Practical Ecommerce

How to Get Consumers Talking about Your Company

The Internet is now the leading source of information for brand-related, word-of-mouth conversations, according to a new study of 3,000 American adults.

This finding may indicate that online merchants and other ecommerce businesses can use well-planned content to spark product or brand conversations and become a leading destination for online brand exploration.

The Internet’s Role in Brand Conversations

The study — available here as a PDF — is from Google and Keller Fay, a marketing research firm and consultancy. The study found that search queries were the number one initiator of brand-or-product-focused word of mouth (WOM) conversations. Television was a very close second.

“The Internet and TV are just about equally important during the ‘pre-WOM’ phase, meaning what people see on the Internet and on TV often spark conversations… . During people’s conversations, the Internet starts to take a lead over TV. And following conversations, people are far more likely to turn to the Internet than to any other medium,” wrote Ed Keller on the Keller Fay blog.

“What role does the internet play?” Keller asked and answered. “Before and during conversations, the internet is most often used to provide extra information for consumers. Following conversations, its role becomes more specific – checking prices, in particular, and finding where to buy products.”

Google-Produced Video on Brand Conversations

The study concludes that there are about 2.4 billion conversations about a brand, products, or services each and every day. Of those conversations, something like 1.97 billion or about 82 percent take place face to face, as one consumer tells another about a product.

Some 11 percent — or about 264 million — of these conversations take place over telephones. Chatting, email, and other forms of Internet-based communications account for about 5 percent of the total, according to Google and Keller Fay.

Finally, according to the study about half of consumers are more likely to make a purchase after a brand-, product-, or service-related word of mouth conversation.

How Ecommerce Business Can Use This Data

Regardless of the specific figures reported in the study — more about this below — the study’s basic premise should be of high interest to ecommerce marketers.

Basically, Google and Keller Fay are arguing (1) that consumers talk about brands, products, and services with their friends; (2) that these conversations increase the likelihood a consumer will make a purchase; and (3) that online content plays a role before, during, and after these conversations.

As an example, imagine a woman, who is the mother of a toddler, telling an expecting co-worker about Revolution SE Strollers, which are great for paths and trailers, from B.O.B., a regional maker of strollers and bike trailers. This co-worker searches for “BOB and stroller” from her smartphone during the conversation and sends herself a link. Later the expecting mother goes online to find a dealer, eventually ordering one from REI, because of the site’s good presentation of the stroller’s features.

A second example, might be a shopper that reads about a product in an article like Michael S. Lasky’s review of the Cartier Calibre watch on Wired, the magazine. The consumer then tells a few friends about the $7,000 timepiece over beer later that evening. The friends later search “cartier watch wired” to find the review.

For a third and final example, think of a consumer that stumbles upon Men’s Health magazine’s Internet brief describing “How to Teach Your Dog to Fetch a Beer.” The consumer tells his buddy’s about the feature while bowling on league night. Later that night, one of those buddies searches for the article, and learns that the dog-training tip came from Kyra Sundance, the author of 101 Dog Tricks. A few minutes later that buddy is reading the book on a Nook, having just purchased it from Barnes & Noble.

So how does an ecommerce marketer take advantage of this behavior? Consider providing the kind of content that sparks conversations and the sort of content that helps to close the deal.

Specifically, an ecommerce marketer might produce a video or blog post that reviewed some product or presented it in an interesting way. That content might spark a conversation. “Hey you need to see this video about the new Titleist drivers.”

Next, provide content that will help shoppers make a buying decision, including detail specifications, another video, or peer reviews.

The Study Merits a Grain of Salt

The study clearly offers insights and reinforces that idea that ecommerce marketers should be producing good site content. But it is important to note that the “Word of Mouth and the Internet” study is very favorable to Google and is used as a sales and promotional piece for Google’s advertising sales team.

The study — as published on the Google Think Insights website — is also somewhat vague about what constitutes a conversation, a brand, and, frankly, the Internet.

For example, Keller greatly diminishes social media’s role in word of mouth conversations. The study did find that about 9 percent of respondents said that brand conversations were sparked by and Internet search compared to about 2 percent that were sparked by a social media site. But search engines do not provide data about brands, information about products, or — in terms of their search features — much content, rather they point to other sites.

What’s more, it would be interesting to know what drove the consumer to initiate the search in the first place, since most people don’t just randomly search for brand names. (The study does mention television as a driver, but doesn’t give it as much credit as it might deserve.) This is in spite of the study’s assertion that search engines can somehow provide the information directly.

Closing Thoughts

People talk about products and brands all of the time. This study from Google provides some helpful facts about how those conversations make use of the Internet, even if it is a bit too promotional and shallow. But the study is another strong indicator that ecommerce marketers should be thinking about content production.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. Jason Alberts July 1, 2011 Reply

    This new study is very interesting and demonstrates how important SEO is for small ecommerce businesses. According to the study, search websites are used most frequently after a conversation regarding a brand or business and therefore the better SEO your business’ website has, the more likely your site will get a visit and possible sale. In the past, TV was the main medium for advertising and word of mouth played a much lower role for advertising. Now, however, word of mouth and especially word of mouth through social media (contrary to the study’s findings) is now an important way to attract customers.

    Jason from @KikScore

  2. Armando Roggio July 3, 2011 Reply

    Jason, the best form of SEO is good content. If a merchant has a good ecommerce platform that properly manages URLs, headers, etc. It is far better to focus on content and other marketing.

  3. Peter nguyen July 11, 2011 Reply

    Hi Armondo,
    I echo your comment. The best form of SEO is indeed creating high quality, original, shareable, and linkable content. Unfortunately, I see most people out there spending lots of time and resources on the mechanics of SEO like optimizing meta tag, creating sitemaps, etc while neglecting the content aspect.