That's just one of the insights from a new study conducted by CNET Networks and Starcom Media Group, which partnered a year ago to embark on qualitative and quantitative research. The online tech hub and the media agency delivered some surprising new findings about this notoriously elusive segment at a briefing Monday during Advertising Week.
For the study, CNET and Starcom questioned more than 10,000 young people through ethnographies, followed by online surveys and conversations. A small but significant portion of the respondents--between 15 and 20 percent--fell into a category dubbed "Brand Sirens." Those sirens have a profound network effect on marketing through their ability to influence friends and family via word-of-mouth, viral video and applications such as instant messaging and blogs, among other media.
The sirens are part of the 13-34 demographic that influences some $600 billion in consumer spending, according to SMG and CNET--yet is increasingly difficult for marketers to reach through traditional mass media. "It's incumbent on us to engage them, not enrage them," said Renetta McCann, CEO, SMG. Marketers are struggling with this on a daily basis, she said.
Among the insights revealed in the research: Two in three "Brand Sirens" care about the brands they use, seven in 10 say they love some brands, and two-thirds of those surveyed feel there are important differences between brands. In addition, the study found that young people actually want to be brand-loyal; in fact, 43 percent of the Brand Sirens wish they could find brands they could stick with and more than 40 percent would switch brands if another brand came onto the market that seemed more enticing.
Even more striking, among the Brand Sirens surveyed, 82 percent indicated that they talk about brands with their friends; 87 percent enjoy sharing information about brands; 85 percent appreciate brands that keep their promises; and more than half (54 percent) wish they could find brands to stick with. In addition, 70 percent of those surveyed send e-mails to friends about products and services, and 77 percent post reviews and product feedback online.
The research suggests that Brand Sirens are uber-influencers who indulge in passions and interests around which they develop a specific expertise. These passions motivate them to search all available sources for updates and developments in their areas of interest, and lead to in-depth knowledge about the products and services, and brands related to their interest areas. As a result, they become experts not only about a particular topic, but also the products that serve that interest and the brands within those categories. In fact, the study found that "the majority of Brand Sirens believe they are smarter than the brands or marketers themselves," observed Pip Marquez De La Plata, vice president, marketing, CNET Networks Entertainment.
CNET, whose properties--including GameSpot, TV.com, MP3.com, and the new Chow.com--attract some 116 million visitors globally, partnered with SMG on the research because it seeks deeper insight into the so-called Brand Sirens. CNET content attracts a "lean-forward" audience and seeks to offer "immersive interactive experiences," according to Barry Briggs, president and COO of CNET Networks. "This is an ADD [attention deficit-disorder] generation. CNET has known that but we can never know enough," Briggs said, adding that CNET wants to know more about the role that media plays in the lives of Brand Sirens.
"We want to be invited into their worlds," Briggs said. And by the same token, CNET and other media properties must figure out how to integrate marketers into their worlds. The presentation cited a Subway sandwich forum on CNET's GameSpot, among other communities of interest from which marketers are experiencing traction.
One of the most surprising findings of the research is that while Brand Sirens are skeptical about corporations and marketing, they can also serve as a marketer's strongest advocate via blogs, word-of-mouth, social networks, and other largely consumer-generated new media platforms. "There is this juxtaposition between skepticism and advocacy," McCann said of what she referred to as "the most agnostic and promiscuous" generation in their use of media.
The study also revealed that Brand Sirens are watching more TV than marketers might realize: Some 73 percent said they watched TV in real-time within the last day; 85 percent watched in real-time within the last week; and 39 percent reported turning to TV advertising to get more information about their interests.
The study also underscored how much this group values authenticity and candor in marketing with 6 in 10 (58 percent) participants saying they are pleasantly surprised when they discover a brand that lives up to its promises, and 7 in 10 (67 percent) indicating they will spend more to purchase a brand they know and trust.