The New Frontier of Word-of-Mouth Marketing is Visual
In "The Tipping Point," Malcolm Gladwell writes "the sophistication and wizardry and limitless access to information ... is going to lead us to rely more and more on very primitive kinds of social contacts." As Gladwell explains, these primitive social contacts — i.e., word-of-mouth interactions — gain influence in proportion to the growth of digital culture.
In the decades since "The Tipping Point's" publication, word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) has evolved in reaction to technology. WOMM's newest reincarnation comes in the form of branded visual content. Thanks to mobile social media apps like Instagram, photos and videos are proving to be powerful digital marketing tools. The visual nature of these social platforms offers branded content an extra push because consumers are attracted to visual things.
Marketers can increase their impact by leveraging these two important notions — word-of-mouth's trustworthiness and social media's visual reach — when creating branded content.
The word-of-mouth phenomenon involves more trust than any other advertising technique. According to a 2013 study by Nielson, 84 percent of respondents cited word-of-mouth recommendations from family and friends as the most trustworthy form of advertising. Respondents were also likely to trust recommendations that other consumers post online.
Trusting close relationships is a human reflex ingrained by years of social development. For marketers, gaining this trust is the ultimate win. Yet WOMM is only as valuable as the social circles it operates in, and these circles are often too small to influence mass consumerism. Think about it: How many people's recommendations would you actually act upon? Five? Maybe 10? WOMM is great, but it can be slow and physically limited.
While marketers see the value in word-of-mouth strategies, many have trouble determining its impact and return on investment. Sixty-four percent of marketers agree that word-of-mouth and social media are more effective than traditional marketing. However, just 6 percent feel that they have mastered it. This is where social media, and in particular visual content, can help increase the impact of WOMM.
The smartest marketers use consumer channels to drive brand conversations and sell products. Social media offers WOMM a platform for unprecedented reach, where a single consumer's recommendation can be broadcast to thousands. Brands like Yelp exist on the very idea of peer recommendations and the amplification powers of digital.
Visual content takes WOMM one step further. Photos and videos have proven to be one of the most effective ways to communicate with friends and family. Instagram has over 300 million users and Snapchat has over 100 million monthly users. Social channels are consistently modifying their platforms' algorithms to highlight visual content. The trend is so pervasive that visual content receives up to 94 percent more engagement than text.
Unlike written forms of advertising, photos and videos allow marketers to tell stories that are both personal and sharable. When visual shared content is timed with a live event, the blend of WOMM's trust and social media's reach has proven highly successful. Marketers can greatly increase their consumer reach with minimal effort or spend.
Brands sponsoring events can use company-branded photos and instant consumer sharing to increase the reach of their event by up to 10 times. For example, in 2014, branded content and instant streaming helped Pandora earn 1.2 million impressions from just 85 photos taken at an awards show after-party in Los Angeles. And in 2015, Subaru reached over 400,000 impressions with fewer than 2,000 photos at the Philadelphia Auto Show. Just like Pandora and Subaru, any brand can engage thousands of prospects in a word-of-mouth way with just a few sharable images.
As technology continues to grow, the ability to leverage digital in combination with word-of-mouth will become more important. As Gladwell concludes, "understanding [the] principles of word-of-mouth is more important than ever." While many marketers feel they don't yet understand WOMM and branded visual content, partnering with social marketing platforms is a good first step.
Joe Matthews is the co-founder and CEO of Tagkast, a social advertising platform that turns event photography into branded content.