Jeff Flemings, SVP/director of renaissance planning at Publicis' new account planning shop, VivaKi, says research has reached an inflection point. "It's hard to get a survey done today with validity. People share things and trust each other much more than [they do] brands," he says.
That might sound simplistic--but, said Jonathan Carson, president, international, Nielsen Online, advertising's reputation is at stake because Web content has become fact for most consumers.
He said that last year, Nielsen put the "brand" of advertising on its "brand association" map, which graphs the impact of word of mouth on brands. The chart revealed, target-style, which terms consumers used the most to describe advertising itself. At the bull's eye was the term "false."
By contrast, he said, in a recent 47-country survey on trust in advertising, recommendations from other consumers came up as the greatest source of trust. "Number three was consumer opinions posted online," he says, adding that these opinions were posted in the same chat rooms that less than a decade ago were terra incognito for advertisers. "Now it represents a big opportunity for marketers and market research."
Marketers are not there yet. Flemings cited findings from a July ARF panel that brought in major brands and researchers: About 80% of market-research money is spent on evaluation and testing, not innovation or consumer feedback. Marketers' marketing and research has traditionally been limited to the "brand backyard"--forums like customer care and the brand's Web site. He says it must be shifted to the "consumer backyard": Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Tweet, Twitter and the like.
Carson said Nielsen Online bifurcates buzz into two groups: "Speakers" are people who talk about brands and products to others, and post opinions on boards, forums, blogs, reviews, ratings, microsites and social networks, and "Seekers" are consumers, media analysts, regulators, lawyers, and competitors who use search engines, forums, boards, etc. to learn what Speakers are saying.
"Both Speakers and Seekers are highly brand-responsive," said Carson. "Over 50% have given feedback directly to brands, 50% have participated in surveys, and 40% have participated in online discussion of brands. And when we looked at it, about 40% of the U.S. population fell into this group," he said.
And, Carson said, "Counter to horror stories we hear" that Speakers have only bad things to say about brands, opining is driven by positive brand experience. He said that 55% of opinion makers say they use a product and like it. Eighteen percent talk about a brand's promotions; for 12%, TV or print ads generate ideas for online content.
Also, when Speakers look for information, the first place they go is a company's own Web site or brand site. "Whether they know it or not, brands are already engaged in this conversation."
TNS Cymfony's case study on HDTV awareness, sales, and buzz revealed, among other things, the power of discussion--whether word of mouth or online. For example, although Sony enjoys more brand awareness, stronger brand equity and unaided recognition in the category, Samsung is No. 1 in sales.
"What we see," said Jeni Lee Chapman, EVP of TNS brand and communications, "is that Sony is more top-of-mind. There is a disconnect between awareness, discussion and share."
TNS research revealed that the top drivers for sales were consumers seeing the TV brand in the home of friends, getting an in-store demo, and recommendations from friends.
Jim Nail, chief strategy and marketing officer, TNS Cymfony, said Samsung gets more of its fair share of word of mouth compared with spend. "During the holiday period last year, Samsung passed Sony in buzz," he said. He acknowledged that Samsung was outspending Sony two to one during the season, but that in terms of online discussion, Samsung has twice as many brand advocates versus Sony--talking up aesthetics, picture quality and price.
"Samsung is doing amazingly well," he says. "And even Panasonic's advocacy rate is pretty good. Samsung has all these pieces going for it when you look at specific blogs."
Nail says the intersection of brand research and social media analysis does a lot to inform media strategy.