my turn


Water Cooler Talk Is Fruitful And Multiplies Purchase Consideration

If you are gainfully employed, you are probably at a workplace. And, whether you admit it or not, it's probably most of your social life. 

The Word of Mouth Association says 13% of our purchase ideas are word of mouth, face to face, and that, worldwide, that that amounts to $6 trillion — yes, trillion — in purchasing. I’m assuming that if you stack those dollars end to end they'll reach … no, I won't go there.  

According to the Keller Fay Group, which did a water cooler market research project for the WMA,  about 12% of all brand conversations happen at work. Keller Fay Group’s TalkTrack study says work recommendations have four times as much impact as advice from the “average consumer.” And workplace conversations are 20% more likely to drive decisions for restaurants and other food CPG brands. To be clear, the vast majority of these conversations happen offline, face to face, whether or not it’s around a water cooler. Or water filter. The study says 69% of word of mouth at work about brands is mostly positive, and 40% offer a strong buy or try recommendation.



There are some interesting demographic results here. More workplace “talkers” — and these are talkers about anything, not just brand recommendation — are male than are female. A non-surprising take: only 19% of workplace face-to-face talkers are Millennials, and the biggest proportion by age are Boomers and Gen Y. And 62% are married or living with a partner. On an ethnicity/race level, only 4% identify as Asian, who clearly aren't drinking enough water. Fourteen percent say they are African American, and 17% identify as Hispanic. 

Keller Fay Group calls “water cooler” talkers “conversation catalysts.” The firm says these folks have larger than average peer networks and keep up with what’s happening. But only 10.3% of adults qualify as this kind of consumer influencer. Thirty-four percent of workplace talkers talk about retail brands, and nearly three-fourths are saying nice things. And a fairly remarkable 61% of this gab leads to purchase. That makes sense because a chunk of that conversation wouldn't be happening, probably, if the recipient weren't bringing up their consideration list. I know I do. 

Before I give the brand lists, I have a theory about this. Some people who bought something and then have buyer's remorse may actually recommend that very product both to spread the misery around, and also to justify the purchase to themselves. “Oh, yeah, I did buy an upright double-bass. I don't play it but I'm glad I got it. It's a really great conversation starter and kind of nice as furniture.” The other thing is that this is really good for market research. And that's it, unless you have some legitimate engagement opportunity at a workplace. Some brands do have that. Commercial brands. 

Now, the workplace buzz list, in descending order: 

On the retail front, it's Walmart, Target, Amazon, Nike, Macy’s, Home Depot, Kohl’s, Lowe’s, JCPenney and Best Buy. But the ones that over-index at work versus everywhere else are Nordstrom, Levi’s Gap, Macy’s, Best Buy, Publix, Costco, Home Depot, Nike and Whole Foods.  

On the CPG front, it’s clear workers need to hydrate. The brands most talked about are Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Sprite, Dr Pepper, Clorox (if you hate your job enough to drink it), Diet Coke, then Kraft, Tide and Lysol. But the ones that over-index versus total population are Dasani, Gain, Campbell, Diet Coke, Red Bull, Tyson (huh?), Ajax, Kraft, 7Up and Nestle. 

Then, for dining brands, it's McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Starbucks, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Applebee's, Olive Garden and KFC. Over-indexing against the world at large are Subway, Outback, Chipotle, Chili's, Starbucks, Panera, Red Lobster, Wendy's, KFC and Buffalo Wild Wings. 

I know what you're thinking. “Wait, these are brands that are also employing a ton of Americans, in aggregate. How many of these conversations are, ‘God I hate/love working here?’”

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