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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Social Media Does Not Exist

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. – The Usual Suspects (1995)

I had an interesting discussion recently about Social media strategies.  When discussing inputs to a social media strategy, an admitted “social media skeptic” replied that she thought there shouldn’t be a need for them; rather that social media strategies were really just customer relationship strategies.  Frankly, well put.   MarketingSherpa recently published a study of companies that are integrating social media tactics with offline and online marketing tactics.  I’d like to see the evolution over time and agree with the premise – “The benefits of integrating social media with other marketing tactics far exceed the benefits of utilizing social media alone.”

Effective businesses manage all customer touchpoints – every customer interaction is a chance to impact the experience, whether it’s an ad, a product purchase, a customer service call, talking in the store with an associate, or replying to a post in a social network.  When companies start to realize these synergies, they will be able to achieve a lot more than focusing on pure social media tactics alone.  The customer lifecycle is a journey, and each interaction point can have multiple tactics that make it more compelling (and ultimately provide benefit) to the customer.

The technologies that are available influence traditional marketing tactics already.  In some cases, they magnify each other.  Take these examples:

  • 50% click through rate increase in paid search when consumers were exposed to influenced social media and paid search (comScore & GroupM study).
  • Email marketing approaches need to factor in calls to action in social platforms, like soliciting ratings and reviews for products and services, or asking customers to become fans on Facebook.
  • Attribution of revenue from interactive marketing tactics like paid search, display advertising and landing pages now need to factor social tactics (shared links, social content on site) to understand the impact to analytics and optimization.
  • Location based services like Foursquare and Gowalla are about understanding who is coming to your store offline, and enabling targeted promotions to reward visitors.  (Imagine that, technology that helps bring visitors in the door, and keep them coming back.)

While social media specific strategies can help companies digest and learn the technologies and approaches that build success, they aren’t the end game.  I’d like to see more companies treat social media as if it were an embedded part of building customer relationships, focusing on making the most of all relevant touchpoints they have with customers.  I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at how social technologies are changing and influencing other areas of marketing.  Despite lots of hype and lots of platforms grabbing headlines, I’m convinced that companies who truly embrace social media, by understanding and engaging, are the ones who treat it as if it doesn’t exist.

Don’t just take my word for it – there are others that think the same way.  Think we’ll see the day when “social media” isn’t a separate line item in a marketing plan?

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Co-opetition in the World of Social Media Marketing

Changing markets cause change for those who serve them. As businesses adapt and figure out how social media will impact how they conduct day to day functions, service providers are adapting too.  These days companies have a high probability of encountering any of the following providing social media services:

  • Sole prioprietor (independent contractor)
  • Social media agency (small, medium and increasingly larger)
  • PR agency (traditional, new media, all sizes)
  • Digital or interactive agency (all sizes)
  • Advertising agency (all sizes, but particularly the big dogs)
  • CRM consulting firm
  • Database marketing agency

In an effort to help bring some clarity to the situation, friends (and business partners, and competitors) Todd Defren of SHIFT and Aaron Strout of Powered have collaborated with me to give you a snippet of what makes us different.  We have some overlap and we also have some ways we can complement each other.  We are doing business together and competing.  Either way, hopefully this lets potential clients know more about what makes us different.  How’d we do?  I’d encourage your to read Todd’s post and Aaron’s post to get their commmentary as well.

Todd Defren

This is my company…

One of the top-25 PR agencies in the U.S., with offices in NYC, San Francisco and Boston, SHIFT is an agency that helps organizations of all sizes better communicate with the people that matter to their business.  Sometimes that’s “the media,” sometimes that’s “some loudmouth on Twitter.”  Companies ranging from Quiznos to Club Med, from tiny start-ups to established tech companies, look to SHIFT for counsel and execution on both branded and earned media.

What we do…

SHIFT focuses on “on-going engagement” vs. “campaigns.”  And because relationships change over time, our targets and tactics evolve as-needed.  Thus the portfolio of services a client will tap into can include: Traditional Media Relations (coverage in NYTimes, TODAY Show, eWeek, etc.) + Social Media Relations (dialogue with relevant Facebook Group admins, Twitterati, etc.) + Content and App Development + Community Management (running a YouTube channel or Facebook Fanpage).

This is why you should call me (type of challenge or project)…

We are generally called on by large brands that need to act more like a start-up or by small companies that want to take things to the next level.  If your company needs more overall visibility (“get ink!”); needs to better engage with consumers (“that Social Media stuff!”); or needs to brand or re-brand in the marketplace, it’s worth a conversation.

This is when you should call someone else…

While we bring plenty of creativity to the table, when it comes to execution portion of app development, videography, website development, advertising campaigns, media buying and SEO, SHIFT will turn to quality partners like Powered and Rosetta, among others.

Aaron Strout

This is my company…

Powered is a dedicated social media agency that helps brands fully capitalize on their social initiatives. With 75 employees in four offices (Austin, New York City, Portland and San Francisco) we brings “best-in-class” expertise across the social spectrum to our clients by offering a combination of strategy, planning, activation and management for social presence and programs.

What we do

Okay, I guess I answered this in the “this is my company” section but to add on, we help big brands with strategy and activation (getting their key stakeholders like customers, prospects, partners or employees) to do things that create value for their brand. Those activities might include evangelizing, contributing, participating or learning.

This is why you should call me (type of challenge or project)

We’re really at our best when we’re helping big brands (mainly B2C) connect their social efforts to their marketing efforts. We start by fleshing out a cohesive strategy and then move toward the activation. In many cases, this includes focusing on things like influencer outreach, ambassador programs, Facebook Fanpages, applications and customer tabs and the building and managing of branded online communities.

This is when you should call someone else.

We’re still not particularly good at media buying, custom web development (outside of Facebook and community building), SEM and general site SEO. We also don’t do any traditional PR. For those activities, I’d strongly recommend talking to our friends at Rosetta and SHIFT, both of whom we partner/work with.

Adam Cohen

This is my company…

Rosetta is the largest independent digital agency in the US. Using a patented approach to segmentation, called Personality® Segmentation (yep, it’s patented and a differentiator), which provides deep insights into the drivers of consumer behavior, Rosetta’s teams translate these insights into relevant marketing solutions to attract, retain and strengthen a brand’s most valuable customer relationships. With 720+ team members, Rosetta is headquartered in Princeton, NJ, with offices in NYC, Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, Denver and most recently Toronto.

What we do

We help companies develop strategies and implement marketing tactics, combining the best of insight + technology – from eCommerce to Paid Search to Creative to Analytics to Relationship Marketing. With all the tools in a marketer’s toolbox, we strive to be a CMO’s most trusted partner.  Our industry expertise includes Retail & Consumer Products; Healthcare; Financial Services; Communications, Media & Technology, and B2B.

This is why you should call me (type of challenge or project)

We’re best when we bring to together marketing disciplines and industry acumen to provide measurable integrated solutions.  We shine we get the opportunity to demonstrate business results across tactics – like integrating eCommerce with paid search/SEO, driving the best creative with analytics and measurement, or infusing CRM with Personality Segmentation.

This is when you should call someone else.

Traditional media outlets are outside of our sweet spot (TV, print, radio), along with traditional PR.  Our social media practice is focused on infusing social into all of our marketing disciplines, but we are partnering with world-class agencies like SHIFT on outreach programs and Powered on designing the best approaches to engage and activate communities.

***

Thanks again to Todd and Aaron for providing thought provoking insights for the topic – these are two guys for whom I have the utmost respect in working with (and occasionally against).  Todd says it best: “Where we compete, we do so with respect and good humor.  Where we can cooperate, we do so with gumption and gusto.”

Did this help provide clarity? Where do you think the market will be in five, ten years? We’re all a ways away from the winning formula and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Cognitive Bias in Social Media Strategy

A common challenge in the field of marketing is the “everyone’s got an opinion” phenomenon.  In other fields like finance or engineering, deeply skilled practitioners do their jobs every day with few “outsiders” questioning their tactics.  In marketing, every person has an opinion on whether a tactic, campaign or initiative will resonate, no matter how deeply skilled the marketers are who developed them.  Enter the challenge of cognitive bias.

Wikipedia defines cognitive bias as:

A cognitive bias is the human tendency to draw incorrect conclusions in certain circumstances based on cognitive factors rather than evidence. Such biases are thought to be a form of “cognitive shortcut”, often based upon rules of thumb, and include errors in statistical judgment, social attribution, and memory.

Marketers don’t have to guess.  There are increasingly more data sources and proven tactics to test hypotheses, which is the entire premise behind marketing segmentation (but that’s another story).  When a new approach is involved – especially one that can question traditional tactics and measurements – it’s easy for people to apply the same filters on interpreting or judging how successful strategies will be.  Social media, and all the technologies that enable two-way and multi-way dialogue with customers, creates that same conundrum for traditional marketers.

Companies need to look at the tools they have at their disposal and leverage them to understand the customer. Web analytics, social media monitoring, feedback, surveys, market research, segmentation, business intelligence, case studies, conventional statistics and studies…There are many inputs that companies can use to determine what makes sense to fuel social strategies that will resonate with their customers in context.  The resource that should be least often used (or minimally, avoided as the sole measurement of an idea): what does someone think personally.  As a marketer, are you really your own targest customer?  Understanding the needs, attitudes and behaviors of customers with respect to social media is necessary to build an educated and insightful hypothesis to try out.  You can even collaborate with customers to figure out what may work (imagine that).  No one needs to read the tea leaves.

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5 Ways Social Media Impacts Consideration

Ask any marketer to draw you a picture of the sales funnel and you’ll get virtually the same picture.  There are a number of proposed ways to look at the funnel applied to social media, including a post I wrote last year about the New Marketing Funnel and the new book, Flip the Funnel, from Powered/crayon’s Joseph Jaffe.  What’s clear though, is that social media provides definitive means to impacting the “consideration” phase – when a customer makes the leap from awareness of a brand or product to evaluating, before committing to make a purchase.  Here are five ways that social media can impact a customer who is considering a purchase.

1. Research

When deciding to make an important purchase, like a car, a cell phone or a home, few people do so without evaluating options and doing some research.  You may have a friend who knows a lot about cars.  You might start searching online for consumer groups.  You might ask your family, neighbors, work colleagues.  Social media provides means do do all of the above online, including looking at reviews from perfect strangers.  It’s more relevant to look at reviews of products than to trust marketers alone.  Allowing user ratings and reviews on your product site, which can be moderated for abuse, can be a very effective way to engage in user generated content without the open-ended risk associated with a platform like Facebook.

2. Validation

Is there any truth to what my neighbor said about that product or service?  Or the recall rumor I just heard yesterday? Look at blogs, discuss on Facebook, search on Twitter.  Consumers can use social platforms to validate or refute information easily with their social graphs or through searching.  With Bing and Google indexing much of those discussions in real time, answers can be found immediately.  Separately if you have a perception of a brand (positive or negative), social channels can help validate those thoughts and views.

3. Creating an Emotional Connection

An emotional connection to a product, service or brand can influence purchase behavior.  Cause marketing can be an indirect way to build brand loyalty.  One of my favorite recent examples is the Chase Community Giving program on Facebook.  Personalized stories of real customers can also be a way to build an emotional connection.

4. Creating Touchpoints

How many brand touchpoints and impressions does it take to impact consideration?  I’m not sure, but chances are that it’s more than one.  An impression or interaction in social media can be measured in a lot of ways, but it takes multiple exposures to a brand to have it be front of mind when a consumer moves from awareness to consideration in the funnel.  Sure, no one actually talks about themselves moving from one stage in the funnel to another.  But as usage of social media grows, having a presence where consumers are will be a way to foster those impressions in a different way than traditional advertising.  Marketing behemoth Proctor & Gamble is exploring Facebook more aggressively for just that reason.

5.  Search

The folks at ComScore and GroupM have a great study that shows the impact of social media on branded search – just one way that shows how social media is impacting search.  Discussions related to a brand in social networks, discussion boards, forums, and on brand-owned assets will impact search results when a consume starts to look for information.  Brands can’t ignore the SEO implications of any content they own – Lee Odden has a great post about tools that can help optimize social content for search.

Think about the last time you moved from awareness to consideration.  What influenced you?  Did I miss any other way that social media could have impacted your decision process?

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Return on Serendipity

According to Wikipedia, Serendipity “is the effect by which one accidentally stumbles upon something fortunate, especially while looking for something entirely unrelated.”  I’ve found that since engaging on several different social media tools like Twitter, that has happened a lot more often.  How about you?  “Return on serendipity” really makes no sense – how can you plan to get a return on something that happens by accident?

Last week I attended the Social Business Summit, hosted by the Dachis Group in Austin, TX just before the SXSW Interactive conference.  One of the speakers was John Hagel. John is the co-chair of a Silicon Valley research center for Deloitte.  One quote stood out for me, and it applies to both individuals and businesses:

You can increase the opportunity to achieve serendipity.  What’s your serendipity strategy?

You can put yourself out there.  Businesses can establish outposts in social channels, build and foster relationships, and have a presence where customers expect them to be.  With the growth of social media tools, and their resulting impact on other digital channels, this will give you more opportunities for people to find you.

Last fall, GroupM and Comscore announced the results of a compelling study on the correlation between social media and paid search.  One highlight for me hits home for the digital marketer:

The study…showed a 50 percent click-through-rate (CTR) increase in paid search when sonsumers were exposed to influenced social media and paid search.  This revealed consumers exposed to social media are more likely to click on a brand’s paid search ad as compared to those exposed to the brand’s paid search alone.

To me, that’s hard evidence that building a footprint increases the likelihood of serendipity – consumers will find you, perhaps when they were not expecting to.  The term “return on serendipity” may be a non sequitor, but there are signs of real, tangible return on making opportunities more likely to happen.   Have other examples?  I’d love to hear them.

Update: After a little discussion on Twitter I was alerted to this great post by Rachel Happe: 5 Ways to Orchestrate Serendipity.  Worth the read.

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Why Companies Should Leverage The Community Roundtable

Over the last couple of years I’ve been fortunate to get to know the founders of the Community Roundtable well. Jim Storer and Rachel Happe are two talented community practitioners with tons of experience. When Jim told me about his idea for TheCR (as it’s known in short), I was intrigued from day one. While there are many social media practitioners, blogs and community platform companies to leverage out there, TheCR provides at least two unique differentiators as part of its value proposition:

  • The Community Roundtable is a peer network of social media practioners and community managers. In essence, TheCR is using community to enhance and better people and businesses who are practicing community management every day. This isn’t social media or community 101, it’s 501. It’s a network for people who practice the discipline daily.
  • The Community Roundtable is pushing the envelope to advance the field. With their background in organizational design, TheCR team has built a framework of business processes to apply to various stages of community lifecycle. This isn’t (only) for selling community into an organization, it’s aimed at best practices at sustaining and growing them. TheCR is the answer to the question, “You have a community. Now what?”

As companies look at branded and non-branded, public and private, enterprise and customer-facing community platforms and decisions, TheCR provides a highly concentrated armament of resources and network of peers for support. Rosetta, my agency has been a partner from early on due to the complement to our own value proposition, and as Rachel describes it, I’m a self-professed “Cheesehead.”

So it’s not a surprise that Rosetta is pleased to be a sponsor, along with Fuzebox and Powered (another Rosetta partner), of The Community Roundtable’s first annual State of Community Management 2010 report. This 60+ page report, with an introduction from Altimeter Group‘s Jeremiah Owyang, is a tremendous resource that combines the voice of participating members representing “over 180+ years of community management experience” and what the group learned in 2009. It’s an asset to anyone exploring starting or improving their community initatives in 2010.