The 9% of the population known as influentials-those who, through their recommendations and opinions, hold sway over other consumers' decisions-are themselves most influenced by the Internet and print media, according to a recent study from Mediamark Research, part of NOP World. The data call into question the idea that generating buzz is all about fringe and relatively inexpensive promotional activities that will replace traditional advertising spending. It also suggests that print media, often devalued among advertisers, is more effective in reaching this class of tastemakers than radio or TV.
"Word-of-mouth marketing is a strategy that should run through an entire marketing mix, but this shows that traditional media is the place where the word-of-mouth conversation begins," said Brad Fay, managing director at NOP World Consumer. "The rise of guerrilla-marketing boutique agencies is fascinating, but it's not the whole story."
Influentials polled were more likely than the general population to make recommendation on choices like hotels, restaurants, and investments based on what they read or saw in newspapers, magazines or on the Web. Sixty-one percent of influentials said magazines contributed to their recommendations, followed by in-store (58%), TV (55%) and newspaper (53%).
At the bottom of the list were e-mail, which only 26% said contributed to their recommendations; free samples (39%); and radio (44%).
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Within the magazine category, 28% of readers of outdoor-recreation titles and 19% of readers of in-flight magazines qualified as influentials, topping the list. The science/technology, travel and business/finance readers also ranked high.
"This is part of the psychology of influentials," Mr. Fay said. "They are information-gatherers and very self-directed. They want to go to expert sources and, for them, print and the Internet provide those things."
This is the first time influentials were identified as a target within MRI's Survey of the American Consumer.
In addition to small specialty firms, larger and more established public-relations and advertising agencies have devoted business units to word-of-mouth marketing. For instance, Omnicom Group's Ketchum launched a program last year designed to help identify influencers or endorsers with credentials as a neutral third-party.