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Insight from Social Data

With a background in consumer marketing, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time sitting in focus groups or creating surveys in an attempt to gain some new consumer insight or try and validate a hypothesis. While both clearly have an important role to play, I think many marketers will agree it’s often expensive, inconclusive and often depressingly predictable.

I believe anyone with an interest in understanding consumers, trends or discovering new insight should be salivating at the potential the vast amount of consumer and editorial content that is published every single day on the Internet presents. Whether it’s social media, blogs, forums or professional editorial content, a search for almost any conceivable topic throws up a treasure trove of opinion, conversation and potential insight.

A client recently likened the vast amount of publically available conversation as the ‘world’s largest focus group’ and I think there’s some real power in this perspective.

With the right analytics tools, this data can reveal compelling, often transformational insights related to (amongst other things) brands, consumer trends, purchasing behaviour, consumer attitudes and competitors.

I’m still amazed by how many marketing organisations remain so reliant on traditional research methodologies alone and how few are truly leveraging the insight that can be drawn from the “public web”

This new ‘big data’ source is not the only answer, it has it’s own biases and limitations and sure, focus groups in slough will have a role to play but it’s a hugely powerful and often overlooked insight source that marketers need to understand.

Most brand teams have worked out how to monitor online conversation around their brands, some may even actively look for insight about their competitors but few have demonstrated a real understanding for the depth of insight available.

I think this is because, put simply, at first glance it looks hard.

Successfully analysing and interpreting social data requires a combination of traditional marketing ‘intuition’ and curiosity but needs to be paired with an understanding of big data processing and some (to the untrained eye) fairly hard-core maths! It really is a case of art meets science and that’s what makes it so exciting.

At Black Swan, we regularly use vast sets of data taken form the public web to help inform our client’s business decision-making, everything from product innovation to supply chain management. However, at end of the day, all the data processing power in the world and smart algorithms can fail to give you any insight unless you ask the right questions. It’s when it’s paired with the curiosity of a skilled marketer that it becomes an enormously powerful new tool and I think every marketer should be excited about the change unfolding in our industry and the opportunities it presents for their brands and businesses.

So, next time you find yourself sitting in your favourite focus group facility, enjoying the complimentary takeaway, ask yourself whether you’re really leveraging every insight source at your disposal and embrace the data scientist within you!