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Velocity, Speed, Cost: Mining Social Data for Valuable Consumer Insights Consumer Insights

By Kit Smith on July 20th 2016

We are living in the age of the customer. It has never been easier for consumers to explore the competition before committing to a purchase.

To succeed in this age, brands need to move towards a customer-centric approach by bringing consumer insights into the business.

The Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing defines consumer insights as “A non-obvious understanding about your customers, which if acted upon, has the potential to change their behaviour for mutual benefit.”

Making operations more customer-centric might seem a logical step, but many companies are failing to take this approach.

A perceived higher cost, or lack of available data, is often cited as a reason. Yet social data offers a valuable addition to the research mix, bringing elements of both qualitative and quantitative research, and the costs are lower than many alternative methods.

Qualitative vs quantitative data

There are several traditional methods of market research, and a robust understanding of your customers will include a mix of quantitative and qualitative research. The different results seen from these two methodologies allow a fuller picture to be constructed.

Qualitative research may be time and finance heavy, but the advantage lies in the ability to collect in-depth feedback. Methods include:

  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Customer interviews
  • Beta/trial programs
  • Observational/ethnographic research.

Educational testing

The other side of the coin is quantitative research methods, often involving analysis of data sets.

The reduced cost and the ability to analyze behavior at scale are the advantages. There are a number of data sources that can unearth insights, some more generalized, some more business specific.

  • Open data sources
  • Syndicated research
  • Consumer demographics
  • Online product feedback
  • Distributor and retailer data
  • Core enterprise systems data
  • Mobile-tracking data
  • Location data.

Social data

Social data lies in between these two methods: it provides qualitative detail at quantitative scale.

The raw voice of the customer is collected without the time and expense of surveys and focus groups. Simultaneously, demographics, social media metrics and sentiment can quickly provide an overview of almost any topic of interest.

The wealth of unsolicited conversations finds consumers and communities not only talking about brands and products, but covering their other interests too.

Collecting the voice of the customer allows you to discover what else they care about, helping you to more fully understand the people you are selling to.

Social data provides context that isn’t available with traditional research methods, helping to understand consumers on a more holistic level.

a social crowd

Ravi Condamoor, founder and CEO of Serendio, told CMO.com why social data has the edge over traditional market research methods:

The velocity, speed, cost, number of respondents, honesty… the differences are tremendous. We can generate feedback almost immediately, with a sample size of thousands. Because consumers are networking with their friends in their natural environment, we experience little to no bias that might be found if they were answering a survey done by a manufacturer.

Like any other research method, social data has some caveats.

While it can remove response bias seen in surveys due to the unsolicited nature, the potential for other biases should be considered. Limited representation of certain demographics, unaccountability driven by anonymity, and the problem of positive self-representation should be accounted for.

Industry agnostic data

According to a survey by CapGemini, close to three-quarters of companies that have been slow to adopt consumer insights into their operations cite “unavailability of adequate consumer data” as a serious challenge.

But even in industries that are not customer facing, our research has shown that there is still a wealth of social data out there.

For businesses that sell through distribution channels, for example, CPG firms retailing through supermarkets or consumer technology brands selling through partnered retailers, social data can provide rare insights into their customers.

social listening can uncover consumer insights for CPG brands

The nature of the industry means that their retail partners may have more information on the customer than they themselves do. Social data can remove this barrier and allow for actionable insights to be unearthed.

This advantage of social data was highlighted by Toshiba in our recent interview: “It’s hard to get that feedback once someone has a laptop or a TV in their home. It’s hard to find another way to get feedback like that.”

Mining mentions for consumer insights

Some social networks will need third party analytics tools, while others have inbuilt analytics platforms.

This can restrict analysis to one platform, meaning important conversations can go unseen. Forums dedicated to a particular subject may be a mine of relevant conversation.

The platforms can be comparatively restrictive when it comes to manipulating the data. Not being able to dive in making it harder to unearth the real insights.

Social listening platforms, such as Brandwatch, can surface consumer insights across the web. You can write a search for mentions, whether that’s your brand, product, service, competitor, or related industry terms.

The ability to refine that search in multiple ways removes limits and ensures clean, reliable data is returned. The ability to segment the data is crucial, only looking at a certain topic, location or audience. This helps with the scale of the data and provides context, splitting different consumers into common groups.

As energy provider EDF told us in another interview, “Everybody talks about big data, but it’s actually not about big data, it’s about finding the valuable data, the useful data.”

Being able to dive into any mention or topic to read what people are actually saying provides the voice of individuals.

Social listening also allows for automated reporting, allowing these different groups to monitored over time, and increasing the time to insight for faster decision making.

segmenting your audience is key to gaining consumer insights

Audience insights

A different approach to the same social data sees the focus switch from mentions to audiences. This could be a particular demographic, a group of people who have mentioned you recently, your target audience and so on.

This allows you to switch from people who are already talking about you, to examining people that aren’t, but should be.

By creating different audience groups you gain an understanding of the language used and topics discussed, how people are connected and the influential individuals, the content commonly shared, the trending topics.

The Guardian recently shared with us how they took this approach. The newspaper segmented their target audience and conducted share of voice analysis specifically among this group. Topics and interests important to this group were surfaced, allowing them to identify content opportunities for journalists.

The campaign saw online mentions increase by 645%.

Bringing social data into your customer research mix can help uncover actionable consumer insights, and provide dynamic pointers on trends to research in more detail.

It brings the voice of the customer associated with qualitative data, and the scale achieved by quantitative data.


Brandwatch Analytics

Use social data to discover actionable insights and make informed decisions.

Find out more

Kit Smith

@Kit_Smith

Kit is a writer and marketing expert. When he's not researching ways to make you better at said marketing, he's often lost in foreign countries, or making pottery (or both).