'Dunkin' in the Dark' Doesn't Hold A Candle To Real Product Experience

The lessons from the year’s biggest social marketing story, Oreo’s “Dunkin’ in the Dark” Twitter coup, have become marketing gospel, cited more these days than the “Four P’s.” But while it’s true that being ready to act, quick to do so, and willing to take a risk maximizes a marketer’s chances to drive strong digital sharing, a new study shows that the most -- and the most powerful -- word of mouth (WOM), online and off, is driven by hands-on product experience.

Experience-driven social marketing has resulted in stunning success for brands. According to Kristin Harp, U.S.A marketing manager of SodaStream, the home carbonation systems marketer whose sales have recently grown 90%: “We’ve driven our growth on word-of-mouth, and now we’re turbo-charging that WOM with in-person experiences -- putting our soda makers and flavors into the homes of advocates, and amplifying their enthusiasm online and off, for sizable lifts in awareness and purchase.”



Brands that include experience-driven social marketing in their mix are employing a smart strategy, according to a new study by the Keller Fay Group, which shows that when marketers provide positive product experiences, they spark more word of mouth, and generate more consumer action, including purchase.

For seven years Keller Fay has been asking 36,000 consumers a year about the conversations they have had about brands and products. For this study the firm analyzed their data to understand how important positive brand experience is in getting consumers to talk, and how powerful that talk is.

Here are some of the findings:

  • Good product experience is key to sparking WOM.  Fifteen percent of consumers’ brand conversations are triggered by this, more than anything else except “having a need” for the product, at 17%. Interestingly, advertising sparks only 5%, and social media (with all due respect, Oreo) spark just 3%.
  • Experience-driven WOM is the most credible. Sixty-three percent of these conversations are rated highly credible, 10 percentage points higher than WOM based on media or marketing.
  • Experience-driven WOM is more positive.  Its “net advocacy” (the percent of positive conversations, minus the percent of mixed and negative ones) is 66%, a full 20 points higher than that for WOM based on media or marketing.
  • Over half (51%) of experience-driven WOM contains a strong recommendation to try or buy, 11 points more than WOM based on media or marketing alone.
  • Most importantly, experience-driven WOM sparks the most action, including purchase, especially when it references the brand’s media or marketing. Of these conversations, 55% are rated highly likely to spur pass along, and 56% highly likely to spur purchase, 8 and 10 points higher respectively than WOM based on media or marketing alone. 

What are the implications for marketers?

  • With product experience driving the most powerful WOM, marketers should be sure to include substantial experience-driven social marketing programs in their mix -- not simply traditional in-store or event sampling, but programs that precisely target brand advocates and fuel sharing.
  • Use experience-driven social marketing to both build brand and drive sales. In generating the most -- and the most credible and positive -- WOM, good experience wins hearts and minds. And in driving the most action, it opens wallets. So use experience-driven social at both the top and bottom of the traditional marketing funnel, and make sure to measure purchase, not just purchase-intent.
  • Integrate experience-driven programs with the rest of the mix. Since experience-driven WOM is especially likely to drive action when it references media or marketing, make sure brand message, look and feel are coordinated across channels, so consumers are more likely to make the connections.
  • Give your brand’s advocates a great experience they’ll want to share and the tools to do so. Because product experience makes consumers so inclined to pass along, marketers should make sure to maximize this behavior. 

So enjoy your end-zone dance, Oreo -- that was an impressive touchdown, indeed. But to win consistently, to generate the most -- and the most powerful -- WOM, and drive the most purchase, get your advocates dunkin’ in the dark for real.


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