Offline Word of Mouth more positive and credible than Online Buzz.

In a first of its kind study comparing word of mouth (WOM) in online and offline venues, the Keller Fay Group and media agency OMD find that offline WOM is
more positive and more likely to be judged highly credible than online talk.

Study results include:

— Word of mouth expressed face to face and by phone is viewed as highly “credible” more often than online talk (59% vs. 49%).

— Offline communication has more purely positive content than online (65% vs. 59%) and is less likely to contain negative or “mixed” content (23% vs. 30%).

— A comparison between face to face communication and content via online blogs and chatrooms reveals an even wider gap, with 66% of face to face communication “mostly positive” compared to 57% for blogs/chatrooms.

— Offline WOM is more likely than online to lead to strong purchase intent (50% vs. 43%).

The findings are significant to marketers who, according to PQ Media, currently spend more than $1 billion annually on word of mouth strategies, and who must decide how to allocate their resources most effectively. At a time when much of the attention in word of mouth is focused on the Internet, the Keller Fay/OMD report points to significant opportunities in the offline world.

One possible explanation for the “credibility gap” between online and offline WOM is that online communications often occurs between people who don’t know each other very well. The study examines this possibility, and results suggest that the gap in credibility still exists even in communications between people of the same relationship. Specifically, content from a spouse, relative or best friend is rated more believable when it is shared offline, either by phone or face to face, as opposed to online via email, text messaging or blogs.

“We were most surprised to learn that we evaluate brand-related information from our spouse or best friend as more credible when it is shared face to face or by phone instead of through the Internet,” says Keller Fay COO Brad Fay, co-author of the study. “Apparently, the value of eye contact, voice and perhaps even non-verbal communication provides a boost to credibility and the likelihood that we’ll do something about what we’ve learned.”

“In today’s complex marketplace, brands need to find more effective ways to connect with consumers, and this study shows that both online and offline word of mouth are among the most valuable tools available to marketers,” says Sandy Eubank, Director, Business Intelligence at OMD and co-author of the study.

On average, there are 3.5 billion word of mouth conversations daily in the U.S. Offline WOM accounts for 92% of conversations (75% face to face; 17% phone), and email, IM/text messaging and chatroom/blogs for 7%.

While offline communication remains the predominant mode of word of mouth across all age groups (ranging from 80% among the youngest group to
97% among the oldest), the results indicate that teens participate in a higher percentage of online WOM (17%) than members of other age groups.
Consumers under 18 are also more likely to drive advice giving in online talk. While only 13% of offline advice givers are ages 13-17, 35% of advice
givers in online conversations fall within this age bracket.

The study findings are a product of TalkTrack, Keller Fay’s measurement program for word of mouth marketing that monitors daily conversations of Americans in all channels (online and offline). Results of the study are based on surveys of 18,486 Americans, 13-69 years old, from July 30, 2007 through February 3, 2008.

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