Houston, these marketers have a problem: Paul Marsden

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media | July 30, 2008
At the ZenithOptimedia ROI Seminar, Paul Marsden, social psychologist and market researcher specialising in the influence of word of mouth, spoke on the importance of advocacy for brands

"Do you & #BANNER1 & # know what salary your boss will give you next year? Will it be a raise or a demotion? There's only one way to know for sure," began Paul Marsden, social psychologist and market researcher specialising in word of mouth influence, at the ZenithOptimedia ROI Seminar held in Mumbai. Marsden was talking on the topic of advocacy and brands.

"The only question you need to know the answer of is, will your boss recommend you to another?" he explained. In the brands context, this implies that advocacy happens only when the client's question, "Would you recommend us?", is met with a resounding "Yes" from consumers.

Marsden revealed that according to various findings, it has been deduced that the most recommended company in a category grows 2.5 times more than the category average. Similarly, personal recommendations are rated as the numero uno influencer on purchase decisions across B2B and B2C sectors.

Paul Marsden
"When experiences beat expectations, it leads to advocacy," Marsden said, putting it simply. "It's sort of like the stock market - if you under-promise and over-deliver, things look up. But if you over-promise and under-deliver, it backfires and things crash around you."

Marsden went on to burst the bubble of ignorant chief executive officers. Citing research by Bain & Co., Marsden said that 80 per cent of CEOs believe their brand offers a superior experience. "Only 8 per cent of their users agree," Marsden said wryly.

"Yes, Houston, we have a problem," he joked, referring to the dialogue in the movie, Apollo 13.

Marsden said he couldn't stress enough on how advocacy helps a brand stand out. A purple cow will stand a greater chance of being noticed than a brown/ white one. "Say something remarkable and people will want to know more," he said.

So, is traditional advertising doomed with the propagation of personal advocacy? "Not really," said Marsden. For instance, 50 per cent of people who say they would recommend products to people haven't done so yet. "So there's an opportunity for advertising to ignite WoM or advocacy amongst this lot," he said. This, he said, is the birth of Advertising 2.0, where the job of creating awareness is merged with activating advocacy.

This can be achieved by creating ads with the WOW effect, like the Sony Bravia 'paint' ad for its TV range, which got people talking about the sheer brilliance of the commercial. Else, ads that ignite conversations should be created. For instance, AOL launched a hoarding which had one half of it asking, "Does the Internet destroy privacy?", while the other half asked, "Does the Internet destroy ignorance?" This led people to take sides and AOL benefited. "Give people a reason to recommend the brand," Marsden explained.

However, advertising should refrain from being preachy/ forced in its advocacy efforts. "If you talked to people the way advertising does, they would punch you in the face," quipped Marsden. Fundamentally, a combination of the following nine human values is what advocacy should address: belonging, excitement, fun, relationships, respect, fulfilment, accomplishment, security and self-respect.

"Whatever you do, make sure it's worth talking about," concluded Marsden.