Brands must join in global conversations to succeed

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | January 27, 2011
At the Mumbai session of Global Brandscape, presented by the BBC and The Economist, the power of word-of-mouth and conversation trends across the world were discussed.

On the second day of Global Brandscape, presented by the BBC and The Economist in Mumbai, BBC Global News Division presented a study on the way global conversations are taking place -- what people are talking about, how they do so and what influences most. Dezma de Melo, head of audience insight, South Asia, BBC Global News Division presented the study on behalf of Jeremy Nye, head of audience insight, BBC Global News Division.

The presentation, titled World Speaks, looked at two research studies -- a qualitative and a quantitative study of the impact of word-of-mouth and the world's big problems that people are talking about.

To begin with, friends and family were spoken about. "We all have friends, family members and colleagues with whom we speak. We may not think of them as a network, but that is what they are," it was observed.

Locally, individuals have their own personal network. Their network consists of family and close friends, followed by extended family, contacts made through local activities and friends who the individual meets less often.

Colleagues were a little further out of the close network, but this was subject to change. Moreover, neighbours could be close friends, but in today's scenario, many people don't even know their neighbours, particularly in cities, and in the Western world.

Outside the network are 'circumstantials' -- people one might meet in shops or in trains. They can be important as they can spread messages, too.

Qualitative work in India, Ghana and the UK revealed many similarities between the different kinds of network that people had. In India, the BBC has found a society with a particularly big network. Families tend to be larger and better connected, living together more often. And, colleagues and professional contacts are higher, too. The UK, on the other hand, was found to be more individualistic, with weaker family ties.

What did people talk about? It was found that news stories are talked about more often, when they fit certain archetypes, such as trauma, heroism, scandal or humour.

It was also observed that what people talk about could relate to three aspects of the self -- things that have a local effect ('My World'), things that affect a larger geography ('Our World'), and things with global implications ('The World').

"It is important for brands looking to expand internationally to understand how to extend across all three," it was said.

Moving on, the presentation focussed on a survey that the BBC conducted in 26 countries, asking people what they think are the biggest global problems, problems that could be seen as issues, or even opportunities for a brand.

The fieldwork for the research was done between June and September 2010, with a sample of about 1,000 adults in each country. The countries included in the research were the US, the UK, Germany, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, Spain, China, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Kenya, Ghana, Australia, Italy and Japan, among others.

The survey revealed that the issues that were deemed most serious and were most talked about by people were, human rights abuse, the rising cost of energy and food, terrorism, environment, extreme poverty, climate change and corruption.

In India, terrorism and corruption were the most serious problems widely talked about with far less concern about globalisation, economy, powerful global companies and migration, all of which were big issues in other countries.

In the final part of the presentation, it was discussed how word-of-mouth could be used to promote a brand internationally.

In collaboration with Carat and the research firm, Future Foundation, nine countries including India were surveyed online. Here, the BBC looked at various media that facilitate word-of-mouth conversations triggered by brands, personal experience and news.

Results revealed that the number of contacts each person had in their network were highest in India, Hong Kong and the UAE. The trend observed was that the key emerging markets have larger technology-driven networks that cross international boundaries.

"It will be interesting to see if the size and nature of networking in India change, as broadband cable and 3G phones take off," it was said.

The market segmentation identified three types of opinion leaders -- hub urbanites, e-mail evangelists and offline influencers -- based on their propensity to spread information and the media they used.

The hub urbanites, consisting of about a fifth of the opinion leaders, use social media a lot, are trusted and have large personal networks conveying information frequently. They also use traditional media, as they look for trusted information to share. This segment is particularly keen on the BBC, which they see as a trusted source.

The e-mail evangelists prefer to express their opinions through the e-mail as well as through text messages. Like urbanites, they form a fifth of the population. While they have a large network as well, they are less trusted and respected as they are found to seek attention. They are more likely to simply send a comment on something they have seen on the internet.

The e-mail was observed to be more traditional than social networking, more of a push mechanism than an interactive one.

The offline influencers formed the largest group. They extend word-of-mouth to the masses by talking about it locally, talk to friends face-to-face and make it mainstream. They were more trusted within their smaller sets of network as they talked about things they had heard or seen around them.

The three key channels through which the media influences opinion leaders are the television, research on the internet, and eventually, sharing through the various types of network.

The death of Michael Jackson was cited as an example. It was found that 45 per cent of the population learnt about his death through the television, as compared to 23 per cent from the web, 15 per cent from the radio, 12 per cent from word-of-mouth and finally, through the newspapers.

However, it was concluded that eventually, the online medium takes over when people want to find out more and form an opinion.

The presenter also said that each kind of opinion leader needs a different approach to be activated. Offline influencers try a brand out before talking about it, and hence, are much trusted. They were found to respond to special offers and were particularly influential when it came to food, drinks and luxury.

Hub urbanites base their behaviour on personal experience or media stories. They need new, original information, scoops and exclusive offers, for instance. They often want to be rewarded and feel special.

Summarising the presentation, it was said that global conversations are happening in today's networked world. Brands that join in this conversation would succeed. It was observed that news is a key driver of conversation. And, brands looking to globalise must turn modern, outgoing, influential adults into communication partners.

"It cannot be done just by sending out Twitter alerts or a message to a few thousand Facebook friends; these can be part of a wider, integrated campaign," it was remarked.

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