By Andrew Somosi, CEO of NM Incite
Joan Lewis (P&G’s Global Consumer and Market Knowledge Officer) created a stir during the Advertising Research Foundation’s (ARF) Re: Think 2011 Conference, describing the transformative impact of social media on traditional marketing research. In comments made during and after the ARF panel discussion, Ms. Lewis stressed the enormous game-changing opportunities inherent with social media, and urged the industry to place learning ahead of a “dogmatic belief that representation is everything.” Since then, marketing leaders have been increasingly vocal in articulating a compelling vision for social media’s role in marketing research. For example, Frank Cotignola at Kraft Foods has spoken about the imperative to cast the social media net wide beyond simple brand monitoring to derive deep, unexpected consumer insights about unmet needs and alternate uses for products.
There are (at least) six reasons why there is so much excitement about applying social media to marketing research:
- The infinite panel: Social media provides a lens into the beliefs, needs, desires and behaviors of tens of millions of people across all consumer segments. Unlike panels or forums, there is no limitation on size. Moreover, data indicates not only that more people are expressing themselves in social media – according to Nielsen, today nearly four in five active internet users engage in social media – but that they are increasingly comfortable expressing themselves more often and across a wider variety of topics.
- The infinite survey: Social media is making it possible for marketers to know just about everything on the minds of their consumer segments. There is no limitation of knowledge imposed by a fixed number of pre-determined survey questions. The breadth of topics, ideas and emotions is unbounded.
- Real-time: Markets can identify, understand, track and act on emerging consumer trends in real-time, in contrast with the lengthy cycle of creating and conducting traditional market research surveys. Beyond emerging consumer insights, the real-time nature of social media enables marketers to test and iterate new ideas and new campaigns quickly and often to get relevant insights faster.
- Revealing “hidden” insights: Surveys have an inherent limitation. You have to know what to ask. Conversely, social media enables marketers to more easily uncover hidden preferences, unmet needs and unintended use-cases. Identifying unmet needs enables marketers to focus on product enhancements. Unintended use-cases can be a marketing goldmine, as illustrated by Gatorade (developed for athletes) and Pedialyte (developed for infants). Social media forums are abuzz with commentary on how athletes should drink Pedialyte and how moms should give Gatorade to their sick children. Imagine the possibilities for both brands to extend their product footprint.
- In their words: Social media enables marketers to hear consumers express themselves in their own words. Customer satisfaction and product quality can be articulated and measured through social media research in the language of the customer. For example, a car company might define and measure quality from an engineering standpoint (e.g., defects/1000). However, consumers might speak of quality across social media in terms of fit and finish, interior materials, comfortable seats or a quiet cabin. This broader, consumer centric definition of a concept is critical for better competitive differentiation.
- More for Less: Learning about consumers through traditional marketing research is expensive business. With the right tools and approach, it is possible to derive deep, meaningful, real-time insights across numerous consumer segments and topics far more cost-effectively than ever before.
In the upcoming blog posts, we’ll explore the evolution of social media for research (e.g., can social media research be representative?). In the meantime, we’d love to hear about your experiences in using social media for marketing research.
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