Are You Talking to Me?

Lindsey Kirchoff’s blog, How to Market to Me, featured on Social Media Today, gives it to you straight from the horse’s mouth.

A second semester senior at Tufts University, Lindsey launched her site to ”show your story, don’t just tell it,” quoting her creative writing professor. “First, demonstrate value to the customer– then sell.”

Since I am looking for a full-time job in the marketing industry on the creative/strategic side, my goal was to write intelligently about a subject that would be useful to employers: how to market to millennials–like me.

Here’s a abridged sample of her work on a topic that is discussed a great deal these days – the effectiveness of social media in influencing decisions. Lindsey writes:

“What We Really Think: Anonymous Reviews vs. Personal Recommendations”

“Anyone can do research on milllennials. But what we’re actually thinking? For that, you’d need to ask one. In the “What We Really Think” posts, I compare what the market research says I do to what I actually do. How close or far-off are they?

Everyone knows that social media influences millennials’ purchasing decisions, but did you know that they just as likely to be swayed by anonymous comments on a company website?   According to this eMarketer report, twentysomethings rely just as much on strangers on the internet as they do their friends and family when it comes to getting the scoop on a company. In fact, they actually favor anonymous comments on a company website slightly higher than their own friends and family.  Here’s what the data says.

The Baazarvoice study defined user-generated content as “any on-site content created by internet users…[including]  reviews, comments, stories and questions”.  As you can see from the graph above, millennials were found to put much more stock in this type of content than consumers aged 47-65.”

Does Lindsey Agree?

According to Lindsey, she does in fact rely on user-generated content as much or more than a friend’s recommendation, and provides a real life example of how it works:

Last night, having absolutely nothing in my fridge, I decided to order Chinese take-out…I called up my trendy foodie friend Amy to see if she knew any good places.  She recommended a little place called Sugar and Spice. The first thing I did after I got off the phone? Went to and checked it out. In the comments section, I saw a trend from multiple people. With my friend, it was just her opinion.  After skimming the reviews, I decided to go for it and ate delicious drunken noodles for dinner.

Without [Amy’s recommendation] I wouldn’t have gotten to the Sugar and Spice page on Yelp.  The situation could have easily played itself in reverse…Say I was skimming restaurant pages on Yelp for good takeout. After finding a page with a few good reviews, I might call up a friend like Amy and see if she could confirm that it really was a tasty place to eat.

As far as friend recommendations vs. anonymous reviews, I’d say the two are about equal…Between the two of them, I’m making sure to get the best deal.

What’s the takeaway? If your customers are millennials, they are probably getting information about your product from outside sources, both through friends and strangers online.  Make sure to monitor your online reviews (both on your website and through third party websites, like Yelp) as well as your social media accounts to put yourself in your customers’ shoes.

To those who were not raised in a digital environment in which anonymous reviews are given equal weight to the word of a friend, such a question gives pause.  But the market research puts a degree of certainty around the phenomena that Lindsey’s point of reference can confirm.

A Twofold Approach to Winning Credibility With Customers

In effect, a sound marketing approach gives weight to both the data and Lindsey’s own review. Psychologically, it appears that user reviews carry the credence of a peer, similar to that one would accord and acquaintance, versus the marketing content promoted by an interested party. The challenge marketers face in believability in this age of consumer incredulity has been well documented. To win customers, I recommend a twofold approach:

  1. Utilize the Brand Value Pyramid – Voice of the Customer (VOC)
  2. Be in the Social Media Mix – Voice of the Peer (VOP)

1. Use The Brand Value Pyramid (VOC)

The Brand Value Pyramid: from Scott Davis’ Brand Asset Management shows you how to turn your brand into the driving force behind your company’s growth, operational success, and long-term profitability. Using his principles, I have been successful in driving profitability and market share for financial services products, applying these two principles:
  1. Content must reflect the Voice of the Customer. 
    • To speak in the customer’s voice, you need to capture the customers’ 1) beliefs and values up front, ahead of the 2) product benefits, and 3) features and attributes, effectively making use of the Brand Value Pyramid shown above.
  2. Allow the customer to drill down and research.
    • Your case can then be briefly supported by testimonials, statistics and data that allow the customer to confirm for him/herself what peers are saying about the product.

 2. Be in The Social Media Mix (VOP)

Considering Social Media in the context provided by Lindsey and the research she points to above, customers – especially millennials – are increasingly getting information about your products and services both through friends and strangers online.  Being in social media pays off in two ways: first, it puts you in the position of  putting yourself in your customers’ shoes so that you can better understand and influence them, and second, it puts you in the mix of opinions that consumers turn to when they look to their peers for recommendations about your products and services. The Voice of the Customer – VOC – is not complete without the Voice of the Peer – VOP.

Snap! principle of Social Influence in buying decisions:

Ignore the Voice of The Customers’ Peers at your own risk.