Five years ago, I published a post on the future of advertising in this new age of online word of mouth. So much has changed in five years (remember when in-phone GPS was a “breakthrough in mobile phone technology”?). In light of the huge strides word of mouth has taken since 2007, I decided to revisit the topic today because I still believe that advertising is just beginning to change.

Get consumers to talk, no matter the product, and attract others to these conversations through ads

Five years ago, I wrote that brands should “find a product that has high-velocity word of mouth.” “You are fooling yourself,” I wrote, “if you think you can get consumers to start talking about a boring” product.

But it turns out I was wrong: nearly any product can generate word of mouth. We’ve found that consumers can be as outspoken about the simple products they use daily as the sweet new iPad they just bought. We’ve seen thousands of reviews for Fresh Step cat litter. Hidden Valley boasts a passionate community around fans’ love of ranch dressing.

Bazaarvoice board member and advisor Ed Keller, of Keller Fay Group, agrees. “The most talked about brands in America tend to be brands like Coke and Walmart – ones people use and enjoy every day, and they want to share their experiences with others.”

Your customers want to talk about your products, period. They want to share and read opinions on everything – which means every brand and product has something to gain from sparking and spreading word of mouth. As Ed puts it, “Media and marketing activity help to spark fully half of all word of mouth conversations, with paid advertising being the leading source of marketing content.”

Look for trends in conversational Big Data, and use them to guide strategies from creative and targeting

Back when I wrote the first post, the technology to understand what consumers were truly saying was limited. Brand reps could read reviews, blog comments, and Facebook mentions to try to glean the bigger picture. But without the technology to analyze all the data, their results were often anecdotal and clouded by bias – they’d see what they wanted to see.

Today, the haziness has been made clear. As the conversation has grown from millions to billions of data points – through innovations like Twitter, the pervasion of reviews and other feedback, the population explosion of Facebook, etc. – the technology to analyze it has taken leaps forward. In health food feedback, for example, we’ve found that consumer mentions of “organic” are actually trending downward, while “gluten” mentions are sharply increasing. Ads touting organic foods therefore may not be as effective as they once were – evidenced by the real conversations consumers are having about products.

Brands today can use intelligence technologies to find the best aspects of products, the specific words and emotions consumers use to describe them, and the attributes they find most important. Then, you can echo these sentiments back to consumers through advertising – sparking real-world conversations, and echoing the word of mouth they hear from friends. Think of the word of mouth from friends as the anchor message that gets repeated in the advertisement, reminding them and reinforcing the conversation they had. “Through repetition, advertising can also give people cues that become conversation sparks,” says Ed. “The objective for marketers in the future should be to create ads that spark conversation; the conversation then persuades the prospect, which leads to purchase.”

Intelligence technologies also let brands segment their customer population by things like age, whether they have children, whether they are students, etc. For example, we analyzed feedback for a pet cleaning product, and found that parents who mentioned “pet hair” used language that was 81% positive, while non-parents were only 61% positive. Different segments value different attributes, and targeting based on these findings will improve ad effectiveness. An ad for a tablet targeting parents can tout the unbreakable gorilla-glass screen, while ads for the same tablet can target music lovers with praise for its industry-leading sound quality.

Literally highlight consumers’ authentic opinions by using content they create in your advertising

Today, many brands are going beyond my recommendation five years ago to highlight consumer sentiments in ads. They’re now literally including consumers and their opinions in advertising. Movie trailers have started including tweets from real viewers. USAA radio spots read real reviews from real customers. Rubbermaid used review text in an ad and saw a 10% higher redemption rate for the included coupon. Domino’s displayed customer feedback on their pizzas – the good and the bad – on a ticker in Times Square.

When possible, capture candid customer reactions to your product in use. Recent Febreze TV spots show consumers who are blindfolded and taken into disgustingly filthy rooms that have been treated with Febreze. When asked to describe the smell, the participants proclaim scents of fresh flowers, island breezes, clean linens, etc. Once the blindfold is removed, they’re genuinely shocked at the grime surrounding them. Not only will featuring consumers make your ads more believable, they’ll also encourage some consumers to give their feedback – hoping to make it into an ad spot themselves.

It’s exciting to think where word of mouth in advertising will be five years from now. I can’t wait to see how innovations in word of mouth, digital displays of all sorts (including smart TVs), mobile, and targeted relevance change consumers’ perceptions of advertising and the relationships they have with brands. We are still at the beginning of a massive change in one of the largest industries in the world.

Fresh Step, Hidden Valley, USAA, Rubbermaid, Domino’s, and Febreze are Bazaarvoice clients.

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