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Steve Thomson from the Keller Fay Group on measuring WOM marketing

Tim Gibbon (Social Media Portal (SMP)) - 13 December 2013

Social Media Portal interview with Steve Thomson from the Keller Fay Group

Steve Thomson on the impact of social media for brands and agencies when managing word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing

Keller Fay Group logoSocial Media Portal (SMP): What is name and what do you do there at the Keller Fay Group?

Steve Thomson (ST): I’m Steve Thomson, MD, Keller Fay UK.  I oversee the company’s activities in the UK and across the rest of Europe.

SMP: Briefly, tell us about the Keller Fay Group (for those that don’t know), what is it and what does the company do?

ST: We are an insight company, focussed on measuring and understanding brand word-of-mouth (WOM), advocacy and influence.  Our key point of difference is that we believe that holistic measurement (i.e. looking at all kinds of social interaction, not just via online social media) is essential if brands are to maximise advocacy levels and harness the power of WOM.

Why do we say that?  Because 90%+ of brand WOM takes place via ‘private’ offline channels (in-person, phone), and this WOM has much more impact than public feeds via Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Photograph of Steve Thomson managing director at Keller Fay UKSMP: When was the company founded, how many people work there and how is it funded?

ST: Founded in the US by Ed Keller and Brad Fay, with one other employee.  Funded with some private equity backing.

SMP: What’s the story behind the name and how  / why is chosen?

ST: Both Ed Keller and Brad Fay were already established as authorities on the dynamics of influence and advocacy, long before social media came on the scene.  It made sense to capitalise on their strong reputations.

SMP: Who are your target audience and why?

: Brand owners (principally consumer brands), media and ad agencies and media owners.  Brands obviously want to track their WOM and learn how to stimulate and grow it.  We also know that paid media of all types play a big role in driving/triggering WOM and hence media owners and planners want to demonstrate and understand how to plan media to maximise WOM.

SMP: How are you defining word of mouth marketing (WOMM) and why?

ST: WOMM is about harnessing the power of people to build brand awareness, reputation and advocacy.  It means designing marketing strategies and content specifically designed to generate WOM, and not merely treating it as an accidental by-product of other marketing activity.

SMP: How does the Keller Fay Group track, monitor and measure off and online conversations (that you’re calling WOM)?

ST: Our core approach uses proven survey sampling approaches, coupled with the use of diaries and apps to record conversations.  This allows people to keep track of any type of conversation (face-to-face, phone, email, Twitter) they have in a simple way, for a day, a week…

SMP: In particular, how is this done across social media?

ST: The core, holistic (multi-channel) approach above allows us to directly compare all kinds of conversations, which people have, because they are all being recorded in the same way.  Of course, where relevant we also use social media listening tools to provide greater depth of analysis, and/or real-time measurement of social media WOM, but ultimately the holistic measurements is the most reliable and predictive.

SMP: What sort of impact is social media having upon WOM in terms of the former embraced more by agencies / brands and the latter being an older term?

ST: Clearly there are still some agencies and some brand owners who feel that WOM has evolved to a point that all the action is in social media.  But it is this view which is now recognised as ‘dated’, as it is now apparent from our data and other sources that social media is – still – only a tiny part of social interaction about brands and products, and that real-world influence and dialogue is as strong as ever.  

SMP: Is WOM a dated term stakeholders may not be tuned into as much now? If not, why? If yes, why?

ST: There will always be some who want to portray WOM as ‘the old way’, and social media as the way forward.  For some, it’s an inconvenient truth that offline social interaction is bigger and has more impact on brand outcomes (this has been proven empirically).

SMP: In a recent energy company press release, British Gas appeared to be the worst performing in terms of WOM – can the same be said of social media from your findings?

ST: That’s not quite what we said – British Gas performs worse in that they get more negative WOM than anyone else – but that’s in part because they are the biggest, and to some extent the most obvious target.  But British Gas also gets a reasonable amount of positive WOM, too.  In terms of net sentiment, nPower is struggling, in both offline and online conversations.

SMP: What can energy companies do to turnaround the situation of the negativity they are receiving?

ST: Several things.  Tell your side of the story – via paid media, PR, etc.  Make sure your best deals are clearly communicated – promotions and deals can be very viral.  

And while you maybe can’t do much about rising prices, you can and must make sure that brand experiences are otherwise positive – great service, advice, etc.  

nPower has taken a hammering in part because of really poor billing systems (I’ve had first-hand experience!) – and while not many people regard gas bills as a great topic to post about in Facebook, they will and do talk about these things more casually and spontaneously offline.   

SMP:  What are the low moments of what you have been doing so far (and in regards to the Keller Fay Group)?

ST: Two things obvious frustrate us – when clients believe that they can assess brand WOM just by looking in social media, and worse still when they know they should be assessing WOM performance, but never get round to it.

SMP: What are the high moments of what you have been doing so far (and in regards to the Keller Fay Group)?

ST: The best moments are when brand marketing teams start to crystallise the actions they can take to drive WOM – they’ve moved beyond measurement and diagnosis towards action.

SMP: What are the main social channels you see brands using, why and which are the most effective for them from a WOM perspective?

: Well the biggest social channel remains face-to-face contact!  Some brands get this, others don’t.

In terms of online social media, it will vary by brand, category and geography, and the consensus appears to be that no single channel can suffice.  Potential fragmentation of (online) social channels is an issue that may need to be addressed. The overall effectiveness of social media as a brand marketing platform is still ‘not proven’ in too many instances.

SMP: What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for brands in terms of WOM?

ST: There are still plenty of brands that don’t fully understand the power of WOM, and the dynamics of driving and influencing it.  Hence brands have an opportunity to develop a competitive advantage by better understanding how to generate more powerful brand stories.

The key is to factor WOM into all elements of marketing strategy and brand-building. Don’t leave that just to social media - look for all channels to have a WOM impact.  The payoff comes from better marketing ROI and stronger customer value (by taking into account customers’ advocacy and influencer power).

Keller Fay Group website homepage image

SMP: What is the most challenging part of building upon the brands presence in digital environments (including social media)?

ST: Direct and instant response is measured very effectively for digital media, so it is very tempting to focus measurement and strategy around the things that can be measured more easily (e.g. a social strategy whose impact is measured on Likes or engagement, but not offline and longer-term outcomes such as brand-building, offline sharing, loyalty, etc.).

In our data, for example, we see that a considerable percentage of offline WOM is triggered or influenced by digital media.  The true impact and ROI of digital marketing programmes needs to be assessed holistically.  That’s quite a challenge in terms of planning/strategy and evaluation.

SMP: What’s going to be the most interesting aspect regarding social media, social networks and/or technology for the next 12 to 18-months and why?

I mentioned possible further fragmentation, with new/niche apps and platforms springing up all the time and some consumers always keen to embrace the next new thing.  

I also think a segment of people will begin to tire of the endless pressure to curate and share.  It’s fun for a while, but for some it can begin to feel like ‘work’.  And so there will be further fragmentation between the social enthusiasts and selectives.

SMP: What are your top five predictions for social media for the next 12 to 18-months?

ST replies with:

• Fragmentation: As noted above, niche platforms and apps hold appeal while others stick with what they know

• Segmentation: Enthusiasm and openness for some, caution, fatigue and sabbaticals for others – don’t expect a linear trend that everyone follows

• Voice and video: As these become ever-easier to capture, more is shared rather than just typing in plain text

• Online/offline:  Smarter sharing of digital content via offline channels, as brands figure out how best to activate this

• Older:  the population is ageing and growth in social media usage may have an older profile

SMP: What are your top five social media?

ST replies with:

•  Start with the story: What brand messages are truly interesting, exciting, new/different and relevant?

•  Address customer service issues in social media promptly and effectively, but don’t overreact.  Two hundred retweets of a customer gripe is a drop in the ocean versus offline WOM

•  Don’t overestimate people’s desires to form ‘relationships’ with brands.  Enable casual, transient interactions and sharing while at the same time developing bonds with loyal, committed customers.  Both groups are important, and both can help build your brand via WOM/advocacy

•  Identify and communicate with influential consumers on the basis of their offline as well as online influence.  You’ll want your brand messages to spread beyond social media communities, and should be looking to reach people with broad and diverse social networks

•  Make sure you plan for and assess the offline impact of social media activity.  If you’re sharing something cool, what will people take away and tell their colleagues about while standing in the canteen queue?  Have you ‘gone viral’ in the real world?

SMP: Is there anything else we should know, or is there anything that you’d like to share?

ST: “No man is an island.” The significance of social influence and interaction flagged up almost 500 years ago.  We’re all connected and important.

SMP: Best way to contact you and Keller Fay Group?

ST replies with:

Email: sthomson @
Telephone +44 7769 289590

Now some questions for fun

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?

ST: I love making soup, and I’m tucking in to some of my mushroom, shallot and brandy soup with some nice bread.  

SMP: What’s the last good thing that you did for someone?

ST: We’re sponsoring a little girl in Ghana, but closer to home organising a neighbourhood gathering for Christmas.  You could argue that’s more of a social thing, but since when were ‘social’ and ‘doing good’ mutually exclusive?!

SMP: If you weren’t working at Keller Fay Group what would you be doing?

ST: Picking the England squad for Rio next year

SMP: When and where did you go on your last holiday?

ST: Drove our daughter to Montpellier to start her study year abroad, then into the Pyrenees for a few days and then onto the Cantabrian coast.  A real mixture, which is our #1 requirement – we never like doing the same kind of thing for 14 days at a stretch.

SMP: What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?

ST: Emails of course, no getting away from that.

SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?

ST: You can’t beat time travel surely.  See answer #4 - now the holiday potentials are enormous, especially with all the money I’ll make buying Google shares and run-down Notting Hill houses in the 1970s.

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