Sony USA Taps into the Power of Influencers

The electronics company is identifying its brand advocates and leveraging their influencing power to target their networks.

Social media has incited a revolution regardingthe way we interact with each other. The phenomenon of interacting with people via social platforms has not only changed the way we connect, but has also greatly influenced how we motivate others and ourselves.

Cognizant of the importance and impact of social interactions on the purchasing journey, organizations have been trying to use social channels to identify brand advocates and leverage their passion for the company to the organization's advantage.

Sony is one of the companies that recognize the value of brand advocates and the impact their positive word-of-mouth on social channels can have on the brand. This is especially true since, compared to its competitors, Sony has a limited marketing budget. "We needed to find people who love the brand and are advocates," stresses Jeremy Lyons, Sony USA's email and direct mail CRM program lead.

The company knew that a number of its customers are extremely passionate about the brand. "We have a lot of them, but the challenge was finding them," Lyons explains. Further, it's not just a question of finding brand fans who are talking about Sony and its products on social networks, but the company needed to identify the most valuable advocates. "We needed to find those people who have the best connections and can extend their influence," Lyons says.

Sony's first attempt was to leverage Klout to identify brand influencers, but Lyons explains that this project wasn't successful. "We never got past the analysis to the actual campaign," he notes. Committed to the project of identifying and leveraging brand advocates, in 2012 Sony USA decided to use Pursway's technology to identify influencers that can be leveraged in direct marketing programs. One of Sony's goals was to make sure it didn't overuse its influencers and exhaust them, but send them relevant content that they would want to share.

The first step was to overlay a social graph over Sony USA's CRM data to identify the 15 percent of individuals who are considered influencers and can educate their friends during their purchase decision. This led to the identification of topic-based influencers by different topic categories that would allow the technology company to be more targeted in its marketing campaigns. The exercise was also able to pinpoint potential buyers whose history shows they would be likely to consult friends before making a purchase. Lyons explains that these influencers don't necessarily have extremely large social networks. "They are the ones who can prompt one or two people within their social sphere to purchase an item," he explains. This was especially true for Sony since most of its products constitute a large purchase for which buyers want the opinion of someone close to them that they can really trust.

One of the campaigns revolved around Sony USA's 2013 back-to-school catalogue. Lyons says the company wanted to promote laptops. He explains that the campaign didn't explicitly invite recipients to share the email with their friends. "We haven't encouraged people to be advocates but they did it on their own," he notes.

The results were clear. For every 100 influencers who made a purchase, another 44 friends also bought a Sony product. In comparison, non-influencers only led to a 9 percent purchase rate among their friends. Lyons explains that influencers targeted with a campaign who are making a purchase are then influencing their friends to also buy a product, highlighting the importance of word-of-mouth campaigns. "We tend to think about the importance of word-of-mouth only with regards to social media, but rarely in relation to email," he says.