Golin Research Uncovers That in the 2017 Battle for Relevance, Talkability Trumps Truth

Agency pairs big data with small town research in first-ever Global Relevance Review

CHICAGO – MAY 23, 2017 – Interpublic Group (NYSE: IPG) agency Golin released today its first-ever Global Relevance Review, revealing that in the 2017 battle for relevance, truth is having its moment of truth. People around the world believe that their ideal brand would deliver on being trustworthy (ethical, moral, honest and truthful). But according to Golin’s research, the reality tells a different story. Of the most relevant brands studied, 0% met the ideal when it came to being trustworthy; while people are seeking it, leading brands aren’t seen as relevant for being it.

“Relevance is what attracts and keeps people paying attention to what brands have to say and moves them to act,” said Matt Neale, co-CEO, Golin. “This is something that we, as marketers and communicators, can directly impact. We’ve been studying, and perfecting the art of analyzing relevance for years because we understand that it is the most important measurement of a brand. Our research indicates that despite people being continually let down by the perceived trustworthiness and truthfulness of brands, they continue to buy their products and services.”

The Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2016 was “post-truth.” And in 2017, people are placing value in other drivers of relevance. The one dimension that is currently driving all relevance leaders across all categories is popularity: being talked about and recommended by others. Talkability trumps truth. 91% of the most relevant brands studied exceed the expectation when it comes to being popular. This is a part of a major shift. Having lost faith in brands and institutions, people are looking to each other, to their trusted tribes – friends, family, advocates and influencers – for validation in the choices they are making. Popularity isn’t a frivolous, fleeting dimension. Talkability means putting a premium on the people who will vouch for and recommend your brand.

Golin’s global research focused on three categories that touch billions of lives every day: social media, personal banking and automotive. Within the social media category, research found that people don’t need truth; they want to be entertained. People prefer local banking over global – and since all banks are under-delivering on the ideal, unique relevance drivers in this category have emerged. And the automotive category struggles to have a breakout relevance brand leader.

Global Relevance Study

After three years of research, in partnership with the USC Annenberg School for Journalism and Communications, Golin’s study of 13,000 people in 13 markets on four continents uncovered what drives relevance for categories and brands across the globe. The survey population encompassed millennials (18-34), Gen-x (35-54) and boomers (55+).

Macro trends included:

Screens win out over people

  • Social media (59%) and television (57%) consistently ranked first and second above “word of mouth from friends and family” (45%) as the most relevant sources of news and information

Word of mouth sees gender differences

  • Word of mouth from friends and family is more relevant to women (50%) than men (39%)

People are drawn to pragmatic and funny

  • The top characteristics of information people found relevant were useful/practical (54%), informative (53%), and funny (35%), beating out others like inspiring, shocking and exciting

Small Town Intelligence

As part of the global research, Golin also embarked on an in-depth ethnographic study of residents in two small towns that took everyone by surprise with populist movements in America and England: Seymour, Indiana (the crossroads of America and hometown of John Mellencamp), and Preston, U.K., more than 200 miles northwest of London. Golin used an ethnographic approach to study this cultural phenomena: a qualitative immersion into the lives of people who represent it.

Golin used ‘Ask Seymour’ and ‘Ask Preston’ to connect with people in small towns that have largely felt ignored. While the rest of the world was prospering, they felt forgotten by their government and by media. Golin set out to find out how they feel about brands and companies.

“We know that big data only tells part of the story,” said Jesse Dienstag, Executive Director and Head of Planning at Golin. “So we paired our global study with some small-town intelligence. We think this is a critical complement to any kind of research that is being done today…especially in a Post-Trump, Post-Brexit world. And it’s something that a lot of brands and companies are missing.”

While there were similar penchants for seeking out the recommendations of others over not-so-trusted brands and companies in the small towns studied, there were three big takeaways that brands need to take into account in this post-truth world. Small town residents feel like someone is trying to get one over on them. They make no distinction between big government, big cities, mainstream media and big companies – they feel that all are ignoring small-town people equally. And there’s nothing quite as powerful as small-town brand loyalty. It can continue for generations and brands are not doing nearly enough to tap into that power.

The Relevance Fingerprint

Using a proprietary methodology, Golin was able to uncover and understand the Relevance Landscape and Fingerprint (see details on methodology below) for each of the three categories they studied – including which brands have higher than average enthusiasm in their category. “We selected three industries that are powering the global economies of communications, finance and transportation in order to get a wide-ranging view of how consumers relate to relevant brands and categories,” said Neal Flieger, Managing Director of Golin’s Washington, D.C. office and head of GolIntel, Golin’s dedicated research team. “In the coming years, we will examine additional categories of business and industry in order to continue to paint a broad picture of what makes a brand relevant.”

Golin’s Annual Global Relevance Review

The agency is launching their inaugural Global Relevance Review with kick-off events in Chicago, London and Shanghai on May 23rd – and in local market offices in the weeks to follow. To learn more, and to download Golin’s 2017 Global Relevance Review, go to golin.com.

About the Relevance Methodology

Using proprietary methodology, Golin examines relevance in two ways: through a Relevance Landscape and Relevance Fingerprint. By applying an algorithm designed to identify true relevance of brands in the mind of consumers, Golin can plot the relevance landscape of a category: how competitive brands are relevant to different consumer groups relative to each other. Through the Relevance Fingerprint, Golin has the ability to showcase how a brand is relevant to consumers by scoring against 15 dimensions that have been tested and confirmed to consistently drive brand relevance across all markets and cultures. These 15 ‘DNA building blocks’ of relevance combine in different ways and to different degrees to create unique “Relevance Fingerprints” for every brand and category. By understanding how relevant a brand is to its competitors and what drives that relevance, Golin can help brands build and maintain critical relationships with their target audiences.