Transforming market research with digital and social analytics

Discussion
Oct 22, 2015

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt from a current article from the Joel Rubinson on Marketing Research Consulting blog.

With people increasingly living their lives online, an enormous amount of information about what people do, what they think, and what they say, is already "out there," replacing much of the traditional need for surveys, according to Larry Friedman, the recently-retired chief research officer for TNS in North America.

"We’ve seen accelerating interest and experimentation among forward-looking researchers in making use of data in the social and digital spheres to answer marketing questions," said Mr. Friedman in an interview with Joel Rubinson on Marketing Research Consulting’s blog.

The big benefits are not so much expense and time, but taking market research beyond the world of "insights" and bring it into the world of "action."

"Tracking, for instance," said Mr. Friedman, "can be transformed from telling us what happened last quarter to telling us what is going to happen next quarter, and what specific actions the business should take given those predictions."

Social analytics

Moreover, while survey-based segmentation can be insightful about defining targets for a brand, in many cases it is difficult to buy media to specifically reach those attitudinal targets.

"TNS has pioneered ways to make use of lookalike modeling based on the digital behavior of those attitudinal targets, and then partner with digital agencies to focus on delivering ads to millions of people who are like those survey-based attitudinal targets," said Mr. Friedman. "This has enormously increased the efficiency and effectiveness of digital campaigns where it has been used, with real business results."

One of the challenges is the questionable correlations that can result when dealing with large digital/social data sets with thousands of variables. Said Mr. Friedman, "Market researchers will need to approach these large data sets with real hypothesis testing in mind, more like social scientists than I think many are used to. In other words, theory is going to have to start catching up to quantitative capabilities."

Yet success using social media discussion data to predict business results is already being found in some academic work from Wendy Moe at the University of Maryland and David A. Schweidel of Emory University as well as the commercial work led by TNS.

"Based on the progress to date, I have hopes that in five years we get to a place where the industry mindset is no longer ‘What questions should I ask in my survey?’ but ‘What is the right type of data and where do I get it?,’" said Mr. Friedman. "And yes, sometimes surveys will be part of the solution, but they will be shorter, more focused, and integrated with social and digital data."

Do you see digital/social data complementing, replacing or going beyond surveys? What do you see as the hurdles toward capitalizing on data from social media?

Braintrust
"We always want direct feedback from our customers, and that comes from surveys. But digital and social data can help us spot trends, letting us know what’s working, what’s not working, what’s selling, what’s not selling, etc. The best companies utilize both. They work together."

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12 Comments on "Transforming market research with digital and social analytics"

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Dr. Stephen Needel
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2 years 1 month ago

Anyone who replaces survey work with digital/social data is just asking for trouble — in research terms, giving wrong answers. There are no hurdles to capitalizing on data from social media because that’s the wrong question to ask. The question is whether social media data is ever useful in answering a marketing issue. We still don’t know much about that as a research industry, but we’ll keep on trying to determine the perimeters of such inquiry.

Joan Treistman
Guest
2 years 1 month ago
I agree that digital/social data offer increased opportunities for enhancing insights to be used by marketers. At the same time there are many opportunities to be misdirected simply because the data is seen as “representative.” After all, there is so much of it. In recent months I’ve had the experience of working with companies who have based tactical decisions and campaign strategies on what they read and hear using social media. They’re surrounded by insights from their very own target audience. Sounds wonderful until we step back and see that customers and prospects represent fewer than 5 percent of the population and are located in just a few geographical regions in the U.S. Furthermore, the ethnicity of the consumer may be an important factor but is not immediately discernible … and then only if you look for it. Of course we research professionals will try to guide our clients into having a broad perspective where social media complements other research tools (or the other way around). But when data is just there for the taking… Read more »
Paul Stanton
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Paul Stanton
2 years 1 month ago

I agree 1000 percent with Dr. Needel. I can’t add to it.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
2 years 1 month ago

There is a serious movement toward “social merchandising” for retail today. Building upon robust social media analytics capabilities being acquired by some innovative retailers globally, curated views for product management, merchandising and marketing help derive insights that far outpace traditional surveys. Using more scientific insights to social buzz on product sentiments, identifying key social influencers and topics by category and item, and also combining internal (e-commerce sites, call center data, etc.) and external structured and unstructured data can help lead to understanding not just “what” people purchase, but also the “why” in purchase behavior. Old-fashioned surveys are dead.

Bryan Brennan
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Bryan Brennan
2 years 1 month ago

Social data is the most honest, in-the-moment interaction with your customers. Social data will and currently is replacing surveys in many social-first companies. The actionable insights companies can get from social media far outweigh a customer survey in my opinion and it is less intrusive. Maybe it’s my age, but I find filling out a survey to be tiresome and overall outdated as opposed to a quick tweet about my experience that can lead to a conversation with the company.

Some hurdles to customer recognition: Most people don’t include their real name in their social profile so customer recognition for social data can be a real challenge. However, there is a solution. Companies can integrate social data into their CRM to help tag customers’ profiles to their social profile.

Ron Larson
Guest
2 years 1 month ago

See social media research like qualitative research. You can gain some insights, but it is best not to stop without additional investigation. Too many people are not participating and too much information is missing. Another round of research with a more diverse sample after social media/qualitative research creates some hypotheses seems to be the best approach.

Shep Hyken
Guest
2 years 1 month ago

We always want direct feedback from our customers, and that comes from surveys. But digital and social data can help us spot trends, letting us know what’s working, what’s not working, what’s selling, what’s not selling, etc. The best companies utilize both. They work together.

Doug Garnett
Guest
2 years 1 month ago
We must be more careful. This data is “found data.” That makes it secondary data (data not gathered in study designed specifically to search out answers to the questions you need answered today). It’s a well known research fact that secondary data is far less reliable. Watching companies try to rely on this data, what I’ve seen are huge errors that develop because they don’t know what the data is missing. For example, only a percentage of people are active socially and only a percentage of those actively comment and only a percentage of those comment on the issues that relate to your company and your product. So … You have a big pile of data pulled from social media. Do you know what highly skewed audience it came from? (I’ve never run into a company that did.) Do you know what mis-directions that data is likely to include? (Again, not seeing many people even pause to think about this.) Despite this author’s claim that a few academic studies have done something that the researchers… Read more »
Mihir Kittur
Guest
2 years 1 month ago

These are very interesting times to be in the insights business. We are in a data rich but insight poor world, but that is changing.

Enterprises have often been siloed in their approach in extracting value from data. But leading firms have realized that there is lot more value to be had by blending internal and external sources of data.

In that context, my view is that digital and social data will have an important role to play. They will complement survey research and in some instances replace survey research.

The key hurdles will be in asking the right question, data quality, being able to synthesize—process data at scale, and the right talent which is really comfortable with the possibilities of these news sources of data.

Seeta Hariharan
Guest
2 years 1 month ago
Most, if not all, of the data revealed by a survey is already available to retailers who know where and how to find it. The information gleaned from consumers’ social media, not to mention the IoT, is 100 percent more genuine, accurate and timely than a response to a random radio button survey — or worse, the dreaded robo-call. We know capitalizing on digital technologies tops the to-do list of every retail organization, but it can be an arduous process. Only 10 percent of companies today describe themselves as being fully digital. However, with the rise of customer expectations and continued explosion of personal devices (4 billion online in the last year alone and set to top 200 billion in less than five years) retailers cannot ignore the signal to move quickly. Imagine the possibility of being able to understand and predict the behavior of an individual customer as they move through their day in a digitally-enabled urban environment. Suddenly retailers would be able to target timely and seamless omnichannel promotions to bring greater value to… Read more »
Quentin Smelzer
Guest
2 years 1 month ago

My mother used to tell me — do as I say, not as I do. The point, in this context, is that digital behavioral and social data reveals what people do and don’t do and what they say unsolicited because they believe it. Surveys that impose unsolicited questions and demand answers that fit into those sometimes puzzling boxes cannot begin to compete with that.

Jim Nowakowski
Guest
Jim Nowakowski
2 years 1 month ago

Digital/social media is a listening tool; surveys are a structured listening tool. Social media is more like overhearing a conversation, which involves a certain randomness to it. Also, social media listening, while you can target a specific topic, doesn’t have the demographic choices of a traditional survey. It’s really different, but if you have to pick on of the three, it’s complementing surveys.

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Braintrust
"We always want direct feedback from our customers, and that comes from surveys. But digital and social data can help us spot trends, letting us know what’s working, what’s not working, what’s selling, what’s not selling, etc. The best companies utilize both. They work together."

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