Social media is changing many aspects of business from how we talk to our customers to how we listen to the people who make our livelihoods possible. Over that past several years, social media marketing has been elevated to a degree of credibility within public relations, marketing communications and customer service. The information from the raw voices of our customers (consumer generated media) that occurs without a traditional statistical overlay has been slower to be embraced by the marketing research industry.
However, it seems as though social media research is beginning to find its place at the research table. The Advertising Research Foundation is taking an active role in determining how the third listening post (quantitative, qualitative, social media listening) can best be integrated and support the enterprise’s decision making process. Joel Rubinson, Chief Research Officer at ARF, graciously shared his insights and thoughts about the new direction of the marketing research industry.
Toby Bloomberg: Let’s take it from the top. Why do you think that “listening in on the raw voice of the customer” has merit?
Joel Rubinson: In a world where consumers are in control, where social media provides unprecedented velocity to the spread of messages like the reaction to the Motrin campaign, a marketer must commit to continuous learning. In turn, “learning” comes from hearing the unexpected.
If we only rely on traditional research approaches where the researcher controls the dialogue, your vocabulary will always trail the market and you’ll be much slower to sense the next move of the market than organizations that continually listen and learn. Listening to naturally occurring conversations in what we call both the consumer backyard (social media, search, @comcastcares in Twitter) and the brand backyard (like Dell Idea Storm) is essential for the continuous learning organization. Social media and search provide a continuous flow of undisturbed insights giving us a continually refreshed picture of marketing opportunities and threats.
Also, the picture is always on consumer terms not yours (the marketer). If people want to talk about a product in terms of the solution or social factors, if they want to find substitutable purposes for things that never sit next to each other on the retail shelf, God bless them. If activists start to trash your brand, like happened with Motrin, you need to be there immediately to sense, respond, and dialogue.
Toby Bloomberg: It’s exciting that The ARF is taking a leadership role in how social research finds its place in the marketing research mix. For the marketing research director who is exploring how and where social research “fits” into a marketing research project would you advice her to use CGM as a first step in the process and then bring in traditional research? In other words where do you see social media “research” fitting into the traditional marketing research world at the tactical level?
Joel Rubinson: Preliminarily, I believe it would fit in to a comprehensive research and learning plan in three main ways.
First, I would use it for continuous monitoring to spot corporate reputation issues, customer care problems, emerging social trends, and new vocabulary.
Secondly, I would use it as a front-end tool for significant new business questions that require their own project plan, coming before survey-based quantitative research and experiments.
Third, I would create an on-going “enthusiast” community for innovation and dialogue in the brand backyard such as Dell Idea Storm or Starbucks.
Toby Bloomberg: Joel, on a high level what’s your take on Social Media “Research?”
Joel Rubinson: Thanks for giving me this platform. I think this is the research profession’s moment in time if it has the courage and vision to transform and to drive a culture change at the enterprise it serves. The new central concepts will be learning and bringing the human to life.
Market Research should become the SPOC for bringing the human (the shopper, the consumer, the person living their life) into the boardroom for shifting focus from a product centric to a human-centric lens. The head of Consumer and Market Learning must synthesize the different data feeds and bring insights to life via storytelling, insights that can galvanize an organization like “only 2% of women think of themselves as beautiful” did for Unilever and Dove.
Over the next five years, you will see research shift focus to synthesized learning about the human and you’ll see a big change in who enters the profession. It’s already happening at places like Crispin, Porter, + Bogusky where the planning function has researchers but also includes anthropologists and news reporters. Research, account planning, and consulting will begin to blend as research departments at leading advertisers begin to retool.
Innovative research organizations will enable the change. Some of which will come from companies you haven’t heard of and some from the big guys. The ARF has become the industry’s leader at devising a listening strategy to extract insights from social media and how to integrate that into the broader range of tools. We welcome that responsibility.