“It is the disease of not listening...that I am troubled with.” —William Shakespeare
If you're ready to up your marketing game, you need to start with research. Of course, research in marketing encompasses a broad range of topics, from quantitative price shopping to qualitative surveys and focus groups.
As an important rule of thumb, when dealing with quantitative data, remember the real value is always in the story behind the numbers, not only the numbers themselves. You want to avoid a routine of historically-minded reporting that’s more focused on a consistent display of numbers than on a narrative that articulates insights for future actions.
The combination of online analytics and social media listening platforms is the central focus for initial research. Why? For us, it all started several years ago, when a large software and computer operating systems company in Seattle asked us if we could tell them every time one of their competitors was mentioned on the Internet, in real time.
This was a fascinating request, and at the time we were experimenting with a fledgling social listening tool called Radian6. This was long before Salesforce.com acquired Radian6, and given the client we were working with, Radian6 was happy to roadmap their software in accordance with feedback coming directly out of this new endeavor.
Although we didn’t know why our client wanted this information, we learned to recognize that key themes and emerging topics in online conversations about a brand or industry could be sorted and analyzed. That value was in understanding what people were talking about, and how they were expressing it in plain language (as opposed to in survey answers or in the context of a focus group). It was identifying the emotional content and learning about the people responsible for influencing those conversations.
Suddenly, we recognized an opportunity: a new means by which to actively listen, filter, and learn about any subject we desired. A way to automate the massive collection of opinions, complaints, wishes, and ideas.
This was the early process of social listening and learning, the process of monitoring multiple digital media channels where consumers, and business people participated in online conversations. The Cluetrain Manifesto had already taught us that markets were conversations. Now we had access to a whole new dimension in that. It was a game changer for anyone able to use the tools to their advantage.
Listening in this context involves both reviewing historical information (conversations that have already occurred) and engaging in real-time dialogue. Then, by organizing and collecting knowledge from the vast amount of content that constantly streams across the digital environment, you can create and improve strategies to influence existing and new customers.
At Room 214, we frequently find that clients want to jump directly into brainstorming ideas for campaigns. Many treat this kind of research as merely a nice-to-have—or worse, they conclude that their own understanding of the market or prospective customer is sufficient.
If you are familiar with the concept of unconscious incompetence, then you can guess what our response is to this. Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know.
If you are asking questions about the rules of baseball while trying to understand the football game you’re at, you may not even be in the ballpark you want to be in.
That’s not a crack on anyone’s intelligence. Regardless of how knowledgeable any of us are, there’s always more we can learn. Being (listening) in the right place is critical. Why? Because listening can lead to valuable modifications to your goals and strategies.
Take a few seconds to consider the time and money you are (or will be) spending on marketing content. To what extent has the kind of listening we’re referring to informed your approach to identifying and following through on new opportunities? Social begins with listening ... to prospects, customers, employees, markets.
The conversations your target audience has about you provide valuable insight. Yes, you say—but what if nobody is talking about me or my brand? Social listening wouldn’t really be a great investment in this case, right?
Wrong. If there is a market for what you provide, people are having conversations relevant to you, or at the very least, to subject matter you care about. With traditional market research, the answers are usually in response to questions and concerns that you put on the table. Don’t get us wrong: there are systematic approaches to intelligence gathering with open-ended questions. However, most companies are missing many opportunities to better understand their customers.
In the world of digital, and especially social media, it all begins with listening … deep listening. That means, at first, you are not involved in any way in the discussion. Even a simple question like “What do you think?” pushes a person into a box related to the context of the question. We are talking about listening with no interaction. This represents a different approach for most companies and marketing agencies alike.
Wendy’s wanted to know what people were thinking and what decisions they were making just before they headed out for lunch. Social listening told them what people were asking:
This is valuable information for any fast food chain, because fast food is synonymous with calorie-laden bacon double cheeseburgers, fries, and sodas. This kind of listening led to a shift in the mindset of the organization’s leadership. In fact, it resulted in a change to the Wendy’s menu; the restaurant began offering more salads.
Sounds like a neat and tidy story, but to the point of values, this initiative was more complicated than it may seem. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, it took three years and “a search involving more than 30 growers for Wendy’s Co. to procure enough blackberries for a new salad ... Wendy’s quest for the nearly 2 million pounds of blackberries it will need to embellish a seasonal salad at its 6,500 North American restaurants illustrates the challenges large chains are trying to digest as they seek to keep up with growing demand for fresh ingredients.”
As a natural marketing extension, Wendy’s digital department created a phone app that shows the calories each menu offering contains. It lets you tell it how many calories you want to consume, and then offers suggestions on what you can eat.
This is a great example of multiple departments in an organization using consumer opinions and social listening to make a shift in both product offerings and advertising. And the company changed its slogan to “Quality Is Our Recipe.” (FYI, they still sell a bacon double cheeseburger.)
This post is part of the Transformative Digital Marketing series, which features excerpts from the Amazon best-selling book (of the same name) written by the co-founders of Room 214.
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