Great experiences: the foundation of powerful social marketing

Every marketer is looking for the secret sauce that will help them create buzz.

“The pressure to create ‘viral’ advertising, the urge to get more views online, that leads people to push the envelope,” said the President and chief creative officer at Grey New York in a recent New York Times article.

Only a few fortunate brands, however, will realize their dreams searching for viral hits. Among the top 500 brands on YouTube, for example, the average video is seen by a modest 84,000 people. Edgy advertising & clever stunts add to hoping that millions of followers on social media all start sharing what you have to say. These are great when they work, but by and large they are low percentage strategies.

If you want to have a strong batting average, then focus on the consumer’s day-to-day experiences with your brand. Good experiences with a product or service are what triggers people to talk. After all, why do people engage in WOM? To get advice and share experiences about what has worked well for the people they know before they head out to buy a new product or service.

Experience-driven word of mouth is the key to creating positive buzz that will be shared by millions and lead to strong financial outcomes for brands. It is also the topic of a study my firm has conducted on behalf of House Party, a social marketing company. A white paper is available for download here.

The core finding from our research is this. Positive brand experiences are a very powerful force that leads people to engage in word of mouth, far more than ads, or websites, or social media. Good experiences are second only to “having a need” in sparking conversations across multiple product categories.

Here are some of the other highlights:

  • The majority of these conversations which are triggered by a good experience occur face-to-face.
  • Word of mouth based on experience is highly credible and actionable, more so than word of mouth triggered by media or marketing, including social media. In fact, half of conversations that are triggered by a good experience lead to a strong “buy it or try it” recommendation.
  • Conversations based on experience are also significantly more positive in sentiment than conversations triggered by media or marketing alone.
  • While experiences are the key trigger for conversation, marketing still plays an important role – media/marketing is referenced in 58% of these experienced-based conversations. Good experiences + good marketing = a word of mouth home run.
  • Word of mouth influencers are 1.4x as likely to start a conversation based on a good experience as the average, suggesting that experience-based WOM is particularly important for unleashing the power of this important part of the population.

What are the implications that emerge from this research?

Find ways to create good experiences, which are the key to triggering powerful offline WOM.

Good experiences prove to be highly effective in triggering offline conversations and getting people to talk about the brand. What’s more, these conversations can be very influential – positive in sentiment and highly likely to lead to future action. The bottom line? A good experience can trigger a great deal of powerful, high-quality brand WOM. By delivering a great product, brands effectively create good experiences. In addition, brands should consider experiential marketing strategies that both introduce potential customers to their products and extend the experiences of current customers.

Use media/marketing in conjunction with in-person events.

Our data suggest that some of the most powerful WOM is found in conversations triggered by a good experience that also reference a media or marketing element. Brands should consider integrated campaigns that use both in-person events and some other form of media or marketing campaign (i.e. promotions). The combination of media/marketing and good experiences has shown to be the key to strong and actionable brand word of mouth.

Find the influencers and the message will go further, faster.

The everyday influencers within your customer base are a key segment for starting conversations based on good experiences. Not only are they highly likely to have a conversation based on a good experience, these conversations are even more positive in sentiment. In-person events can leverage the power of influencers for the brand message to go even further since this segment engages in 2-3x as much WOM as the average person.

Ed Keller is CEO of the Keller Fay Group, an award-winning word of mouth research and consulting firm. Keller has been called “one of the most recognized names in word of mouth,” and the publication of his 2003 book, The Influentials, has been called the “seminal moment in the development of word of mouth.” Keller’s most recent book, The Face-to Face Book (co-authored with COO Brad Fay), was named 2013 Best Book in Marketing by the American Marketing Association. 

A version of this post originally appeared on the Keller Fay blog.