• August 13, 2007
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Who Influences the Influencers?

The people whose opinions help influence their friends and colleagues in online activity are actually crafting those opinions out of significant online investigation, according to a recent study conducted by JupiterResearch. In fact, the 24 percent of online adults who are "influential brand advocates" are surprisingly "much more active in researching and learning about the products than they are in spreading the word," says Emily Riley, research analyst at JupiterResearch. Influential brand advocates (IBAs)--a category that the research firm uses to comprise people who spread brand messages and whose friends ask them for advice before purchasing products--tend to be similar in age, gender, and income to the average online user, but are differentiated by their "savvy research," "purchase behavior," and "high rate of online activity," according to the report, "Brand Advocates: Creating Rewarding Relationships." IBAs, the report finds, "have an impact on only a small group of friends and family, but that their opinion[s are] very trustworthy." The Internet itself, as one might expect, plays a significant role in IBAs' efforts to gather, use, and disburse that trusted information. The study finds that 69 percent of IBAs use the Internet to learn about their product of interest, compared to 52 percent of all online users; similarly, 68 percent of IBAs make purchases online, compared to 54 percent of all online users. IBAs also expect high quality as a result of their efforts: In addition to their higher tendencies to both research and purchase online, the study shows that, when it comes to influences on their own purchasing decisions, IBAs rate product reliability and getting a high value for their money as important factors (80 percent and 86 percent, respectively). Reliability and trustworthiness, in fact, come into play long before the actual point of purchase, as Jupiter's findings tally online users' assessment of various online resources. In descending order of "trustworthiness," these are:
  • company Web sites;
  • professional reviews;
  • postings on company sites;
  • postings on forum/message boards;
  • blogs; and
  • advertisements.
All online users, it seems, prefer professionally generated content (content and postings on a company's Web site, for example) over the user-generated variety (forum postings and blogs). IBAs, it seems, give even greater weight to these resources: In every category, an equal or higher percentage of IBAs gave a value of "somewhat trustworthy or "very trustworthy" than did online users in general. As a result, the study suggests that, in order to reach IBAs, marketers should create campaigns that are focused on "learning-based engagement," such as microsites that are content-rich and professionally generated, instead of "encouraging consumer content creation." Ironically, IBAs are more likely than the average online user to contribute to online content--especially materials that could be deemed counterproductive to marketers' hopes. More than one-quarter of brand advocates have posted negative reviews online compared to 12 percent of overall online users, the report states. Furthermore, in accordance with their active online activity, 25 percent of IBAs seek out (and 20 percent purchase) next-generation products; comparable figures for all online users are 16 percent and 10 percent, respectively. And yet IBAs are more inclined to impact fewer total people than larger groups of influencers do, but with greater depth. As a result, marketers--instead of expecting IBAs to promote a product--should cater to them on a long-term basis, according to Riley. "[Brand advocates] should not be considered catalysts for a viral campaign or a brand awareness campaign; but instead, [advertisers] should really consider them as people they can go back to again and again," Riley says. Because of IBAs' reliance on knowledge-based decisions, Riley advises marketers to focus on creating "a lasting client relationship with them because the brand advocates' influence is not in a sudden, viral activity but rather, when friends are in a buying cycle." In light of this study, the report offers some additional strategies to help marketers target effectively:
  • For best results in online viral activity or user-generated content, target all "new influentials," not just brand advocates.
  • Given that 53 percent of brand advocates respond to online advertisement that fit their interests and 29 percent on ads that fit their current activity, behavioral and content targeting are highly valuable.
  • Purchase search keywords that match brand messaging and link to rich product information.
  • Continue to use traditional forms of database marketing such as sweepstakes (response rate of more than 50 percent by brand advocates) and email newsletters (more than 33 percent).
Related articles: 'Green Teens' Give Marketers Green Ideas A new study shows that online teens who are actively concerned with trendy issues are more responsive to online advertising. Feature: From Crayons to Calculators The transition marketers have had to make--from creative souls to metrics mavens--has occurred quickly over a relatively short period of time. Tech Solution: Internet Marketing Solutions Marketers lack the ability to launch targeted, analytics-driven marketing campaigns online. What to do?
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