The Vast Majority of Word-of-Mouth About Brands Still Takes Place Offline

March 3, 2021

EngagementLabs Word of Mouth Channels 2020 v 2007 Mar2021 Word-of-mouth (WOM) has long been a major player when it comes to learning about brands and making a purchase decision. While total offline WOM impressions have modestly increased since 2007, something hasn’t changed: the majority of all WOM is still done face-to-face. This is per new data from Engagement Labs.

Marking 15 years of measuring offline WOM – defined by Engagement Labs as conversations taking place face-to-face, by phone, emailing, texting, or any channel other than posting on social media – the study finds that WOM in the US remains majority (66%) face-to-face, just as it was at the start of the study, despite this share decreasing from 74% in 2007.

Also between 2007 and 2020, the share of WOM accounted for by phone conversations has remained steady at around 17%, while among online channels the share of conversations attributed to instant message/text message has increased from 3% to 8%, and email’s share has dipped from 3% to 2%.

WOM has clear benefits for brands: research from Bluecore finds that despite the rise of influencer marketing WOM still tops the list of channels that most influence online shoppers’ decision to try a new brand.

And, Marketing Charts’ US Purchase Influencers Report indicated that recommendations from friends and family were US adults’ biggest purchase influencer.

WOM Impressions

The study looks to emphasize that rather than compromise offline WOM, as social media has developed, offline WOM has actually increased. In 2007, there were an estimated 13.2 billion weekly offline WOM impressions about brands, with that figure climbing to 14 billion per week in 2020.

WOM impressions have risen most between 2007 and 2020 in Household Products, more than doubling (+102.2%) to more than 730 million weekly impressions, on average. Other industries seeing significant growth included the Home, with impressions up by 52.9% since 2007 and Health/Healthcare, which saw impressions increase by 37.9%. On the other hand, industries that have experienced a decrease in WOM since 2007 include Automotive (down 26.7%) and Telecommunications (down 26.9%).

As for the industry with the most average weekly WOM impressions, Media/Entertainment tops the list with a 1.8 billion average impressions in 2020, followed by Food/Dining (1.8 billion), Beverages (1.4 billion) and Retail/Apparel (1.3 billion). At the other end of the scale, Household Products, which saw the biggest growth in impressions since 2007, nonetheless accounts for the lowest average weekly impressions (730 million).

WOM Sentiment

Another key change highlighted in the study is the evolution in offline WOM sentiment since 2007. In 2007, overall net sentiment was +41 (calculated by subtracting mostly negative and mostly mixed WOM from mostly positive) with nearly two-thirds of offline WOM being positive. Fortunately, net sentiment was higher in 2020 at +47, with 69% of offline WOM conversations being positive.

This growth was seen most clearly in Telecommunications: despite being the industry with the lowest net sentiment in 2020 (+32.5), the industry’s figure has grown by 226.28% since 2007. Personal Care/Beauty enjoyed the top positive sentiment in 2020 (+61.3), followed by Children’s Products (+57.4), Beverages (+57.2) and Food/Dining (+54.9).

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