Word of mouth is like the final click

Attending the Cannes Media Festival from your desk isn’t fun. Instead of enjoying a glass of something pink and chilled and rubbing shoulders with stars of stage and art direction you are viewing a tweeting frenzy full of clickbait hyperbole and Tony Robbins style soundbites. Be brave, you need to fail to succeed, unleash your originality…

But witnessing Cannes from your desk is made all the less enjoyable when it is used to launch a piece of nonsense research and you have to watch it pin-balling round Twitter while – to misquote Churchill – the truth is still looking for its pants, let alone putting them on.

The research is by the lovely people at Google and its central claim is that word of mouth has the biggest impact on purchase decisions, not media. It was an online survey and it came up with a top 10 points of influence on buying decisions. They were:

1. Word of mouth
2. Retailers and store visits
3. You Tube
4. Twitter
5. Company/brand websites
6. Facebook
7. Pinterest
8. Newspapers and magazines
9. TV and movies
10. Search

Does this strike you as odd? It should do. In fact it should strike you as pointless because it exists in a make-believe world where word of mouth happens in a vacuum.

Most people don’t spontaneously recommend a washing detergent or a sports brand or a retailer without having experienced it in some way first. So what about the influences on word of mouth? Well, all the other nine in the top ten are influences on word of mouth to a greater or lesser extent.

Also, it is very strange that – with all the time and effort we’ve spent understanding the psychology of brands, long-term memory encoding and heuristics, measuring behaviour from panels to brain scans – Google should commission an online survey asking people what they think influences them. We know people can’t answer this truthfully or with meaningful self-awareness.

Rather hilariously, one of the quotes used in Google’s write-up of the research is “YouTube is one of the best places to go online to watch in-action videos of vehicles I am considering buying”. Those are my italics.

None of us would deny that word of mouth is important but we all need to understand what drives it, and we know that paid media, TV in particular, is crucial. Word of mouth is not the first stop on the consumer journey. We’re well beyond giving credit to the final click; Google, better than most, understands that what happens offline drives behaviour online. It should apply the same understanding to word of mouth.

I need a pint of something pink and chilled.

  • LeShann

    For far too long Google has been seen as the impartial figure that helps make advertising a different place. But it’s clearer every year that their studies are surfing on the wave of sympathy we all have for them. We should never forget that the source is also the one trying to sell us a product, their product.

    When it comes to engagement and WoM, the reality I have witnessed in 99% of cases is that they require success (a big brand, a big interruption campaign etc.), they do not drive it. And the remaining 1% are the lucky fews that happened to be there at the right time and saying the right thing, hardly anything robust enough to build a business strategy on.

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