10 Reasons Market Research is Critical to Social Media

I continue to be surprised at how many companies keep the Market Research department in some back hall closet collecting dust and reams of paper reports.  It happens in all industries, but lately I’ve seen retail companies keep their “Consumer Insight” group focused on traditional insight like mall traffic patterns and planograms. Consumer segmentation models are typically owned in these groups, and often they are leveraged for behavioral patterns that help with the proverbial 4 Ps – Product, Price, Place and Promotion.  That stuff is important to the business, no doubt.  But those same companies need to leverage, not ignore, that insight available when fusing social media into the marketing mix they already have.

Brian Solis has a terrific series starting this week on the changing marketing, advertising and communications, where he adds a 5th P: People.   People are the fuel behind social media, which is really just tools and tactics. Here is a quick list of reasons to get Market Research engaged early in order to give social media (People fueled) initiatives the best chances of long term success.

10.  Knowing Customer Behaviors

What internal group knows more about your customer’s behaviors and acts?  The web analytics team knows about what customers do with your own web assets, not about what customers do – in the real world and in online social channels where you don’t own the assets.  Do they share opinions?  Do they care what kind of car they drive?  Are they fickle with the brand of toothpaste they buy?  Do they use social platforms and if so, how often and why?  While we’re at it, how do our customers use social media vs. the mainstream population?

9.  Understanding the Effectiveness of Current and Historical Marketing

This applies to branding initiatives too. They (should) know how effective every ad, campaign, point-of-sale item, direct mail, email, tagline, product and other marketing investment has performed.  Wouldn’t you want to leverage that insight to avoid a misdirection in using social media?

8.  Tried and True Methods to Solicit Customer Feedback

Industries are changing rapidly, and the need to conduct focus groups, surveys and gather feedback is too.  The more traditional/offline methods still apply, though – and chances are market research departments are already exploring alternatives to get those things accomplished more quickly, more effectively and cheaply.  Either way, the market research team should be established pros at getting feedback from existing and target customers.

7.  Understanding the Current and Future Market Conditions

Market research is a core part of any business strategy – in this case meaning researching markets.  Will there be future demand for products?  How is our market share today vs. a year ago, and how will a new program help influence that?  It’s this team that businesses leans on to get hard data on what will happen.  Talking to customers in these markets in social channels increases the need to understand the market overall and correlate initiatives to marketing directives.

6.  They Have the Ear of the CMO

There are many arguments on who should own social media, but the research arm of the company usually rolls up to the CMO.  The CMO is the one managing brand perception, and if you believe social media initiatives impact branding, marketing or communications, the CMO will want to hear about it.  The CMO will also want to know the data.

5.  Understanding Customer Needs and Wants

Customer needs are different than behaviors.  Do your customers have a need for community, convenience, or collaboration?  A customer who is ill needs and wants a safe, effective means to get relief – understanding that need will lead to understanding that customer’s motivation.  Social media tools provides customers new ways to hear about, research and talk about their needs.  Market research teams can share that insight and inform the folks “doing the talking” on what content makes sense to share and discuss.

4.  They Have the Best Contextual Insight

Bruce Temkin, former Forrester Research analyst on customer experience, wrote a post a few months ago about how market research needs less statistical analysis and more contextual analysis.  He shared this formula:

“Actionable insight” is one of my all-time favorite terms, and if market research can provide that, they need to be in the mix and weighing in an any new initiative.

3.  “We’ve got data!”

New businesses are being formed to help fuse social media into more traditional business intelligence disciplines.  Market research has a P&L that includes funds to buy that data, and the skills to sift through it to make meaningful hypotheses about it.

2.  Understanding the Competitive Landscape

When deciding to build a strategy for social media, it’s clearly important to know what your competitors are doing.  The market research team is typically the best equipped, since they a) know who your competitors really are, and b) likely keeps tabs on them already for other campaigns, pricing, promotions and events.

1.  Insight is Critical Before Starting Anything New

Simply put, many types of social media (as emerging technology) are rapidly moving past the Trough of Disillusionment and into the Slope of Enlightenment.  More and more case studies of successes in social channels are popping up.  Social media may still be new – and perhaps some approaches will be new to even the biggest organizations.  When Pepsi put big budget dollars to social media, I think many people in the industry finally woke up.  I guarantee that Pepsi didn’t make this decision without their market research team in the mix.

Social media tactics touch many other parts of the organization too, but having Market research up front in the design and decision process will help make initiatives more effective.  What did I miss?

Photo credit: pagedooley via flickr

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  • kevinertell

    Great post, Adam. I completely agree that it's critically important to understand customer wants and needs before, during and after implementing any strategy — and probably doubly important with social media since it is entirely dependent on customers spreading the word. I differ slightly with Bruce Tempkin, though, on how to gather that data. While it's certainly important for any analysis of customer data to be actionable, and timeliness and context are important, I believe we need to get there through solid statistical methods. The reality is we're dealing with the human psyche, which is complex, and we need credible, reliable and accurate methods to get to the heart of our customers' thinking.

  • http://seanseo.com Sean SEO Marketer

    The whole things sounds more like a traditional marketing strategy and of course I believe that what applies to traditional marketing works on social media marketing too! Definitely when someone want to start a social network marketing they should have a goal. A goal that is basically brought from the necessity!

  • http://blog.baileyworkplay.com Chris Bailey

    Similar thoughts as kevinertell…I think getting beneath raw data and understanding less tangible concepts such as meaning and symbolism is how we anthropologists bring a different angle to market research. As social scientists, we still drive forward with statistical methods, but we aim to introduce the Why to questions of How and What and Who. Because social media is such a People-focused platform, businesses need to merge quantitative and qualitative methodology now more than ever before.

    Excellent post.

  • http://www.offroadobsessions.co.uk Daniel

    Excellent post adam. a few stong points to agee with in there. but i guess in this you have to be subtley brutal.

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