When the ads don't work - why word of mouth and product sampling are the future for brands

What do you think prompts targets to try or buy your products?

Your advertising?

Possibly not, even if it did cost tens, even hundreds, of thousands of pounds—even big-budget Christmas ads are now failing to strike a chord with the UK public.

There’s a solid and growing body of research that says consumers, particularly the millennial and later generations that make up a growing proportion of FMCG buyers, are turning away from brand-owned marketing and look instead to learn about brands from their peers and families.

In particular, they look to trusted people who have direct experience of the product (in other words, people who have actually tried it, rather than been paid to promote it).

Today’s consumers, who increasingly take ethical, environmental and health issues into account when deciding what to buy, are less wealthy than previous generations were at the same age, so they allocate money carefully and take time to decide from a growing range of options.

In doing so, they trust recommendations from family and friends above all.

That’s a very big change indeed, especially to the world of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), where traditional mass-market brands are already under attack from challenger brands and discounters, and trying to meet the many new demands of a connected, digital marketplace.

While the shift to customised products, product sampling and personalised consumer engagement and marketing has opened doors for niche and very small (often online) brands, it demands major cultural and behavioural change on from SMEs and bigger companies, many of whom are used to the more ‘broad brush’ approach of traditional, regional or even national advertising and marketing campaigns.

The good news is, that if brands can get word of mouth engagement right, especially in conjunction with a product sampling programme that targets their customer base with real precision, they can thrive—and that’s as true for the well-established, big-name brands as it is for new entrants and innovators.

At The Family Loop we know this, we’ve seen it happen—repeatedly.

Because however ‘old school’ the approach may seem at first, the benefits of word of mouth and peer-led engagement extend way beyond the initial interaction, and are good for consumers and brands alike.

There’s even reason to suspect that while consumers are willing to act on positive word of mouth, they may have a tendency to filter out negative comments, if they are interested in the brand anyway.

Give those wavering targets a nudge in the form of a risk-free chance to try your product, and there’s obviously a great chance to convert. Repeat that many times over in the form of a campaign, and the payoffs are clear.

Not just social media

The key to word of mouth success is to do much more than just talk to customers on social media, maintain a Facebook page, drop snippets about your products into online forums or link your products with football teams or TV shows that you think your targets might like.

No, you have to actively engage, to meet people where they are (quite literally) and then leverage people’s natural enthusiasm, to build a chain.

Think about it: if you are a keen cyclist, not only are you in the market for cycling stuff, you probably know lots of other cyclists, and you probably talk about cycling items and products you have tried.

If you’re a mum, who has primary control of the household grocery and clothing budgets, and you stand at the school gate at 3.15, chances are you are standing there with many other mums in the same situation—and chatting to them, both in person and online.

The crucial difference between advertising, or even the use of social media influencers, and word of mouth engagement, is that word of mouth involves peer-to-peer conversations.

These are dialogues, not preaching or persuasion by people with vested interests. So, interactions are generally authentic and unfiltered.

Word of mouth also reaches the smaller, more niche demographics that are interested in your brand but may be swept over by wider, less targeted campaigns that are designed and enacted by people who aren’t part of that target group, don’t know them personally and have little real-life experience of the product.

Family Loop research shows that on average, consumers have more than three times as many one-to-one conversations about products they have tried, compared to products they have merely seen advertised.

We also know that 84% of consumers are influenced by their friends’ and family members’ social media posts about products and services, while a massive 93% have been influenced to buy a product or service thanks to a positive report by a peer or relative who has tried it.

In stark contrast, just 11% have followed a celebrity’s recommendation.

What is more, these ‘chain’ effects persist. Over two-thirds of the Loopers, we have asked to trial and hand out a product continue to recommend it, a year after the original campaign ended.

That’s consumers within your target demographic, talking to other consumers within your target demographic, who will, in turn, talk to even more consumers within that demographic, about your product, for more than a year.

Can you imagine a conventional advertising campaign that could achieve that in one hit?

Nope, we can’t, either.

Don’t talk at your customers, talk with them

The take-home message is very simple.

Brand promotion is changing rapidly to focus on personalisation, customisation, meaningful two-way engagement and authenticity.

This means the old models of marketing and addressing targets simply don’t work anymore—you have only to look at the number of foundering high street names to know that.

Customers who live connected lives now make decisions based on those connections, including their purchasing decisions. They want informed recommendations, not dictation. Don’t talk at them, talk with them. Then, and only then, will your brand be able to face this changing world with confidence.

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Posted On 07th December 2018 In Product Sampling