Monday, September 22, 2008

Is It the End of Surveys?

You may have noticed an article in Ad Age last week, “The End of Consumer Surveys.” It is based on an ongoing program by the Advertising Research Foundation that aims—not to do away with consumer surveys—but instead to integrate conventional marketing research and social media metrics to give a clearer picture of how well brands are doing to get their message out. “Out” is meant in the broadest sense; not just how much is being spent on brand messages in conventional media but how well that is translating into (unpaid) online chatter favorable to the brand.

ARF is being supported in this effort by marketing research firm TNS and its Cymfony Division, which specializes in social media. TNS has a number of resources posted on their site. The ones I was especially taken with were a 2007 white paper “Making the Case for a Social Media Strategy,” (chart at right) and the ARF webcast ”Social Media Analysis for Consumer Insight: Validating and Enhancing Traditional Market Research Findings.” I’m going to hit some of the highlights and try to bring them together for you. The webcast runs about 40 minutes and is worth listening to in its entirety (access it from this page). There’s another in this series coming up on November 12 and other related webcasts on the ARF events page.

Using brands of HDTV as their basic case study, the researchers from TNS used what could be called marketing research triangulation to look at brand impact. They used:

• Conventional marketing panel research to understand conventional brand metrics like favorability
• They used projective techniques to uncover the attitudinal (“emotive”) dimensions that characterize brands in the category
• They used convention web metrics (e.g. visits to websites) and social media metrics (e.g., brand mentions in blogs) to measure online activity and chatter.

Two key metrics which they report—and which they find to be interrelated—are share of market and share of discussion.

One of the products of their analytics that I found most interesting was a list—ordered by “contact clout”—of various contacts points that affect consumers’ decisions about brands. Experience with the brand is really important—points 1, 2 and 4. The first mention of traditional media ranks 9th—articles in newspapers and magazines. This probably reflects the innovative and technological nature of the HDTV product. TV comes in at number 14, but remember the metric is “influences brand decisions” not “creates awareness.” Nevertheless, the preponderance of personal and in-store information sources is striking.

But the main theme of the ARF/TNS collaboration is the need to combine conventional marketing research and social media metrics. Their argument is that just looking at brand activities is not sufficient. It is also absolutely necessary that you look at what consumers are doing and saying. The tough part is bringing the two together. I’ve argued the point in a somewhat different way; use behavioral analysis—first—to find out what people are doing; then conventional marketing research adds value by finding out why. The TNS analysis adds to that argument by demonstrating that you can get some of the whys from online chatter.

Their recommendation for effectiveness includes two kinds of communication—marketer generated and consumer generated. The marketer needs to work at nurturing (“spinning”) social networks and generating real online dialog between consumers and marketers.

The ARF has long been known for serious scrutiny of marketing research issues. This is an important effort to move marketing analytics in a direction that is essential to marketing effectiveness in the Web 2.0 world.

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