Women Influencers Are Susceptible (You Guessed It) to Influence

Marina Maher Study Finds 'Influence-Hers' Heed Media and Media Brands

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Influential women are themselves more likely than other women to have their purchases influenced by everything from online reviews to expert endorsements. But they're not always as swayed by the big names you'd expect and often give more weight to media and media brands than to individuals.

Those are among conclusions of a study of what and who influences women by PR firm Marina Maher Communications and word-of -mouth-tracking firm Keller Fay Group. The strong showing for such media properties as HGTV, Parents magazine and Johnson & Johnson's Babycenter.com suggests that even in word-of -mouth campaigns that don't directly involve advertising, media brands and their associated talent can play a substantial role.

Marina Maher, which represents such brands as Procter & Gamble Co.'s Head & Shoulders and Cover Girl, Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Poise and Kotex and Jameson Irish Wiskey, used a survey of more than 2,000 women to identify a group of 12% of women who have outsize influence on the purchase decisions of others.

These "Influence-Hers" have considerably larger social networks -- both online and offline -- totaling on average about 170 people they interact with regularly, compared with75 for a typical woman, said Marina Maher Managing Director Keith Hughes.

Besides having a larger social circle, they also tend to be more actively engaged with brands. The Influence-Hers are 38% more likely than typical women to "like" brands on Facebook or to provide personal information to brands they like on Facebook. They're also 105% more likely to post positive experiences and 125% more likely to post negative experiences about brands online.

Creating something of an amplified echo chamber, the Influence-Hers can have a big impact on making Facebook marketing more effective, Mr. Hughes said. Their comments and interactions with brand wall posts are both more frequent and seen by more people, which in turn positively affects brands' ranking in the algorithm that determines how well posts do in the "Top News" rankings of wall posts.

Of the female influencers, 83% rely on expert reviews very or fairly often; 84% rely on consumer reviews to make purchase decisions; 42% say they're relying more in the past few years on expert reviews; and 59% are relying more on the reviews of other consumers to make decisions.

They're also as much as 90% more likely, depending on the category, to value the input of endorsers than other women. So the Influence-Hers both consume and generate far more buzz than other women.

Expert and peer reviews are having a much bigger impact, these influencers say in the survey, than editorial coverage (with 25% of influencers saying it has a bigger role for them now), advertising (only 16%) or sales staff (13%).

Yet the influence of media brands still shows in many categories and in the fact that some of the strongest endorsers are closely associated with media brands rather than big names in their own right, Mr. Hughes said. For example, in home care and design, where nearly 90% of these influential women are more likely to be swayed by the right endorser or expert than are women generally, Ty Pennington of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" rated well ahead of style maven Martha Stewart or designer Michael Graves in influence. The stable of home-care celebrities associated with HGTV also rated high with influential women, Mr. Hughes said.

In the parenting and family categories, Parents magazine carried weight with almost twice as many women as Dr. Phil and had an even bigger edge on Kelly Ripa. Mr. Hughes said Babycenter also carried more endorsement weight with influencer moms than the celebrities did.

Of course, no one human being packs the buzz impact of Oprah among the buzz generators, who are 76% more likely to read a book endorsed by her than are women generally.

The Influence-Hers are also 55% more likely than other women to go to a restaurant after seeing it on TV and 91% more likely to buy something for her home after seeing it on a morning TV show.

The implications of the research include a need for marketers to look beyond broad Q Scores and favorability ratings when doling out endorsement dollars, Mr. Hughes said (and, not surprisingly, Marina Maher has a proprietary index for that ).

"Marketers need to be more targeted and strategic in the way they're targeting these women," he said. Among other things, he said brands need to give these highly influential women more opportunities to create and aggregate reviews either on Facebook or websites and to provide them with relevant information they can pass along -- both branded and unbranded.

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