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NBCU Gauges Top Women's Brands

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The power of women consumers has become an immutable force shaping how billions of marketing dollars are spent annually. But getting a layered view of their market influence, especially in a digital and social age, has been hard to come by.

Women at NBCU, NBCU’s female-targeted ad sales and marketing initiative, hopes to change that with a new monthly brand index that’s designed to be a comprehensive measure of the 25 brands most important to women. Launched today, the index, called Women at NBCU Brand Power Index, compiles online search data from comScore, social media buzz data from New Media Strategies and online chatter charted by the Keller Fay Group, a word-of-mouth research firm.

“Women are the biggest brand ambassadors,” said Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBCU’s Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, including Bravo and Oxygen as well as the iVillage Web hub. “Women will recommend a product to a friend if she likes it. There is no better type of endorsement.”

Zalaznick said the index was born out of  the fact that 20,000 brand recommendations are offered every month on iVillage. That, plus the fact that women drive 85 percent of all consumer purchases, as well as the rise of search and social media, made the initiative take form.

The tri-filtered index for August showed seven different product categories represented in the top 25 brands (see chart above for the top 10). They include the traditionally male-skewing segments of  automotive (Ford and Toyota) and finance (Bank of America and Wells Fargo).  Additionally, seven of the top 25 brands were tech and telecom-oriented, including Verizon (3), AT&T (5), Sprint (12), Dell (13), HP (14), iPhone (22) and Microsoft (24).

“We’re producing a list of brands that are tracked in multiple ways to show which are taking up the most head space with women,” said Tony Cardinale, svp of strategic Insight at NBCU’s Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks. “We’ve never seen anything that rolled up search, social and person to person. I think it will be very illuminating for our clients.” Cardinale added that the index can be parsed in a variety of ways that will allow marketing partners to “look under the hood” of the brands that land on the list.

An example of that deeper insight is the fact that brands that used new media in their marketing mix were some of the biggest movers on the list. Gap, for example, which moved from No. 44 to No. 17 in August, offered a discount incentive to shoppers that checked in through Foursquare. Pizza Hut also offered a discount via Foursquare in August and saw its rank hit No. 60 from No. 73.

Brands with recently launched social initiatives also had solid gains on the index. Starbucks moved to No. 33 from No. 59 with a boost from buzz about an in-store donation program to help rebuild neighborhoods in New Orleans. And Olive Garden hit No. 92 from No. 145 with the news that it had raised $6 million for the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society through its Pasta for Pennies program.

Asked if brands could likewise face a fall in ranking on the index if a word-of-mouth/social campaign was launched against them, Cardinale said it would be impossible to manipulate the large span of data, collected across the three media, to affect the index’s outcomes.

Zalaznick said Susan Malfa, head of ad sales at Bravo and Oxygen, was an advocate of the index’s development -- which will be published monthly -- and will start discussing it with ad clients soon.

“Women trust women to recommend products over all other forms of media,” said Zalaznick, who along with Keller Fay also releases a report that shows women talk about brands constantly -- about 92 per week. The report showed that those dialogues can activate purchasing: 51 percent of the study’s participants said they would buy something based on a conversation.

“Whether they are proselytizers or detractors, we know what women are talking about, and we’re excited to share this information," said Zalaznick.