It's true that teens are twice as likely, compared to the general public, to hold brand conversations online. Still, just 13% of teens' brand discussions take place online (including email, texting/IM and social networking), versus 7% of the general public's.
Within that 13% of online teen brand WOM, 3% occurs by email, 7% by text/IM, and 3% through social networking sites. Consumers overall are somewhat less likely than teens to use text/IM (3% of WOM incidences among the general public); however, their email usage is the same (3%), and their social networking usage is only slightly lower (1%).
Within the 85% of teen brand WOM that takes place offline, fully 75% occurs face-to-face/in person - nearly the same in-person incidence among the general population (77%), the study found. About 10% of teens' offline brand WOM takes place in traditional/voice phone conversations, compared to 15% of the general public's.
The largest numbers of brand WOM incidences occur in the home: 54% among the general public, and 38% among teens. For teens, however, the school environment is a close second (28%), whereas for the general public, the work environment is a distant second (12%).
TalkTrack is a national, syndicated program that measures brand WOM across offline and online channels. More than 36,000 consumers between the ages of 13 and 69 are studied annually, yielding about 360,000 conversational mentions of brands. Participants use a diary to keep track of their brand conversations, then complete online surveys to provide detailed information about the conversations. The newly released teen WOM insights reflect a comparison of data collected between July 2009 and June 2010 from the general public (ages 13 to 69) and a broken-out sample of 4,900 teens (ages 13 to 17).
Overall, teens engage in a significantly higher level of WOM about all brand categories than the public as a whole.
Brands within media/entertainment are the ones that come up most frequently among teens: 78% engage in one or more conversations per day about these brands, versus 57% of the general public.
Similarly, 69% of teens have one or more conversations per day that include food/dining brands, versus 54% of the total public. The comparative teen/general public WOM incidences per day for other brand categories include 67%/39% about technology; 63%/42% about sports/recreation/hobbies; 63%/39% about telecommunications; 59%/38% about retail/apparel; 58%/46% about beverages; 45%/35% about automotive; and 45%/26% about personal care/beauty.
Most Talked-About Brands
Still, when it comes to specific most talked-about brands, teens aren't startlingly different than the general public.
The top 20 most-discussed brands among teens are, in order: Coca-Cola, Apple, Verizon, iPod, Ford, Pepsi, McDonald's, AT&T, Sony, Nike, Dell, Chevrolet, Microsoft, Sprite, Toyota, Walmart, Sprint, Samsung, T-Mobile and youth-oriented apparel retailer Hollister.
The top 20 most-discussed brands among the general public, also in order, are: Coca-Cola, Verizon, Walmart, AT&T, Pepsi, Ford, Apple, McDonald's, Sony, Dell, Chevrolet, Toyota, Target, Sprint, HP, iPod, Nike, Microsoft, Honda and T-Mobile.
(Breakouts of sub-brands from parent brands within these lists, such as iPod from the overall Apple brand, reflect how participants themselves chose to record, in their diaries, the brand references that occurred within their various communications.)
Comparing the two lists, Sprite, Samsung and Hollister are the three brands that make teens' top 20 but not the general public's. On the other hand, three brands on the general public's most-discussed list -- Target, HP and Honda -- do not appear on teens' top-20 list.
Keller Fay Group CEO Ed Keller points out that, while the top-20 lists change somewhat from year to year, the number of dominant brands within a given product/service category to some extent influences which brands are likely to make the top 20 lists. For example, while the media/entertainment brand category is the most discussed by teens overall, the number of large brands within that category are so numerous that no single brand is likely to be mentioned frequently enough to make the top 20, whereas the relatively few dominant players within a category such as telecommunications means that these few are likely to be very frequently mentioned, he notes.
The significant overlap in the brands appearing in the teen and general public top 20 lists appears to have much to do with "visual cues" as WOM triggers, Keller observes. He cites recent research from Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger confirming that the products that tend to have the most sustained WOM over time are ones for which we most frequently see visual cues in our daily lives - frequently in the form of actual product usage, as well as advertising and marketing. This, says Keller, underlines the importance of taking a holistic, sustained approach to WOM that includes product usage, advertising, point-of-sale activity and promotional strategies. For marketers looking to engage teens, in particular, a key value in teen versus general public brand WOM behavior comparisons may lie in using them as a jumping-off point to analyze what controllable factors tend to drive WOM among teens -- specifically, whether the channels and messages being employed by their brands facilitate sparking conversations about them, Keller says.
"Teens are of course exposed to many or most of the same visual cues as consumers in general, but what they choose to attend to may be somewhat different," he points out.
For example, the TalkTrack results show that teens are not only more likely than the general public to make references to media and marketing in their conversations, but also somewhat more likely to make references that relate specifically to television, the Internet and magazines. "Obviously, this would indicate that brands that want to create more WOM among teens should likely be looking at their exposure levels in these media," Keller notes.