Product launches: The power of influencers' opinions

With the launch of a new product or service comes the potential for great success -- or great failure. Formulating a strategic business plan is valuable, but feedback from consumers is priceless, experts say, especially from influencers.
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With the launch of a new product or service comes the potential for great success -- or great failure. Formulating a strategic business plan is valuable, but feedback from consumers is priceless, experts say, especially from influencers.Â

The Internet has become a powerful tool for consumers to voice their likes and dislikes about everything from cars to tents to hand creams. Online influencers are having a powerful effect on the web ad have been dubbed "e-fluentials" by Burson-Marsteller, a global public relations, public affairs and research firm. E-fluentials only comprise 10 percent of online pop but contribute to most of the online buzz about brands, products and services.

"E-fluentials derive strong emotional gratification from being heard and influencing others. They do that with high credibility and persuasiveness. They emphasis word of mouth and view the Internet as an empowerment tool," said Pete Blackwell, founder and co-chairman of Planet Feedback, a provider of consumer feedback management and data, in a recent web-based seminar attended by SNEWS.

"E-fluentials think, ‘If I express my opinion to a broad audience, I think I can make a difference.' This is the psychology of the audience you really want to win with when you're introducing a product," he said.

E-fluentials value dialogue, especially via the Internet. According to a study by Burson-Marsteller:

  • 84 percent are confident in expressing their opinions in front of others, compared to 67 percent of the general online population.
  • 65 percent think the Internet is a terrific medium for expressing their opinions to a broad audience, whereas only 29 percent of the general population feels the same way.
  • 62 percent feel they can make a real difference in the world by sharing information, compared to 41 percent of general online users.

Stay on the good side of these guys and gals, Blackwell says. E-fluentials are usually the first ones on the block to try a new product and aren't afraid to tell anybody about what they think. On average, e-fluentials influence 11 people by telling them about a positive experience, while they'll influence 17 people about a negative experience.

Burson-Marsteller also reports:

  • 68 percent of e-fluentials feel they influence the types of products their friends buy, compared to 46 percent of the general population.
  • 61 percent often try new products before their friends and neighbors do, compared to 44 percent of the general online world.
  • Only 25 percent like to wait until something has been proven before they try it, compared to 35 percent of the general populace.

Blackwell said his company, Planet Feedback, has found the general population trusts e-fluentials opinions and people go to them for feedback. Also, other influencers such as the media report what e-fluentials have to say.

"E-fluentials are not going to represent a vast majority of your buyers but they do disproportionately impact the landscape, not only with other consumers, but also with other influencers. That is to say, media writers, analysts and other players that are putting there fingers in there and asking is this going to be a hit or not," Blackwell said.

"Just think of how many business articles and news organizations reference what consumers say on Internet boards when articles talk about products or services. It's gone up significantly this year compared to last year. Why? Other influencers are now using the Internet as a quick sounding board to introduce a story," he added.

According to Forrester Research, in a study about who consumers trust for feedback, 42 percent of the respondents said they trust email from friends and colleagues about new products and services. Twenty-eight percent said they distrust information from company's websites.

The study also revealed that the most trusted "advertisers" for consumers is word of mouth recommendations, 58 percent; print ads, 48 percent; TV ads, 44 percent; permission emails, 41 percent; company sponsorships, 38 percent; radio ads, 36 percent; direct mail, 21 percent; outdoor ads, 18 percent; paid-for search engines, 12 percent; infomercials, 10 percent; banner ads, 8 percent; and non-permission email, pop-up online ads and door-to-door all tied at 3 percent.

"We maintain that customer feedback is a superb way of nurturing e-fluentials. These precious consumers can either make or break you at product launch. So having a strategy to nurture and capture data is absolutely critical. Commentary can make life easier, can help you get through the fog, help you figure out how to have success. In addition, the consumers who talk to you early on or that step up to the plate and have something to say really have word of mouth influence. They get satisfaction from telling people about products. That's how they're validated," Blackwell said.

He suggested that companies ask themselves these key questions to stay ahead of new product launch buzz:

  • Where's the buzz?
  • Who's talking?
  • What about the product are they talking about?
  • With whom are they sharing the buzz?
  • What triggers get products to tipping points?

Blackwell also suggested companies stay glued to web discussions, offer a friendly "welcome mat" during product launch, use feedback as branding, and profile the consumers who talk to you.

A Forrester Research study reported that 84 percent of its respondents said they wished it were easier to send a compliment, suggestion or complaint to a company. Ninety-four percent said they'd be more likely to buy from a company that replies quickly to their e-mail.

"Any time consumers are talking about your product, service or brand, you want to have your ear to them,” he said, “because at the end of the day, you want to do less guessing, more delving, and there's a lot of data to harvest out there."

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