With billions of daily consumer conversations taking place across the open social media universe, millions of which are specifically focused on brands, many leading corporations are not just taking notice of the opportunity to listen and understand their consumers and markets like never before, but strategically leveraging this wealth of consumer intelligence to drive their marketing strategy and product innovation. The impact of this “next generation” market research is spanning the enterprise across marketing organization from consumer insights to competitive intelligence to product development.

The impact of this emerging “digital ethnography” market research methodology provides Marketing, Product and Brand a “window” into the specific interests, needs, attitudes and actions of shoppers and consumers to deliver greater value and develop stronger relationships.

Survey Says…

For years, traditional consumer research has focused largely on surveys and focus groups, which have posed a variety of challenges to marketers given their limited size, the requirement of respondents to express their attitudes and actions towards specific brands “on the spot” and the latency these tactics can have in delivering information.

On top of all this, survey response rates have been on a significant decline over the past several years. As an example, according to Pew, telephone survey response rates have fallen to nine percent in 2012 from 36 percent in 1997, a 75 percent decrease over 15 years. This drop is often attributed to a variety of evolving factors, including email spam, caller ID, cell phone proliferation and self-service surveying tools, which many across the industry feel have inundated the market with response requests to consumers.

That is not to say surveying doesn’t have a strong position in the marketers arsenal today. However, the way surveying is used is evolving and should be used in concert with emerging market research methodologies. No longer do marketers have to relay on insight from the few to drive decisions for the many.

Question-less Surveying

Given the billions upon billions of daily consumer discussions across the open social universe, many companies are largely relying on social intelligence to help set strategy and drive innovation. This allows brands to deeply understand the needs and actions of millions of consumers in order to build segment-specific personas and map the consumer journey and the precious path-to-purchase without asking a single question of a consumer. Rather the brand uses streaming “big data” technology and complex concept models to filter and classify these conversations to identify highly specific insights direct from individuals within each segment.

From this intelligence, rapid, robust, detailed views of markets, shoppers, consumers, influencers and competitors can be constructed along with uniquely mapped views to illustrate consumer decision points and demand moments for a product across a wide array of segments.

As an example, this breakdown of Disney personas was constructed from nearly five million consumer social conversations.

SBI Book - Disney Personas

In this example, which only represents 66 percent of Disney’s social consumer base (there are other specific consumer persona segments not included here), the specific values, passions, desires and connections to the Disney brand are detailed across each consumer segment. This creates highly-actionable opportunities to understand the attitudes, behaviors and interest of each consumer segment, as well the drivers of their demand moments and decision points in order to effectively craft messaging, create promotions, select engagement channels and build brand connections that truly resonate.

The Evolving Engaged Consumer

According to Dimensional Research (yes, a survey), over 90 percent of consumers rely on independent reviews of products and services before they make a purchase decision. More and more consumers are relying largely on the open social universe to engage and use as a guide for their shopping, for purchases large and small.

As consumers become more interactive and our society approaches a complete “digital state,” the evolution will continue to shift towards the “engaged consumer.” An interesting illustration of this lies withing the television industry.

For decades, the measure of television programming has been widely conducted across a limited set of ‘TV families’ via set top box tracking and paper diaries. With this type of consumer engagement within social intelligence, the measured audience not only gets expanded to millions of viewers from tens of thousands of traditional ‘TV families,’ but also allows for direct interactions and powerful intelligence extraction.

As a point of comparison, ListenLogic’s Involved Viewer Rating (IVR), which displays viewer social engagement relative to its audience size is displayed below along with its traditional audience rank.

IVR RankAs displayed, many television programs have a small relative audience size, relaying weak audience ranks, but also have Top 10 Interactive Viewer Ratings (IVR), showing that their audiences are highly engaged in the programs.

Some examples of this include shows like Sons of Anarchy (AR – No. 39, IVR – No. 1), Storm Chasers (AR – No. 49, IVR – No. 3) and Top Chef (AR – No. 54, IVR No. 6). These programs benefit in a variety of ways from their highly engaged, multidimensional viewers.

Traditionally, programs with such low audience ranks would have a limited shelf life, seeing maybe a season or two before being replaced. Today though, programs with high IVRs are seeing extended runs thanks to the understanding that the audience may be smaller, but in many ways provide greater value. Often, these shows have strong evangelists among them who serve as “advertisers” across the open social universe, not unlike the fans many strong consumer brands have. These shows also benefit from powerful, robust consumer insights on their audience to provide enhanced intelligence to advertisers for improved targeting and multidimensional reach.

An Insightful Impact

As corporations move towards increased adoption of next generation market research methodologies like social intelligence, they are able to extract broad, deep, immediate insights on their markets, shoppers, consumers and even competitors. The key is achieving a holistic view of the open social universe, which typically requires advanced streaming “big data” processing in place of sampling and complex concept modeling in place of traditional keyword lists.

This actionable intelligence, often spanning millions of consumers, is facilitating power impacts driving both strategic decisions ranging from product innovation and market entries to tactical decisions ranging from marketing messages and product packaging.

The examples in this article are borrowed with permission from the book Social Business Intelligence: Reducing Risk, Building Brands and Driving Growth with Social Media (© 2013, 191 pgs., Ascendigm Press).