Media Planning for Word of Mouth

Word of Mouth
Word of Mouth
Word of Mouth

(Content originally posted at Keller Fay.)

One of the key themes of this blog and my recent book is that the opportunities for business to engage in social marketing extend far beyond online social media such as Facebook or Twitter. Media and marketing of all types drive word of mouth conversation – for example, what people see on television is as likely to drive conversation as what they see on the internet. Further, a very large amount of word of mouth is driven by advertising.

It is for this reason that I have argued previously that “all media are social.” But to fully capitalize on the fact that people frequently talk about the advertising they see and hear requires more than just serendipity. Media should be planned with word of mouth in mind, as Coca Cola has in mind when they talk about shifting from counting “impressions” to “expressions” as the currency for buying and selling media.

New tools recently have been developed which facilitate this type of social impact optimization, allowing marketers to target media/design media plans that reach the most category or brand-related WOM conversations.

Media audiences vary widely in the degree to which they are engaged in conversations about brands.  For example, the average American talks about brands 80 times during the course of a typical week. And we know that magazine readers tend to talk more than the average, as a whole. However, the variation across magazines is wide, with some magazine audiences having as many as 125 conversations per week, and others as low as only 59. If word of mouth advocacy is your goal, you’d be far better putting a measure of social value on those that are well above average.

When it comes to individual product categories, the spread is even more dramatic. For example, Americans on average talk about technology brands an average of 5.4 times per week.  When we look at magazine audiences, the spread ranges from a high of 10.4 conversations a week, down to a low of only 3.3.

A similar pattern can be seen for audiences of all media, not just magazines. For example, there are cable networks with as many as 130 conversations per week, and as few as only 53. The spread is not quite a wide for cable as it is for magazines, but it is significant nonetheless and the facts remain the same: you will get far more people talking about your ads among audiences that have significantly more talkers than among those who are below average.

These data are now available for all media and all product categories as a result of the recently released joint effort by Keller Fay Group and GfK MRI, which have fused data sets to meld word of mouth tracking with media and product usage data. The combination provides marketers with a new and unique ability to plan media for word of mouth in the real world, where the overwhelming majority of word of mouth takes place.

Another way to help maximize the social impact of your marketing activity is via contextual media planning: planning media by reaching consumers in social contexts that will help to facilitate the sharing of ad content. What this means if that we the marketer can find the times and places when people are both consuming media and engaging interactions (online or offline) it significantly increases the chances that people will share the media messages that they consume.

This was the topic of a recent paper presented by my colleague Brad Fay together with Kevin Moeller of the Media Behavior Institute and David Shiffman of MediaVest. It was based on the fusion of Keller Fay’s TalkTrack with the Media Behavior Institute’s USA TouchPoints study.

In the paper you find an example of how this type of contextual planning might work, for example, with the marketing of a movie among young singles – the key demographic for most movies. The data reveal the key media, day parts, and types of media content among young singles based on when they watch and also when they are likely to be communicating with others, thereby maximizing the chance that they will talk with a friend about going to see the advertised movie.

The opportunity to plan media for “social context” is one of the significant applications for USA Touchpoints, which is modeled after a similar study offered by the Institute for Advertising Practitioners in the United Kingdom.

These new tools make clear that social value can become an important planning variable, and that a social strategy needn’t rely only on online social media. All media can – and should – be social. Now the pathway to take advantage of the tremendous talk value of media audiences can be clearly navigated.

About Ed Keller

Ed Keller, CEO of the Keller Fay Group, has been called "one of the most recognized names in word of mouth." His new book, The Face-to-Face Book, was recently published by Free Press/Simon & Schuster. You can follow Ed Keller on Twitter, Facebook and Google+, or contact him directly at



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