Ed Keller, CEO, Keller Fay Group
Ed Keller, CEO, Keller Fay Group
A view from Ed Keller and Steve Thomson

Think BR: Britain's most talked about brands

Marketers need to be aware of the differences between online and offline word of mouth, write Ed Keller and Steve Thomson of Keller Fay.

Like much of the world, the UK is a brand-conscious society - brands play a big part in people’s lives.  

But people don’t just consume brands, they talk about brands all the time. Word of mouth (WOM) about brands is as old as branding itself, and people have always shared information about the things that improve their lives - or things to avoid.

Keller Fay’s ongoing tracking of UK consumer conversations, TalkTrack® Britain, indicates that adults discuss around 11 brands in a typical day. 

That’s about half a billion brand impressions created each and every day via word of mouth. On this scale, it’s easy to see how WOM can have a huge impact on a brand’s fortunes.

Only a fraction of these conversations take place in social media; over 80% take place face-to-face in fact, with the phone the next biggest channel. Less than 10% take place online. 

While huge number of people might be spending time on online social networks, much of the interaction on Facebook and the like (beyond the Like) is not brand-related. 

Hence to understand which brands are being talked about, and whether your brand is getting its fair share of WOM, it’s critical to think about all kinds of conversations - yes, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest - but even more so, chats around the home, office and pub.

When we do this, a clear pattern emerges: brands which touch people’s lives frequently are a constant talking point. 

One might assume that technology brands and all their hot new products would dominate consumer brand buzz. In reality the mix is more varied:

On everyone’s Lips:  the 10 most talked about brands in the UK

  • Tesco
  • Sky
  • Apple Computer
  • Asda
  • BT
  • Virgin Media
  • Coca-Cola
  • BBC
  • Samsung
  • Boots

Source:  TalkTrack® Britain 2011-12, from Keller Fay Ltd.

These are brands which people use and see all the time. The number one brand - and Tesco takes top spot most weeks - has, of course, a huge presence in the UK, and takes a big percentage of all retail sales.

Every week, a big chunk of the UK population encounters something - advertising, editorial something in the store - which triggers a conversation. 

It may not be something so earth-shattering as to warrant a mention in your übercool blog, but somehow you find yourself saying something on your way back into the office at lunchtime.  And these conversations prove to be very valuable to brands.

WOM volume - ie, the extent to which you’re part of the conversation at all - is, therefore not necessarily about being cool at all. Yes, Apple is in the top 10 but every brand is capable of stimulating buzz. Nescafé is talked about a lot more than Lavazza.

Being a big brand clearly helps - there’s a strong relationship between market share and Talkshare. But it’s not 1-to-1. For example, in automotive Ford outperforms Vauxhall significantly in terms of WOM, by a much greater margin than sales.

The presence of brands such as Sky and BT so far up the list surprises many. In essence these brands matter to people (or, rather, the services they provide in this connected world are indispensible). 

Add to that a competitive landscape and heavy marketing spend, and there is plenty of fuel for discussion.

It’s noticeable that many of the top brands are essentially local favourites. Only three brands of the UK top 10 originated overseas, and further down the list the presence of Sainsbury’s, British Gas, Next and others underlines the finding that the familiar and long-established can still generate WOM.

In online social media itself, the volume of talk is lower, and somewhat dominated by a few topics and product categories - technology, media, sports - and by younger people, who still talk much more offline about brands than they do online.  

Yes, social is growing among the middle aged, but they still fall far short of younger peers in the frequency with which they visit and post comments about anything online.

In summary, online and offline WOM are different, and a real world perspective is crucial. In the real world, all kinds of brands get talked about, in all kinds of places and ways.

Social media is not the primary channel for brand conversation, rather face to face is primary and always will be - only if your brand has a real world and not just virtual presence can it maximise its true social value that will drive marketplace success.

Ed Keller is CEO of the Keller Fay Group, and co-author (with Brad Fay) of The Face-to-Face Book: Why Real Relationships Rule in a Digital Marketplace. Steve Thomson is MD of Keller Fay UK.