Word of Mouth Around the Worldby Brad Fay, December 8, 2010
Word of mouth marketing is a global phenomenon now. Which raises an important question: How similar, or different, are people’s WOM behavior across markets?
At the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Summit in Las Vegas last month, Molly Flatt, president of the trade association WOMMA UK, moderated a group of panelists from the UK, Australia, Japan, and Israel. Much of the discussion focused on differences between countries—what it takes for a brand to be worthy of being recommended in one country versus another.
Highlighting differences can make for an interesting panel session, but research conducted by my firm finds a remarkable degree of similarity in the ways word of mouth works across countries, pointing to the universality of social influence in consumer decision making.
In 2010, Keller Fay Group undertook major word of mouth research studies in Britain and Australia, in addition to our continuing TalkTrack® study in the US. In the UK we conducted our research on behalf of Starcom Mediavest, News International, and ESPN. In Australia we worked in partnership with word of mouth agency, Soup.
We found that the English language was not the only thing these three countries have in common.
· Food & dining and media & entertainment are the most frequently talked about categories in all three countries. It seems that everybody needs to eat and be entertained, and conversation naturally follows.
· Positive word of mouth about brands far outweighs negative. In all three countries, over 6 in 10 conversations about brands are positive: US, 66%; Britain, 62%; and Australia, 61%. Fewer than 10% of conversations in any of the countries are primarily negative about a brand.
· Conversations about brands occur offline more often than online. In all three countries, online represented exactly 7% of conversations about products and brands, while close to 80% happens face-to-face in the three countries, with the telephone playing a slightly bigger role in the US (14%) than in Britain (11%) or Australia (10%).
· Marketing and advertising play big roles in stimulating word of mouth. About half of all conversations in the three countries involve a reference to some form of media or marketing—an advertisement, a coupon, a website, or a display at retail, for example.
Are these similarities just a function of a common cultural heritage and language among the US, UK, and Australia? We don’t think so. In proprietary research we’ve conducted in countries like Russia, Greece, Korea and Mexico we’ve generally seen the same broad findings. One notable difference, however, is that in Japan we found that consumers are less likely than in other countries to proactively volunteer word of mouth recommendations than occurs in most other places. In Japan, social influence seems to work more by indirect modeling and observation, than through volunteering advice directly.
There other differences at the category level, too. As I reported in a paper at WOMMA that I co-authored with Graeme Hutton of Universal McCann, the US lags both Australia and Britain in the quantity of word of mouth about the travel category. British and Australian consumers have about four and a half conversations about travel per week, on average, compared to about two and a half for Americans. But Americans tend to be much more positive about travel brands (destinations, airlines, lodging, etc.) than their overseas counterparts.
Perhaps the biggest area of difference comes at the brand level. Despite the ubiquity of global brands, only two—Apple and Coca Cola—are among the ten most talked about brands in all three countries. Other leading WOM brands, such as Telstra, ranked #1 in Australia, and Tesco, ranked #1 in Britain, reflect differences in market penetration, advertising expenditures, popularity, or local availability.
Differences in the word of mouth performance of individual brands around the world is a key reason that marketers must depend on research to guide marketing strategies and tactics in global markets.
But when it comes to larger question of the role of social influence in consumer marketing, we find there’s much more that unites our planet than divides it.