Regardless of what channels deliver the information, nearly 50% of consumers 18-54 say they are very likely to purchase items based on word of mouth.

That’s according to new research from Microsoft Advertising, in conjunction with the Keller Fay Group, which collected 24,724 interviews from respondents ages 18-54 throughout 2010.

So, how do marketers influence those conversations? “The answer is by reaching the right social audience,” according to Natasha Hritzuk, director of ad sales research and analytics at Microsoft.

“If you’re putting your brand messages in front of individuals that don’t talk and share, that’s not going to help your word of mouth,” added Hritzuk. “You want to go beyond platforms to build real relationships with consumers who are social and likely to speak favorably about your brand.”

As evidenced by the ubiquity of comments and review sections on ecommerce sites — and the availability of digital social sharing tools — buyers are increasingly viewing consumer recommendations as critical input for purchase decisions.

Indeed, consumers are having conversations about products and brands — both online and off — making recommendations to their family, friends and coworkers.

To achieve ROI, however, marketers must ensure that they are connecting with the right consumers — those who are most likely to champion their brand messages and pass them on to others.

“For marketers, the rise of social media has helped crystallize the importance of word of mouth,” according to Hritzuk. “But lately, ‘social’ has become synonymous with a platform, when in reality, it’s a fundamental human behavior.”

In fact, as Hritzuk points out, 90% of consumer conversations happen offline — far away from what many marketers currently think of when they say “social media.”

According to Hritzuk, for successful word-of-mouth results, marketers should focus on consumers who maintain large peer networks, engage in brand conversations and recommend brands to others, are active on social media, and are influenced by advertising.

Digital channels provide marketers with a convenient opportunity to target individuals more accurately than offline channels. They help spark conversations that can be continued online or taken offline.

When credible individuals talk favorably about brands, Hritzuk added, “others are more likely to embrace those messages, explore the brands and recommend them.”

SOURCE MediaPost

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