Social Media Special Report: The BrandZ™ Verve Index
By Ali Rana
SVP & Head Scientist, Emerging Media Lab, Millward Brown Digital
As part of our ongoing efforts to enhance and improve the BrandZ™ rankings report, we have included a new data source — our proprietary Verve Score methodology, which measures social media data. Using this Verve score, Millward Brown Digital has evaluated the social vitality of the BrandZ™ Top 100 brands.
The core data is taken from the tens of millions of global Twitter conversations about these brands. In essence, the Verve score is a measure of the number of mentions for a brand combined with the favorability of those mentions. So, the higher the score, the more that brand has been elevated within a social context.
Verve represents the accumulation of positive brand experiences among the engaged audience on Twitter. It covers brand users, peers and influencers, those exposed to brand communications, and those responding to news or blog sites. Verve classifies Twitter data both topically and attitudinally and reflects outcomes over time in brand equity, sales, and TV impact.
Overall, Verve is best understood in the context of Brand Contribution. It is a signal of consumer interest and engagement, and is most closely aligned with brand strength and power, where it allows us to see the texture and detail of the consumer relationship to a brand, such as how celebrities can impact lifestyle brands, or where activism can shape perceptions of commodities.
Before going into more detail, it is important to highlight a few caveats:
- Scores vary by category. Certain brands may be very strong relative to their competitors, but that category may not be much talked-about. Brand strength and marketing can help dial this up (such as American Express and Visa), but ultimately many people are less interested in tweeting about their financial services than they are about, say, fast food or fast fashion.
People really do tweet about their lunches. People like to talk about what they’re interested in or what’s in front of them, whether that’s food —“Casually ate a ten piece of KFC in ten minutes” — or fashion — “Shopping!! Literally cleaning out Zara…”
- Verve reflects social audiences. Verve is an accurate reflection of what is happening in social media, but activists may over-amplify certain topics, while people having positive but ordinary experiences with a brand may not feel compelled to speak up at all. This is why we place social data in the larger context of the BrandZ™ rankings.
Because we work from a common understanding of brand equity across both brand contribution and social media conversations, we can define a statistical relationship between the two. In a social context, anyone talking about a brand by definition has it at the forefront of their mind; therefore brands that are meaningful and different are most likely to be entwined in brand conversations on social media.
When gathering brand equity data, Millward Brown can require someone to answer a series of questions related to meaning and difference. However, in social, we can only infer from what is stated — no follow-up questions allowed. Meaning is the easiest to ascertain from straightforward statements about the consumer’s favorability toward the brand or whether it meets needs.
Brand meaning is brought to the forefront in social media conversations. Its expression is most elevated among brands whose baseline consumer commentary is experience-driven. Within the BrandZ™ Top 100, Starbucks, Red Bull, Nike and eBay are all such brands: accessible, crave-able and consistent, they can provide a satisfaction so sweet it must be shared spontaneously.
When we look at the brands with the highest Verve scores among the BrandZ™ Top 100, we also see that third party commentary can have a significant impact. For example, technology, automotive and luxury all feature heavily because consumer experience is supplemented by coverage from third party sources (news articles, blogs, etc.). Notably, these categories are also higher consideration and more aspirational, characterized by more complex features, longer purchase cycles and lower purchase frequency.
Third-party coverage can often be a key influence for overall opinions, but these are frequently driven by the fact that the brand has demonstrated a point of difference.
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The Impact of Marketing on Social Media Conversation
It is important to note that marketing causes variations over and above the base level of social conversations, rather than forming it. Almost universally among the 2014 BrandZ™ Top 100 brands, consumer experience or third party communications, amplified by brand strength, provides the foundation for social vitality.
Three types of marketing tend to break through most strongly: (1) sponsorships of sports fields and event spaces, like Citi Field; (2) buzzworthy TV commercials, such as Budweiser’s Clydesdale Super Bowl spot; and (3) catchy social campaigns connecting branding to experience, like KFC’s fun #iatethebones campaign.
Within technology, social platforms are the clear leaders of brand performance in social. Unsurprisingly, their users frequently reference their activity and communities on the platforms — these brands are heavily experience-driven. That said, each platform has a distinctive pattern of its own: Twitter users tend to be addressing other Twitter users or commenting on trends they see on the platform; LinkedIn commentators are often sharing content they have seen on LinkedIn; and people talking about Facebook use Twitter as a backchannel to gossip about other people on Facebook. Our Verve data indicate that while consumers do follow coverage of these platforms at a corporate level, they are primarily interested in the content and communities housed in social media.
Technology brands are also divided by those that have strong consumer facing brands and businesses versus those that do not: Google, Apple, and Samsung all generate a lot of attention, far overshadowing brands like Cisco or Siemens. The successful brands are characterized by a large proportion of third-party communications, primarily driven by new product launches and to a lesser extent, corporate observations (including investments and litigation). However, for some brands with a variety of popular consumer products, consumer experience plays a role as well: people register their use of Google’s large portfolio of products around the globe (including maps, translation, voice services, and more). Brands such as Apple and Samsung also attract commentary on their desirable mainstream products, as well as their more experimental efforts like wearables.
Financial services are primarily driven by third-party communications — consumer facing experiential commentary is minimal. However, silence does not necessarily mean indifference and comments can hinder as well as help.
Distinct from the rest of the category, credit card brands American Express and Visa both had success with consumer campaigns that reiterated the “rewarding” promise of the cards. In particular, American Express led the way here, with #AmexSync and #PassionProject. These campaigns succeeded because they had not only a clear consumer incentive but also demonstrated the brand’s forward looking approach to changing media and technology habits. These brands also have some of the highest brand contribution scores in their category, suggesting that their performance in social media and their overall brand strength may have a symbiotic relationship.
Retail & Apparel
These categories are highly experientially driven, as the spur for most conversation is an in-store experience or a coveted item. Because many people who talk about these brands have first-hand knowledge, this familiarity can augment the brands’ profile with other items of interest: mentioning The Home Depot in a joke about Miley Cyrus gives it extra comic zing; or one might feel closer to Beyoncé through her H&M endorsements. However, first-hand familiarity can turn into a negative when the news is bad, for example when social media picked up the horse meat contamination story, seriously compromising otherwise buoyant brand images amongst consumers.
Oil & Gas
From a social media perspective, oil and gas companies are an example of where brands have to work extra hard to make social into a beneficial influence on their brands. Consumer interest in “pumping gas” tends to be relatively low, whilst criticism can be swift when there are environmental concerns. Nevertheless, because energy is a potentially emotive topic, it can be used to enhance brands in this sector where there is a positive story to be told.