Wowing consumers by word-of-mouth

03 Sep,2014


Ravi Balakrishanan


Indians rank among the biggest users of word of mouth, according to a recent study by BCG. Here’s how you can get them to talk about you and say the right things


Boston Consulting Group’s Centre for Consumer Insight spoke to 13,000 Indian consumers across different socio economic groups and cities, quizzing them on 16 categories including food & groceries, automobiles, durables, mobile phones and financial services. The objective: to come up with India’s first Brand Advocacy Index (BAI), which aims to capture the drivers of product recommendation. We spoke to Steve Knox, senior advisor at BCG and Amitabh Mall, partner and director, BCG India to find how companies can effectively leverage brand advocacy


How do you account for WOM working better across categories in India?

Amitabh Mall: Ours is a culture where people talk a lot more. I spent four years in New York with BCG and the number of people I spoke to in a day in India versus the United States was very different. There’s also the fact that we have many more people.Steve Knox: Some industries like banking have dramatically more talk in India than Western Europe or the US. It may have to do with the mindset of the economy. For marketers in India, advocacy is even more important.


Any findings that took you by surprise?

AM: In India, there’s a belief that price is very important. However, we found people talk more about features.In banking and retail, the conversation is very much about service.



How is the BAI determined?

Steve Knox: The last thing I did at P&G was the development of original research around advocacy . BCG developed that into a business process. It says what companies can do to drive actual actions. There were some tools tracking this before but they were structurally flawed. They asked consumers about intention and the intensity of that intention. While consumers have some sense of intention it doesn’t necessarily lead to action. Our index asks what have you actually done? We have advocates and critics and ask for spontaneous and non spontaneous feedback. Each of those carry a different weight.We can tell companies why consumers criticise or advocate. So what are the factors that influence WOM?


AM: The three components to a structured advocacy programme are finding the critical 2% who are influencers and building relationships of trust with them. A lot of that comes from giving something without getting anything in return. And the third is a disruptive schema; something that interrupts the thought process and gets people talking. Are there any successful Indian examples of advocacy?


AM: When Tata Tea ran Jaago Re, you didn’t expect a company to talk about awareness around elections. It felt like it was done without expectations that people would buy more tea.However, it was not focused on the critical 2%. It was a mass campaign.


Another example would be Saffola.It stands for heart health and does activities and events around the theme for a small set of people. However, it’s not done with a disruptive schema.No one is actually using all three components in a structured manner.


India Is Significantly Ahead of Other Countries on World of Mouth Across



Who do you think is doing a good job of it globally?

SK: P&G in the US. And Red Bull: if you look at their total measured media spend, for a brand that size, it’s really relatively small. They do a wonderful job of organically creating advocacy. They have micro-targets on truck drivers, DJs, extreme sport enthusiasts, all of whom have a common theme of ‘I need energy.’ It then tries to create relationships inside those communities. They do really interesting schema disruptions that create conversations. One of my favourites is for young extreme sports fans about the so-called secret ingredient that comes from bull testicles. If you are 16 years old that impresses you a lot.


How do you make sure that advocacy does not go too far and start eroding relationships between people and brands?

SK: If you start compensating people for positive mentions, the relationship and trust begin to diminish. When it’s not genuine or authentic, people distrust that channel. Not advocacy in general but the channel in particular. Brands that do this are in the long term undermining their trust cause the consumers are eventually going to find out that the reason their friend posted something is they got “swag.” There’s another dynamic: social media is wonderful because we have a measurable and visible way of seeing advocacy take place but it’s less powerful than a face to face conversation. It gives you scale but not a lot of power and face to face delivers the exact opposite. If you are just depending on social media you are missing a big opportunity on advocacy.


Have brands approached you to make their critics less of a part of the conversation?

SK: Sometimes reducing the number of critics is the most effective way to increase your total brand advocacy.You do that the same way as positive advocacy: by disrupting the schema.One of the schemas that we encounter is “the company does not care about me.” An effective technique is to reach out to critics in a genuine authentic way for a conversation. They just don’t expect that. That action begins to turn the conversation.



What do you do when the critics are following a trend on social media and may not even be users? Like the people who retweeted actor Gael Garcia Bernal’s rant against KLM

SK: Social media presents an opportunity for a lot of positive advocacy and criticism. What you really need to measure is your target. In other cases, I don’t want criticism but sometimes it’s not significantly impacting my business. We have friends that do things we don’t like and we criticise them but it’s not like the relationship is over. The same thing is true for brands. If we make a mistake and admit it, the consumer says “I forgive you.” But if you make 20 mistakes in a row, they stop doing that.


Source:The Economic Times

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