McKinsey and Company recently reported that word-of-mouth (WOM) was the primary factor behind 20-50 percent of all purchasing decisions, particularly those involving relatively expensive products that required more research and consideration (i.e., considered purchase). As marketers of considered purchase products, like technology, maintain their emphasis on WOM as a key strategy, there is some clarification needed regarding the role of influencers in this equation.
There is a belief that mass influencers -- the individuals in the middle of the influencer spectrum -- are the true influencers whose aggregated opinions will steer the preferences of the masses. The problem with this approach is that it doesn't account for how this group developed its opinions and preferences in the first place. In other words, who influences the mass influencers? How can marketers get in on that action?
In order to answer these questions, let's examine how opinions are shaped and amplified.
The proliferation of blogging platforms opened doors for smart tech enthusiasts by giving them a soapbox from which they could share opinions about a specific topic. As these enthusiasts developed voices and expertise, they elevated their credibility within the tech community, which helped them amass a following of engaged readers. This development eventually earned some the distinction "niche topical expert."
Further, these experts earned reader trust because they were reliable sources that helped readers navigate through the mass of competing products, messages, brands, and technologies. The more content readers consumed, the better they understood the topic. The better they understood the topic, the more influential they became to their friends, followers, and family. It's more than likely that you have a friend or acquaintance in this group, whose members we commonly refer to as peer influencers, early adopters, and tech enthusiasts.
With considered purchases, influence begins with these bloggers, and their influence is amplified through their readers, who then influence the mass influencers. These opinions cascade downstream, steering the behavior of the masses and provoking action.
Put simply, influence is about driving action, and bloggers are the epicenter of this influence. It's their content that ultimately shapes opinions and perceptions. This is why marketers who skip past the bloggers, in favor of reaching the mass influencers, are missing the mark.
There is evidence of this in Sprint's launch of the HTC EVO, which arguably put the carrier back on the map in the wireless space. Experts extolled the device as the iPhone's first legitimate competitor on the Android platform. As PhoneArena pointed out in June 2010, Sprint sold out of the phone in many of its retail outlets. Sprint's marketing team fueled this frenzied interest by curating these positive messages and comments, and amplifying them throughout its advertising, marketing communications, and social media executions.
Unlocking WOM's potential
Successful marketers recognize that effective WOM programs begin by identifying and engaging with their product's key influencers and content creators. They understand the importance of interacting in a transparent way that is organic and fosters trust. Consequently, influencers, who feel like a valued part of the discussion, will be more prone to share these experiences with their communities of readers and followers.
There is a huge potential in this approach, as it helps to expose marketers to a broader audience that, indirectly, has already had a positive experience with the brand. Regardless of whether they were originally in favor of or indifferent to your product, this approach ensures an authentic experience with a solid return on investment down the line.
No one said it would be easy, but if you've done your job correctly, your influencers and their communities will do your talking for you, and there's no better WOM strategy than that.
What do you think? Feel free to share your rebuttals or affirmations in the comments below.
Peyman Nilforoush is CEO and co-Founder of NetShelter.
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