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How to Influence the Influencers

Dani Mariano
How to Influence the Influencers Dani Mariano

Every marketer knows that the word-of-mouth (WOM) phenomenon can have an exponential impact on a brand's bottom line. So it's no wonder that 50 percent of U.S. marketers are already using WOM in their program mix, and an additional 21 percent are planning to use it, according to Osterman Research/Boldmouth.com.

While it's easy to intuitively understand how word of mouth spreads, the challenge lies in figuring out how to harness this powerful phenomenon in just the right way to impact a brand. First, one must have a deep understanding of the influential 10 percent: those consumers who tell the rest of the 90 percent of us what to buy, what to watch and listen to, how to vote, how to dress, and occasionally, how to think. Second -- and even more importantly -- one must understand the best ways to reach and motivate this important group.

While numerous names for the influential 10 percent exist -- from mavens to alphas to e-fluentials -- they all factor in three common dimensions that fall under a new umbrella term: Social Persuader and Influencer (or SPI). SPIs are defined by: 

  1. Size of social network: SPIs are hyper-connected, frequently connecting large, established social communities. SPIs are four times more likely to belong to five or more organizations

  2. Persuasive power: Having credible, useful information is key for a SPI. They are four times more likely to be considered experts by others

  3. Information dissemination: SPIs love to talk, especially about products and services. They are twice as likely to recommend a product they like, and when they do, they are four times more likely to tell 11 or more people.

A recent research survey of 26,000 consumers unearthed 2,700 individuals who qualified as SPIs based on the above dimensions. And what these 2,700 shared was quite surprising.

SPIs are everywhere. They can be found across all geographic and demographic dimensions, including age and income.

SPIs are hyper-consumers. They consume more of everything -- from media to information to promotional tactics -- and this cuts across media channels.

SPIs are self aware of their influence over others and the social standing resulting from that influence. Because their reputation as experts is their social currency, SPIs are naturally cautious about recommending a product or service.

Finally, SPIs follow a unique path to recommendation before spreading word of mouth on a product or service. This path includes awareness, research, experience and recommendation.

What does this mean for us as marketers? That there are unique, tangible touchpoints along this path in which we can influence the influencers.

Based on the SPI research, we see the following touchpoints emerging as word-of-mouth marketing must haves:

  • Online search: 33 percent of SPIs report they use search every day and 66 percent use it three to five times a week

  • In-store interaction/seeing a product in use: 69.5 percent of SPIs ranked this as being "very valuable"

  • Trial/experience: SPIs are most likely to recommend a product they have tried themselves

  • Coupons: These facilitate product trial, which SPIs seek out

  • Expert opinions/reviews: 71 percent of SPIs ranked this as a top source they use for information

  • Fine print reading: SPIs research products more thoroughly than most; they explore the detail that we expect most consumers not to.

Beyond demonstrating the importance of these top tactics, the SPI research reinforces the importance of consistency of message and an integrated marketing approach. SPIs seek out deep information on brands from multiple sources and are more likely to spot inconsistencies than others.

These are just a few practical tips for constructing WOM marketing campaigns. What would you like to know about SPIs? Please join the blog discussion to help shape the future of SPI research.

Dani Mariano is vice president of business insights, McElroy Inc. and a member of the founding team for The SPI Report, a quarterly research offering designed to give marketers actionable insights on word-of-mouth marketing. Read full bio.



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