Fifteen percent of consumers account for 1.5 billion word-of-mouth brand impressions per day, according a new research report released today by the Keller Fay Group, a market research company specializing in word of mouth, and sponsored by IM MS&L, the influencer marketing specialty of global public relations firm Manning Selvage & Lee.

According to the survey, these 32 million word-of-mouth leaders—Keller Fay calls them “conversation catalysts”—are involved in 184 word of mouth conversations a week, more than 1.5 times more than the average consumer. As a result, this 15 percent of consumers is responsible for one third of all word of mouth.

The study also found that the impact of word of mouth is more likely to prompt women to action than men. A full 58 percent of women catalysts said they would be highly likely to pass along information to others they heard in word of mouth exchanges, versus 51 percent of men. Women catalysts are also more likely to be spurred to buy products recommended to them (55 percent vs. 47 percent) and to find the recommendations more credible (55 percent vs. 47 percent). 

“These findings tell us that companies that actively and effectively reach out to these talk leaders will have an impact that goes far beyond that of traditional marketing methods,” says Renée Wilson, senior vice president and director, strategic services and innovation for MS&L’s New York office. “They also indicate that companies relying heavily on traditional mass marketing campaigns aren’t effectively maximizing their budgets, and are therefore failing to reach the consumers that can have the most impact on their brands.”

Other key findings:
• Baby boomers remain extremely relevant to word of mouth campaigns. More than a third (37 percent) of conversation catalysts are baby boomers aged 40 to 59—contrary to marketers’ popular, long-held belief that WOM campaigns should be targeted to a younger demographic.
• People with influence are power listeners, not just power talkers. Catalysts’ conversations are split between those in which the catalyst gives the most advice (38 percent), those in which someone else does (25 percent) and those in which advice is shared from both directions (37 percent), but they are involved in more conversations about brands.
• The Internet acts as resource for word of mouth, more than a channel of conversation. Consistent with previous Keller Fay research, most WOM conversations by conversation catalysts (72 percent) happen in face to face conversations, rather than online. But results from this study indicate that catalysts rely heavily on the Internet as a resource for the information they pass along to their friends and families. In fact, in several categories, the Web is the most cited marketing and media resource.

The study also found that conversation catalysts talk about a broad range of industries, products and services. Not surprisingly, entertainment and media brands are most talked about, with 16 brand mentions per week. But brands in seven other categories—including beverages, public affairs, food and dining, shopping and retail, travel, automotive and technology—are also talked about with high frequency (10 or more brand mentions per week).

“Major consumer marketers have awakened to the powerful influence of consumer word of mouth,” says Ed Keller, CEO of Keller Fay. “This report provides compelling new evidence about the disproportionate impact that a select group of consumer influencers have in word of mouth, and highlights the ways these consumers spread information and insight beyond a narrow area of singular expertise

“We now know more about the everyday conversations of these important influencers than we have ever known before.  Armed with this new information, there is a real opportunity for marketers to engage this group and turn these findings into actionable, measurable word of mouth programs.”