Most marketers are aware of the influential 10 percent, those well-connected, brand-savvy people who persuade the other 90 percent what to buy and where to shop.
But a new study conducted by public relations firm Weber Shandwick reveals that within the boomer generation, a full 89 percent of people advise their friends on purchasing decisions.
Although the statistic is higher than one might expect, it's not necessarily a revelation.
"Word of mouth has always been the best form of advertising, among all age groups," says Jim Nail, chief strategy and marketing officer, TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony. "There has been more and more research [like this study] lately that quantifies this fact."
The larger significance of these findings, according to Nail, is that they show that word-of-mouth marketing shouldn't just be aimed at kids on MySpace. "All age groups engage in word of mouth," he says.
Indeed, according to the study of 502 U.S. baby boomers, titled "B2F Connections," nearly six out of 10 boomers (57 percent) are asked for their recommendations on products and services almost twice a week (or 90 times per year). Of those boomers who were asked to make a recommendation in the past year, the large majority (89 percent) advised their friends, or fellow boomers.
The study also revealed that boomer-to-friend (B2F) communications are circular, with nearly all boomers (93 percent) identifying their friends, who are also boomers, as trusted sources of information.
"When it comes to word-of-mouth recommendations, boomers have both unrivaled influence and rich networks of peer advisors. Our new study found that companies can forge new relationships with prospective customers by capitalizing on the power of B2F communications," says Weber Shandwick's Chief Reputation Strategist Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross. "Companies can discover new avenues for reaching boomers by approaching boomers' networks of mutual advisors and creating marketing, advertising and other communications that portray boomers in realistic social settings to which they can relate."
Given the findings of this survey, Weber Shandwick recommends that companies use interactive media to engage boomers virally. And given the trust boomers place on people they know, it's especially important that messages come through their social networks; this can be their friends, family members or coworkers.
Here are some examples of how marketers can put B2F connections to work in the interactive space:
Develop a viral email campaign that provides cash or prize incentives to senders who get others to try your product or service.
Leverage the importance of the workplace (74 percent of boomers are employed and 68 percent of boomers' coworkers ask them for purchase recommendations). Consider hosting lunchtime web conferences about your product/service that include direction to message boards and blogs, and regularly send email reminders about these sites.
Offer informational podcasts that boomers can listen to during their commutes.
Partner with or advertise on boomer social networking sites, websites that target boomers, websites for products/services that appeal to boomers (even if the target is broad) and online magazines and newspapers. The study found that boomers trust print more than any other medium for information. Newspapers (78 percent), magazines (75 percent), print advertising (74 percent) and Yellow Page ads (72 percent) are trusted "a lot" or "some" by boomers, ranking higher than radio programs, radio advertising and TV advertising.
Note that boomer social networking sites are not limited to Eons.com or AARP.org. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that "older daters" have helped drive Match.com's subscriptions to make it the largest online dating site in the U.S.
Steve Case's new website, RevolutionHealth.com, is particularly appealing to boomers given its focus on wellness issues and its social networking feature.
Create compelling content that gives boomers a reason to engage each other interactively. Of course, it can be a wide range of content, but here are some topics that, based on Weber Shandwick's research, may be especially compelling:
- Social responsibility is very important to boomers (42 percent buy based on company social or environmental policies) so lead your messages with any CSR efforts in which your company is involved. Include "tell your friends" messages about the important work you do. The blog circuit is great for these kinds of messages since bloggers can act as "trusted advisors" that boomers value.
- While boomers provide recommendations on a wide array of topics, they most frequently advise on electronics, especially to other boomers. Messages might be engaging if they serve to inform boomers about gadgets.
- Although the Weber Shandwick survey found that few boomers make recommendations about financial services, the company believes this lack of discussion doesn't necessarily mean boomers don't want to know more. Financial service companies might want to consider creating viral buzz campaigns about their companies and products. The lunchtime web conference idea might work for this. As a follow-up, they can offer an online discussion forum that lets visitors chat with each other about their situations and the company's services, perhaps anonymously to avoid social discomfort and/or any security concerns.
Clearly, word-of-mouth marketing is some of the best kind, if you can get it. As you engage in word-of-mouth marketing efforts, though, keep these points in mind: Be clever, don't cause mass hysteria, be flexible about results, and don't insult people's intelligence.
Read "Do's & Don'ts for Fooling Users" for more insight.
Dawn Anfuso is senior editor, iMedia Connection. Read full bio.