Posted by Katie Kinnear on Mon, Sep 19 2016

All Posts by Katie Kinnear

Bridging the Online/ Offline Divide

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Driving measurement best practices has always been a cornerstone of Cognito’s philosophy. We appreciate that effective, omnichannel measurement can prove elusive for many brands. Grasping the full impact of WOM can be particularly challenging. But with a little forward planning, the right tools and a guiding strategy, measurement can be employed across online and offline channels, evolving from “nice to have” to game-changing.

Through Cognito Insights, our practice area dedicated to analytics and actionable intelligence, we’ve had the pleasure of working with specialists who are shaping the science of measurement. Steve Thomson, of Keller Fay, an Engagement Labs Company, is one.

Steve was previously at Roper Starch, early advocates of the importance of marketing to “influencers”, before joining Keller Fay, pioneers of WOM measurement and activation strategy.

You’ve spoken a lot about the social nature of human beings–— that we are “social animals”. Have our conversations evolved over time?

Steve: We’re social by nature. We started out by cooperating around hunting, gathering and staying safe. The original WOM channel was one person speaking to another. And we haven’t stopped talking to each other since. There is some debate around the rise of digital and the death of in-person communication, but in reality, the majority of impactful conversations are still face-to-face. Digital channels have simply added extra layers without detracting from the traditional forms of WOM.


This begs the question of how brands can leverage the power of WOM online and offline. How can brands build advocacy and in what ways can it impact a business?

To foster advocacy, brands must first craft their brand story and ask themselves: "What about this story is worth sharing? What elements will people want to talk about?" Starting with a firm’s own communications and social media, the story can be amplified via considered distribution and targeting to relevant influencers.

It’s clear that advocacy reaps significant and tangible gains for brands. Various studies conclude that advocacy can be directly correlated to sales uplift. The uplift is greatest for “bigger ticket” decisions (e.g. cars, banking, insurance). These are things that consumers don’t switch regularly, so they will ask people for recommendations and weigh the options.

Other KPIs such as search ranking and web traffic also benefit from advocacy. But it’s important to bear in mind that advocacy is a long game and not all metrics can be measured on a short-term campaign basis.


It would seem that a natural place to generate initial advocacy is with employees. What can brands do to encourage advocacy among staffŸ?

There is a lot brands can do, starting with behavior and culture change. A clear social media or offline sharing policy, along with tools for content sharing, are the first steps. Armed with stories and content, employees must feel empowered to spread the word, be active in social media, contribute to industry forums and events, and network online and face-to-face.


How can companies get a holistic understanding of conversations relevant to their brands?

In measuring WOM, you have to be holistic. You can’t only look at social media because that is just one slice of the conversation pie and it may not reflect what is being said on other channels. Best practice is to measure what is being said in the real world, on social platforms, in the media and on your own branded communications channels. A survey is the best option for measuring both online and offline behavior. Analytics tools can only pick up public conversations, but a survey can also capture the “dark social” behavior occurring on private digital channels. Apps and diaries used in conjunction with surveys are great measurement aids.


What KPIs do you recommend using to measure WOM?–

Start with volume of buzz and then compare against your competitors. Are you getting your fair share of WOM relative to market share? And if you aren’t, ask why. Other KPIs to monitor include:

• Changes in volume. Have you seen an uplift after a campaign?

• Sentiment and recommendation. Have there been notable spikes? Have crisis comms had a positive impact?

• Amplification of branded content. Are people referencing a specific campaign, service, or product?

• Connection with influencers. Are you getting buzz on valuable online and offline circles?


Does WOM in the world of B2B diŸffer from that of B2C?

There are some subtle differences. For some B2B businesses, there is a balancing act between sharing and collaborating versus commercial confidentiality and competitive advantage. This may make some businesses more cautious about what they share, which in turn, will impact the conversation potential around a brand.

That being said, in the world of B2B, where sales cycles can be long and expensive, big buying decisions are always collaborative. And WOM – with its power of influence, advocacy and recommendation – becomes a particularly impactful part of the comms mix. Decision-makers speak with each other, scan the market, consult with experts
and read reviews to determine the best choice for a brand purchase.

Emotion is a major driver behind brand buzz. But in this scenario, the B2B purchaser must demonstrate rationality overtly. You can’t choose a provider based on “feelings”. B2B brands wishing to ease the WOM-to-purchase journey, must provide purchasers with the rational evidence to make the case for their brand.


What advice do you have for firms interested in engaging in this space?

First of all, be confident that this stuff really matters – it’s worth it not only to measure WOM but to develop a strategy that drives positive buzz upwards over time. Think about activations. What are we going to do? What’s our strategy? What’s our story? How will we share that story?

Measurement can be difficult, but don’t rely on those metrics that are the easiest to calculate. Measure all channels. Don’t assume that what is being said on online, public channels accurately reflects offline or private conversations.

Ultimately, everything is contingent on delivery. You can have great comms and strategy, but if your service isn’t up to snuff or your products don’t add real value, these flaws will undermine your efforts. WOM relies not just on what you say, but on what you do. Advocacy relies on the fact that you are a decent, WOM-worthy business in the first place.

Communications, Marketing,
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