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Social Insights

Consumer Technology

What Social Data Reveals about Innovation in 2017

7 Minute Read

Social InsightsConsumer Technology

In 2016, the consumer technology industry saw both an age of innovation and excitement and an age of disappointment. Using social data integrated with external data sources, this report looks at the relationship between innovation and technological growth.

Executive Summary

2016 proved that customers are more reluctant to invest both in new technology sectors with unclear added value or purchasing replacement products with no significant advantages over their current devices. The discrepancy between the hype of new innovations and the dearth of market growth made 2016 an important time to research to understand the future of consumer technology.

While innovation remains an important factor in market growth, it will be increasingly important for tech companies to do more to bridge their innovation to their customers’ experience and needs. In this report, social data was used to distill the reasoning behind customer behavior; according to research, two important trends for consumer technology firms were revealed:

  • To continue growth in traditional tech categories, companies need to use consumer intelligence to guide development in addressing customer issues.
  • In order to ignite growth in new product markets, it’s essential to ensure that products are not only exciting, but also capable of being integrated into current lives.

In this article, examples from social data are used to examine these trends and their implications for consumer tech companies in 2017.

2016 and Consumer Tech Market Growth

From commercial drones to the expanding Internet-of-Things (IoT), 2016 introduced dozens of new technologies to the consumer space. Advancements challenged how consumers interact with and think about technology, and millions of individuals took to their closest computer to discuss innovation in this sphere.

However, alongside fascinating advancements, 2016 saw disappointing sales across the board in consumer electronics. From virtual-reality headsets to smart-watches, the demand for wearable technology was underwhelming. Additionally, despite excitement about IoT technology, devices like smart-home thermostats and appliances have not successfully proven their value for their cost.

This wasn’t just an artifact of newer technology not gaining market traction. In 2016, despite new products being released among the biggest tech companies, nearly every geographical market saw a drop year-over-year in consumers planning to purchase smartphones, tablets, computers, and televisions.

This disparity occurs because novelty does not neatly map onto innovation. The average electronics consumer is more tech savvy than ever before. Innovation for the sake of novelty might wow people at an electronics convention or increase the buzz around a brand. However, new products are no longer enough to get consumers to invest in new devices.

So, when does innovation become ‘disruptive’? According to research, the most important trend to direct consumer tech investment in 2017 will be the increased focus on customer-inspired innovation. Companies throughout every industry are devoting more resources on research in consumer intelligence and customer experience. This same shift towards customer-centrism will be key in redefining technology innovation in 2017.

The Importance of Consumer-Driven Innovation

Since the turn of the century, the relationship between innovation and consumer electronics interest accelerated the sector into a period of unprecedented opportunity. Looking at the relationship between online conversations around innovative technology and technology spending expectations, it’s clear that demand for innovation is not likely to diminish.

However, with dozens of companies currently competing to create that disrupting product to reshapes their sector, the actual value proposed to consumers frequently get lost. Year-over-year, customers are becoming less willing to spend on consumer electronics. To continue growing demand, technology innovation will need to move from focusing on novelty and towards a foundation in the consumer experience.

Technology innovation will need to shift focus from novelty to a foundation in the consumer experience.

For companies, 2017 will undoubtedly see a shift from technology-driven innovation to innovation driven by consumer needs and preferences. Therefore, research and development investment must use consumer insights to drive growth in two important areas:

  • In newer sectors, this means making the value proposition convincing, even if returns on investment aren’t immediate.
  • For traditional technology categories, this means new iterations of products must focus on improving customer experience and addressing user problems, and moving away from “newness for newness sake”.

Moving Innovation in New Tech from Hype to Value

Many new technology sectors introduced and developed in 2016 are destined to mature in the coming year. Despite slower-than-anticipated growth in for many categories, excitement for many new technologies remains high for 2017.

An analysis of online conversations suggests that emerging electronics sectors like virtual reality and smart-home products dominated conversations at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2017, outperforming discussion of computers, smartphones, and televisions.

The next step for these sectors is turning discussion into demand. Converting hype into consumer interest is reliant on a clear perception of its innovation and value, so in 2017, companies must ensure that their messaging clearly conveys what makes their products different and valuable.

Virtual reality could be a sector that experiences market maturation in 2017. Although sales of VR products have been disappointing, online data suggests that there is still a strong correlation between when customers are most impressed with VR devices and online interest. As positive conversations about virtual reality on social media increases, so does search volume in Google.

Using Consumer Insights to Innovate in Traditional Categories

Traditional electronics categories are fighting an uphill battle- each iteration of features need to be increasingly more innovative in order to convince customers to upgrade. Couple this with a dearth of innovative advertising campaigns, and the importance for sectors like smartphones, televisions, and computers to stay innovative becomes obvious.

Given the increased reluctance of consumers to purchase devices in traditional sectors, a key to success in these markets ensuring that new products address customer concerns and improve consumer experiences.

Diving into the online conversations reveals many missed opportunities for technology innovations. For example, last year saw the commodification of both shatterproof and waterproof phones.

However, despite individuals discussing breaking, shattering, or cracking their screens nearly 30 times more often than getting their phone wet or dropping it in water, more consumer tech companies introduced waterproof phones by a long margin.

There is simply too much data available for the innovations of the future to ignore customer experience. If technology R&D teams aren’t using consumer insights to inform their decisions, millions of conversations about the needs of their customers, the trends of the industry, and the ideation of “next big thing” will be lost.


The social data that powers the charts and figures in the Social Snapshot and Social Insights reports was derived through enterprise social intelligence software Brandwatch Analytics.

The data is collected through three formats:

  • Queries: Collect general mentions of consumer technology brands, products, and conversations online. Based on boolean operators, Brandwatch Queries are specifically customized to filter out spam and disambiguate the data, leaving only relevant conversation. As such, volume estimates remain conservative.
  • Twitter Channels: Collect Twitter data based on specific brands’ accounts. Twitter Channels tracks @mentions, replies, and retweets directed at selected brands.
  • Facebook Channels: Collect Facebook data based on specific brands’ accounts. Facebook Channels tracks likes, posts, comments, shares on selected brands’ Facebook content.

Generation analyses were run by creating five author panels: Generation Z, age 13-18; Young Millennial, age 18-24; Older Millennial, age 25-34; Young Generation X, age 35-44; and Older Generation X, age 45-54 (as of December 31, 2016). Author panels had sample sizes of 10,000 and were created using Analytics and boolean strings to find authors self-identifying their age or generation membership.

In Figure 1, consumer spending expectation data was collected and compared to social data from the Consumer Technology Association’s monthly Index of Consumer Expectations, estimating customer expectations for buying technology each month. According to the CTA,

“The CTA Consumer Sentiment Indexes represent more than six years of research into cutting-edge methods for measuring consumer expectations about the future.”

In Figure 2, search interest data was collected and compared to social data from a 12-month Google Trends search of the topic “virtual reality”. According to Google,

“Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term.”

About Brandwatch

Brandwatch is the world’s leading social intelligence company. The company’s flagship products, Brandwatch Analytics and the Vizia platform, fuel smarter decision making around the world.

The Brandwatch Analytics platform gathers millions of online conversations every day and provides users with the tools to analyze them, empowering the world’s most admired brands and agencies to make insightful, data-driven business decisions. The Vizia platform distributes visually-engaging insights to the physical places where the action happens.

The Brandwatch platform is used by over 1,200 brands and agencies, including Unilever, Whirlpool, British Airways, Asos, Walmart and Dell. Brandwatch continues on its impressive business trajectory, recently named a global leader in enterprise social listening platforms by the latest reports from several independent research firms. Increasing its worldwide presence, the company has offices around the world including Brighton, New York, San Francisco, Berlin, Stuttgart, Paris and Singapore. Brandwatch. Now You Know.

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