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New Study Highlights Importance of Word-of-Mouth in Driving Brand Relevance

A recent study highlights the importance of popularity — being talked about and recommended by others — in driving the success of leading brands across categories today.


What: Interpublic Group agency Golin released its first-ever Global Relevance Review, highlighting the importance of popularity — being talked about and recommended by others — in driving the success of leading brands across categories today.
Why It Matters: While the study found that today’s most relevant brands are driven by word-of-mouth and popularity, none of them is meeting customers’ expectations when it comes to trustworthiness. At our PortadaLat conference next week, Steve Bent, Director of Analytics and Research at Golin will provide a presentation on “What Fake News Means for Brands” and discuss more insights of the study .

Golin recently released its first-ever Global Relevance Review, which analyzed the factors contributing to today’s most relevant brands’ success.

The study shows that consumers are increasingly skeptical of brands and institutions and look to each other for validation in which brands to support. The findings suggest that successful brands will recognize the power of word-of-mouth, but that they should also work on increasing their trustworthiness to drive even more growth.

Most Relevant Brands Are Popular But Remain Untrustworthy

Golin’s respondents defined relevant information as anything useful/practical (54%), informative (53%), and funny (35%). Other adjectives like “inspiring,” “shocking” and “exciting” were not as important in driving relevance. While 91 percent of the most relevant brands studied exceeded expectations when it comes to being popular, not even one was able to meet the ideal when it came to being trustworthy — ethical, moral, honest and truthful — the company’s press release said.

Gary Rudnick, CEO + Operations at Golin said, “the trend of talkability trumping truth played out consistently across all three of the categories we looked at,” pointing to the fact that the leading global Social Marketing brand fell 32 points short on meeting the ideal for Trustworthy, but scored almost 30 points higher on popularity than the ideal.

The fact that so many brands could be very popular without being trustworthy highlights an interesting trend: “Leading brands are sustaining relevance by under-delivering on ideal expectations when it comes to Trustworthy, and over-delivering when it comes to Popular,” said Rudnick.  To illustrate this,  “I can point you to a leading German car maker and a major American bank,” Rudnick continued, “both of whom have been unequivocally established as not telling the truth about important things, and manage to maintain popularity.”

Lack of Standout Leaders in Auto Category

While the report does not give details on specific brands, it focused on three categories: social media, personal banking and automotiveWhen it came to social media, the firm found that people care more about being entertained than truth, and in banking, consumers prefer local to global banks. In the automotive category, individual brands are struggling to stand out in terms of relevance. 

 “It’s surprising, given the vast amounts of money that car brands spend around the world trying to craft evocative and distinctive personalities for their brands, and for their individual cars, how similarly consumers seem to perceive them,” Rudnick explained.

Small Town Loyalty Most Intense

To complement the data from the study, Golin also conducted an ethnographic study of residents in two small towns whose populist movements surprised everyone in their respective countries’ recent elections: Seymour, Indiana, and Preston, U.K. In both towns, one of the strongest sentiments that the team picked up on was that small town residents feel they are being taken advantage of, and are equally skeptical of big government, cities, the mainstream media and large companies.

The study also found that residents of small towns are intensely loyal to brands: in Seymour, Indiana, particular loyalty to Chevrolet was discovered, and panelists also spoke passionately about Facebook, Google, and McDonalds.

“Seymour’s loyalty to Chevy is community-wide,” Rudnick said. “Perhaps it’s that the networks are smaller and more tightly-knit and that the cultural reinforcements are more concentrated.”

Among other macro trends, social media (59%) and television (57%) consistently ranked first and second above “word-of-mouth from friends and family” (45%) as the most relevant sources of news and information, and word-of-mouth from friends and family is more relevant to women (50%) than men (39%). Across the categories, brands that achieve relevance do so through similar drivers, respecting “the contours of the ideal,” Rudnick said.

Above all, the study proved beyond doubt that “people’s loyalty to certain brands is an important part of their personality,” Rudnick said.


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