The Influentials: One American in Ten Tells the Other Nine How to Vote, Where to Eat, and What to Buy

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9780743227292: The Influentials: One American in Ten Tells the Other Nine How to Vote, Where to Eat, and What to Buy

One American in ten tells the other nine how to vote, where to eat, and what to buy. They are
The Influentials
Who are they? The most influential Americans -- the ones who tell their neighbors what to buy, which politicians to support, and where to vacation -- are not necessarily the people you'd expect. They're not America's most affluent 10 percent or best-educated 10 percent. They're not the "early adopters," always the first to try everything from Franco-Polynesian fusion cooking to digital cameras. They are, however, the 10 percent of Americans most engaged in their local communities...and they wield a huge amount of influence within those communities. They're the campaigners for open-space initiatives. They're church vestrymen and friends of the local public library. They're the Influentials...and whether or not they are familiar to you, they're very well known to the researchers at RoperASW. For decades, these researchers have been on a quest for marketing's holy grail: that elusive but supremely powerful channel known as word of mouth. What they've learned is that even more important than the "word" -- what is said -- is the "mouth" -- who says it. They've identified, studied, and analyzed influence in America since the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (now Exxon) hired Elmo Roper himself to develop a model for identifying opinion leaders, and in The Influentials, they are finally ready to share their results. A few samples:
· Influentials have been the "early majority" -- leading indicators of what Americans will be buying -- for more than five decades, from choosing energy-efficient cars in the 1970s to owning computers in the 1980s to adopting 401(k)s and IRAs in the 1990s to using the Internet and cell phones today.
· Influentials have led the way in social development as well, from the revival of self-reliance (in managing their own health care, investments, and consumption) to mass skepticism about the marketing claims of everything from breakfast food to politicians.
Although America's Influentials have always been powerful, they've never been more important than now. Today, a fragmented market has made it possible for Influentials to opt out of mass-message advertising, which means that a different route must be taken to capture their hearts and minds. The Influentials is a map for that route, a map that explains who these people are, how they exercise influence, and how they can be targeted. The Influentials features a series of rules and guidelines for marketing to Influentials; case studies of products that have prospered because of Influential marketing (and products that have failed because they lacked it); a history of the phenomenon...and why Influentials are more influential today than ever; and profiles of twelve real-life Influentials.
Both an intellectual adventure and a hands-on marketing manual, The Influentials is an extraordinary gold mine of information and analysis that no business can afford to ignore.

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About the Author:

Ed Keller is the CEO of RoperASW. A global marketing research and consulting firm, RoperASW serves many of the world's leading companies in the areas of brand strategy, customer loyalty management, corporate reputation, and communications effectiveness. A nationally recognized expert on marketing and consumer trends, Keller serves on the board of directors of the Advertising Research Foundation and is a member of the Market Research Council.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

This is a book about influence in America. More specifically, it's about people in America who exercise influence. It's not about the first names that might come to mind when you think about the people with influence in this country -- the leaders of government, the CEOs of large corporations, or the wealthy. Rather, it's about millions of people who come from every city and town and who shape the opinions and trends in our country.

RoperASW, the marketing research and consulting firm at which we work, has dubbed these people the Influential Americans®. Roughly 1 in 10 of the adult population of the United States, the Influential Americans are the people who make the society, culture, and marketplace run. The most socially and politically active Americans -- we screen them from the general population on the basis of their involvement in local affairs -- the Influentials are active in their communities. They are highly engaged in the workplace and in their personal lives as well. They are interested in many subjects and are connected to many groups. They know how to express themselves and do so. And, because of their position in the community, workplace, and society, their opinions are heard by many people and influence decisions in others' lives.

Almost certainly you know one of them. There may be an Influential on your block, in your workplace, or in your family. You probably talk with at least one in the course of a week. Chances are you seek out an Influential when you have an important decision to make. Influentials are the kind of people you turn to when you need help. They often know the answer to the question you have. If they don't, they know someone who does. They get your attention. They have people's respect.

At RoperASW, which has been helping companies to "manage and master change" since our founding in 1923, we use the Influentials every day in our work. We have come to see them as the thought leaders, trendsetters, and bellwethers for America. They are at the leading edge of what Americans are thinking, doing, and buying. If we want to gauge the prospects for a new product, service, legislative initiative, or idea to go on to mainstream success, we look at how it is regarded by Influentials. When we test trends, a core function of our business, we look at how they play out with Influentials. They are the canaries in the mine shaft for looming political issues. They point the way to the future. On many levels, the Influentials prove the axiom laid out by our founder, Elmo Roper: "In America, the few act for the many."

At the same time, the Influentials are testimony to the democratic notion that more than a handful of people control the levers of change in America. At 1 in 10 of the population, they are a large group: 10 of every 100 Americans 18 years old or older, 5,000 in every city with 50,000 people 18 or older, and, on a national level, 21 million people.

Who are the people who are leading trends in America? How can I better understand them? What makes them stand apart? Are there certain demographic markers? What makes them tick? Do they have a different mind-set from other people? How do they spread influence? What are they saying today? Where are they pointing the society tomorrow? How can I apply their insights and ideas to my company, nonprofit organization, or political campaign? Can I persuade them to spread the word for my product, service, organization, or idea? We are commonly asked these questions by our clients, who as leaders in industry and public policy in fields ranging from advertising, marketing, and media to automotive, technology, telecommunications, packaged goods, restaurants, hotels, airlines, and federal departments and agencies, need to know what's on the minds of the nation's opinion leaders. For decades we've been able to give them answers that come from our continuous monitoring of Influentials. Our clients have used the ideas and insights distilled from our research on Influentials to guide strategic planning, product development, and marketing and to see what's on the horizon.

For example, in early 2002, the Influentials signaled an early alert that Americans would be traveling more for vacations and personal reasons in the coming months. They were putting the "post-9/11" fear of flying behind them and were ready to take to the air again. Good news for the airlines and destinations that rely on them as travelers and time to crank up marketing budgets and cut back a bit on the rock-bottom incentives to travel. We also saw, however, that Influentials were adamant that security be tightened substantially -- and that otherwise a large number of Influentials would take to the road for driving vacations instead of flying (and through their actions and words influencing friends, families, and others to do the same).

Years before most people had heard of digital still cameras, Influentials were aware of them. By March 1997, two in three had heard of them, 1 1/2 times the response of the public as a whole. They were well into the adoption curve. By early 2001, one in six Influentials owned a digital camera (double the rate of the public as a whole), and a comparable proportion were planning to buy one in the next year or two (more than double the public as a whole). Three in ten had viewed personal photos over a computer in the past month, about triple the rate of the total public. The net effect pointed to an increasingly digital future for photography. Good news for companies selling digital cameras and software to help people archive, edit, transmit, and tinker with their digital photo collections. Good news for product possibilities: "Like how you look in one picture of the Eiffel Tower, but prefer the backdrop of another? Use Photo Pro for the Home." Problematic, however, for traditional silver emulsion film photography.

Companies and public policy clients use Influentials as a gauge of their image in the "vital center" of public opinion. When the percentage of Influentials with a moderately or highly favorable opinion of the Internal Revenue Service rose by 17 percentage points to 61% between 1999 and 2001, one of the largest gains of any group, it was a good sign for the IRS; the agency's efforts to be more consumer friendly were being noticed. Research on Influentials showed that despite the turmoil in technology stocks after the dot-com bubble burst in 2000-2001, some companies retained a strong public image. More than seven in ten Influentials, a large number, held a favorable opinion of Microsoft. The finding suggested that the software giant was weathering the government antitrust investigations against it and the turbulence in the technology industry and had a strong reserve of goodwill in the marketplace, a favorable position from a consumer standpoint for introducing new products (as we see in more detail as we go forward, a good many Influentials were waiting for the next leap forward in technology).

With this book, we take key lessons we have gained from decades of studying Influentials and bring them to a larger audience. The result is our most comprehensive overview to date of who the Influential Americans are, what they think, where they are leading the country, and how you can become part of their conversation. We think the time is right to open the vault and share our research and insights with a wider audience. Word of mouth, the medium in which Influentials traffic, is increasingly appreciated as an important channel of communications for both public discourse and the consumer marketplace. The recognition is overdue.

The American public has long known the value of word-of-mouth recommendations. According to Roper research, Americans today are far more likely to turn to friends, family, and other personal experts than to use traditional media for ideas and information on a range of topics. We know because, on a regular basis for 25 years, we've been asking people which of a variety of sources -- TV programs, TV commercials, newspaper stories, newspaper ads, magazine stories, magazine ads, online or Internet sources, friends, family, or other people -- give them the best ideas and information on different decisions. More than eight in ten people tell us that their personal network of friends, family, and others is among the two or three best sources for ideas and information about restaurants to try, a response almost 50 points higher than the net response for all advertising sources, a substantial difference. Similarly, seven in ten say friends, family, and other people are one of the best sources on new meals and dishes, places to go on vacation, and prescription drugs -- again, substantially more than the net response for advertising, with differences of 38-50 points. About six in ten rate friends, family, and other people among the best sources on hotels to stay in, how to improve personal health, which movies to see, which brands are the "best," videos to rent or buy, how to plan for retirement, the merits of one car versus another, and how to save and invest money. As the figure shows, Americans generally are twice as likely to cite word of mouth as the best source of ideas and information in these and other areas as they are to cite advertising. There are a few areas in which advertising outperforms word of mouth. For as many Americans citing people as the best sources for tips on movies to go to, for example, slightly more cite advertising. For most decisions, however, word of mouth rules.

Moreover, the person-to-person channel of word of mouth, particularly among friends and family, has grown in importance in recent decades. Drilling deeper into this question shows that, since 1977, the percentage of Americans citing the word of mouth of friends as one of the best sources of ideas for what movies to see has risen by 14 percentage points to 46%, a major increase. There have been significant increases in the importance of word-of-mouth recommendations of friends in a number of other decisions as well, such as where to find the best buys (up 8 points to 37%), analyzing the merits of particular...

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