmark its existing authority (conduct a stakeholder analysis)
  • Identify the key authorities to whom the brand would need to communicate its broader proposition
  • Profile those authorities in terms of their ego-net (who they link to and by whom they themselves are cited), and in terms of the statistically improbable words they use (i.e. their idiolect or individual language)
  • Assess the brand’s own “Clarity” (consistency of message on the topic) and “Resonance” (the extent to which the brand’s language is picked up – or ignored – by stakeholders). I will return to these concepts later and examine them in more detail
  • Then we work with the brand’s communications people to produce high value content designed to appeal to those authorities. This communication material could often be contained in a blog, but could form the kernel of a buzz marketing campaign, or a strategy for offline communications.

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