From Emojis to Hashtags

By James Bland

How your brand can benefit from consumer conversations online

In today’s social media age, brands and brand messaging are increasingly being defined by consumer conversation. Consumers dominate 76% of brand-related online conversation, with 34% occurring on channels where brands don’t even have a credible voice (such as blog posts and forums). In low-frequency brand categories like hotels, brands have even fewer opportunities to engage with the consumer and shape the conversation. This leads us to the all-important question: (how) can you make sure customer conversations are defining your brand message the way you want them to?

The first step is quite simple - you need to listen. And I don’t mean just listen, I mean really, really listen. Social media can function as a remarkably useful research insight tool, providing data that details how you fit into your audience’s needs and lifestyles, but you need to look beyond the posts themselves and consider the bigger picture. Much like that 1990s ‘Magic Eye’ craze – look through the blobs of colour and you might just see the dolphin.

We’ve built social media and online content analysis into a new approach we have to brand health assessment and it’s throwing up some fascinating insights. One of which is that brands rarely seem to speak consumers’ language. The terms and phrases that brands use to describe themselves might as well be written in Martian – they’re just not words that customers recognise.

We ran a small test using five of the best-known hotel brands to see if consumers could correctly identify a brand just from the descriptive wording used on its website. See how you get on... no cheating now.

If you did particularly badly then don’t be too hard on yourself – unless you’re the one that wrote it, of course. We found that, at most, 4 in 10 consumers were able to identify the correct brand from the description. At worst, it dropped to 12%. And these, remember, are the country’s strongest hotel brands (*BVA BDRC HGS 2017).

We then asked participants to what extent the statement matched their experience or perception of the brand. And, again, there was considerable room for improvement. Which suggests that brand messaging doesn’t always match consumer perspective, and that even if consumers recognise the brand and its messaging, they don’t necessarily believe it!

How can we make it clearer?

Travelodge was a strong performer on both recognition of the message and its believability. Many of Travelodge’s reviews mentioned “great location”, reinforcing the idea that economy hotels are not just a bed for the night, but actually are enablers for activities and destinations in the local area. In these reviews, a “great location” was typically described as being a 5-10 minute walk to the city centre, or close to attractions, transport and shops. Consumers, perhaps, are so used to misleading claims that maybe just a little more factual validation is in order.

By utilising and aggregating critical consumer conversations as research insight, instead of treating them like just a piece of operational feedback, brands can better understand what customers want them to do differently. Speak their language. What words are they using to describe your hotels and, by extension, your brand? Turn up the good ones, turn down the bad. Get it right, and the consumer will spread the message themselves.

If you’d like more information on how to better understand and maybe even join your consumers’ conversations, do get in touch.

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