Every brand has its ideal buyer in mind, and likes to think that it creates products that this buyer will love. But too often, this is just an idea.
Consumer habits have changed, and shoppers are now “more digitally savvy and increasingly impatient with traditional marketing techniques.” Younger generations - including much-coveted Millennials - simply don’t buy things the way their parents did.
Which poses a problem for market research. Occasional focus groups, polls, and surveys are simply not enough to keep up with changing trends. In what is now a digital world, brands need digital strategies to find customer data.
Great companies make it a priority to know their customers deeply, and to use this information in every business decision. They find customer insights in market research, yes, but also through daily interactions with buyers, and especially on social media.
In this post, we’ll show you how to use social media to understand your customers better today, tomorrow, and always. There’s no more immediate source of consumer insights than social networks - you just have to know how to access them.
And in this post we're going to show you how.
- What are consumer insights?
- The top sources for consumer insights
- Why social media matters for market research
- How to find consumer insights on social media
- More examples of social consumer insights
- How to make social insights work for the whole company
Now, let's start with a clear definition.
We live in an age where information is vital. Consumers have so much choice, and so much access to goods and services that businesses can’t simply hope for buyers to find them.
Instead, they need to get to know them better.
This field of study is known as consumer insights, where brands seek new and interesting pieces of information about their buyers. Here’s a useful definition from Trustpilot:
A consumer insight is an interpretation used by businesses to gain a deeper understanding of how their audience thinks and feels. Analysing human behaviours allows companies to really understand what their consumers want and need, and most importantly, why they feel this way.
They include key demographics like age, gender, and location, but also topics of interest and sentiment towards certain products. The goal is then to produce better products, branding, and marketing based on this knowledge.
Why understanding buyers is so valuable
The consumer landscape is very different to last century’s. Buyers have more access to products, information, and each other than ever before.
Today’s buyers are:
- Better informed about products and services
- Connected to one-another, and can easily find reviews and opinions before buying
- Expecting personalization, and react negatively to “one size fits all” advertising
The last point means that fitting them into neat segments is now harder than it used to be. It’s no longer enough to say that “men between ages 45-54 like X.”
Brands need to be able to recognize the different tribes and subgroups within their market, and be able to reach each with the right message.
If they don’t, consumers will go to a company that can.
Consumer insights and market research
These two terms are often seen as synonyms. But consumer insights are really a more actionable form of market research.
Both involve data. But while market research tends to stop at what the data tells you, consumer insights try to go further and figure out the why:
[Consumer insights] tend to come with recommended actions that will help you amplify the company’s growth. This means the team in charge of consumer insights will deliver both data and narrative, allowing you to make use of the data.
If you can't walk away from your market research with actionable next steps, you've still got work to do.
What qualifies as an “insight?”
And it’s not enough to just have “data.” It needs to be insightful. True insights, whether about consumers or otherwise, need to meet a few criteria:
- They should be new: If you already knew (or suspected) a particular piece of information, it’s not an insight.
- They should be unexpected: Ideally, you weren’t even looking for it.
- They must be relevant: New information might be interesting, but if it doesn’t match your business goals or your buyers, it’s not an insight you can use.
- They should inspire you to take action: There should be clear next steps coming from good insights.
If a new piece of information meets those criteria, it’s probably a good insight. And without true customer insights, brands don’t give themselves the best chances of success.
These days, we can divide consumer data into two broad categories: traditional and digital. Most likely, you’ll want a combination of both. And while many leading brands have been gather insights from traditional sources for decades, digital insights may still be a work in progress.
Traditional sources of consumer insights
When we talk about traditional sources, we’re talking about:
- Focus groups: Groups of people assembled to discuss an existing product or provide feedback to inform the development or launch of a new product.
- Surveys: Questions and prompts provided to a predetermined set of people to gain information and insight on products and services.
- Questionnaires: A series of questions designed to capture customer feedback either online or in person.
Limitations of traditional consumer insights sources
These trusty methods have their strengths, but also have major limitations:
- Customers need to participate. These days, everyone is stretched for time, and filling out a survey or questionnaire just isn’t high on the list of priorities.
- Surveys and questionnaires focus on past experience. Data can go out of date as soon as there are updates or changes to the product.
- Observer bias can lead researchers to alter results to reflect preconceived beliefs.
- Market research can be time-consuming and costly, especially when analyzing lots of data. This can push up the price of research significantly. Not only that, but too much surveying can be a deterrent for customers.
- True representativeness can be hard to achieve. Getting a large enough sample size is a real challenge, as customers willing to complete a questionnaire or survey may have too much time on their hands.
- Finally, these traditional methods don’t provide enough flexibility - by focusing on pre-determined questions, these methods are only as good as the questions asked.
So, what options do brands have to work around these limitations?
Digital sources of consumer insights
As consumers increasingly consume, share content, and engage with brands online, digital channels are crucial sources of consumer insights. Many of these have been around for more than 20 years, but we still usually think of them as new and somewhat mysterious. They include:
- Website behavior
- Web search patterns
- CRMs and databases
- Social media conversations
- Forums, blogs, and online reviews
These sources often have two distinct advantages over traditional techniques: they can be done on a global scale, and the information is available instantly.
This is why it’s now essential that serious brands make the most of digital channels. That doesn’t mean you don’t need your classic sources as well. But ignoring the web and social media would be missing a large part of the consumer insights puzzle.
And that’s true of social media perhaps more than any other source on the list above.
For consumer insights experts, the information above isn’t new. You already know how important good buyer data can be to your company’s success.
But does your data come from the best possible sources? And perhaps more importantly, does your approach match the world around you?
Social media as a source of consumer insights
Social media has come a long way. What began as a fun way for young people to kill a few hours is now an integral part of everyday life. We use it:
- To communicate - for fun, for professional networking, and often as the primary means of reaching people.
- To learn - social networks are an essential news source. They’re also search engines, content libraries, and the first place that new ideas are shared.
- To watch trends - social media is the number 1 source of inspiration for consumers - as rated by consumers themselves.
- To buy - shoppers find new products and deals on networks, and Facebook has even introduced a native marketplace.
Just as newspapers and television were once vital to the average consumer, social media is a mainstay. And even more than those traditional media, it gives brands an unparalleled level of data.
There are a couple of ways social data research addresses the limitations of traditional market research:
Social listening tools assemble brand information in real time, and in a way that avoids bias. With real-time market research, brands can analyze thousands of references to products, while still catching individual conversations and unexpected points of view.
Large-scale, high-quality research
With billions of social media users tweeting and posting what they think and feel every day, brands can access customer insights on a massive scale, while still asking tightly defined questions.
Capturing the wider context
Social data research lets you analyze huge volumes of online discussions. But you can also contextualize this analysis with an understanding of real-world events.
For example, a brand might see a spike in conversations following an event, or a mention from a celebrity or public figure.
Social listening allows companies and brands to identify valuable signals in social media data: “As information thunders through the digital economy, it’s easy to miss valuable ‘weak signals’ often hidden amid the noise. These signals can help companies to figure out what customers want, and to spot looming industry and market disruptions before competitors do.” McKinsey, 2014
Think of social media as the world's largest focus group. You can now do large-scale market research almost instantly. Consumers’ views, tastes, and emotional reactions are available to the public.
Now that we're onboard with the value of social data as a source of consumer insights, let's take a look at the best ways to leverage that.
Finding customer insights on social media is actually fairly easy. It may take some time to explore everything fully, but the data is available and shouldn’t be hard to interpret.
Let’s start with the one piece of equipment you’re really going to need, and then we’ll get hands-on with the insights you should be looking for.
1. Get a good social listening and analytics tool
There’s really no way around this: if you want good social media data and insights, you need a good tool. You can’t monitor social media on your own - there’s just too much of it.
A social listening tool will handle that for you, so you can focus on hunting for insights.
Your tool needs to have:
A. Great listening capabilities
You need data from all the major social networks, delivered in real time, all in one place. If your tool can’t provide that, you’re way behind already.
When you’re looking for a listening tool, there are four key questions to ask:
- Does it cover all the social platforms I care about?
- Is it in real time, or will I have to wait to get results?
- Can I narrow my search terms and apply filters, or will I just have a mess of information?
- Can my team get training, support, and onboarded easily so I make sure the tool will be used?
Obviously, you'll have different criteria based on your company and brand goals. But if you can answer “yes” to all four questions, you’ve probably got a good listening tool. You’ll be able to track everything said about your brand on social media, respond quickly to comments, and strengthen your relationship with customers.
But if you want great consumer insights, you’ll also want good analytics.
B. Excellent analysis features
We’re not all data scientists. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make smarter business decisions based on social media statistics and conversations.
Look for a tool that will take all those thousands of posts and comments, and present them in ways that you can actually learn from. The very best ones even use machine learning to keep improving the results they give you, based on what you need to know.
A good example is Content Landscape, which groups together conversations (and the people having them), to add context to social media data:
If all you care about is reacting quickly to questions and comments, focus on finding the best listening tool you can.
But successful brands like Danone and Expedia actually use social media insights to shape their product and business strategies.
All you need to do the same is powerful, easy-to-use software, and some smart execution.
2. Do some primary audience analysis
The obvious first step for consumer insights is to find out more about the people talking about your brand. Even if you think you know all about the people who buy your products, social media gives you a large sample with which to confirm your suspicions, and you may also be surprised.
Begin by monitoring your own brand name across social media. Once you’ve collected a large enough sample of social mentions - ideally a few thousand - look at the kinds of people mentioning your brand.
[Tip: you can also use a tool like Linkfluence Search, which lets you search for any keyword, whether you’re currently monitoring it or not.]
Image: Location and demographic data from Linkfluence Search.
Good social analytics tools should tell you the age ranges, gender, locations, and languages of these social media users. Which is a very nice start.
Now go further…
You may care specifically about the social users who most love or hate your brand. For instance, wouldn’t it be nice to know the kinds of people who talk negatively about you? What do they have in common? And are these the kinds of people we were hoping to reach?
You can easily find out - simply filter your results by negative sentiment:
Image: filter panel from Linkfluence Search
Most good social listening tools offer sentiment or emotional analysis.
Now see whether the results look roughly the same, or if you’ve found a particular type of person who hates your brand:
Image: demographic data from Linkfluence Search
You can then apply the exact same steps to all kinds of different groups:
- Positive commenters only
- Men or women only
- Users in specific countries (or speaking certain languages)
- Users on specific platforms
Look for unexpected insights, and see if you can use these to inform the way you communicate with customers.
3. Discover the main topics associated with your brand
It’s not enough to know whether people are generally positive or negative about your products, and to read a few of their comments every day.
Don’t you also want to know the context for conversations in which your brand name is brought up? When people are talking about you, what else are they talking about?
For example, Nike wouldn’t be surprised to learn that people use their brand name when talking about fashion or basketball:
Image: Topic Wheel on “Nike” from Linkfluence Search
But it might be surprised to know that a significant group of users bring up Nike when discussing Asia Pacific politics:
Image: Topic Wheel on “Nike” from Linkfluence Search
And that the bulk of these users are between ages 18-24, live in the USA, and mostly talk about the brand on Instagram.
Image: Audience summary on “Nike” from Linkfluence Search
This is the kind of insight that fuels future marketing campaigns and lets brands reach consumers in new and interesting ways.
4. Find out where people are talking about you
We already saw that you can identify your audience’s main geographic locations. But what about the platforms they prefer?
In the digital age, your message needs to reach people on their turf. So if your customers are on Instagram, you need to be too.
Social listening tells you where conversations about your brand are happening. For instance, these are the social platforms where people most often discuss major cosmetics brands:
Image: Platform data for major cosmetic brands from Radarly.
It’s likely no surprise that Instagram tops this list. But that Facebook is so far behind might be a shock.
And even if you thought that Instagram would be first, did you realize it would be that far ahead? If a cosmetic brand isn’t committed to Instagram in 2019, it’ll likely be throwing money out the window.
Do the same for your own brand or your industry, and you’ll quickly learn whether your current social strategy makes sense, or if you need to think about other places to communicate with customers.
5. Find consumer insights from your competitors
So far, we’ve only talked about analyzing your own brand. Because of course, that’s the best place to start.
But you can do all of this analysis for the other major players in your industry. Start with an overview of conversations about you and your major competitors:
Image: Radarly analysis of a selection of major cosmetic brands.
Which brands are mentioned the most, get the most engagement, and have the best sentiment?
If one is doing a masterful job, your next task is to try to figure out what they’re doing right, and how you can do the same.
You can look closely at one brand at a time. This is smart, especially if there’s a company that you know had a great quarter, and you want to figure out its secrets.
But you can also take the industry as a whole, and learn more about the typical buyer:
Image: Radarly analysis of four major cosmetic brands.
This gives you more context. You already know what your own audience looks like, but does it match the wider industry audience? And if not, are you ignoring potential customers by focusing too much on your own?
With all of these exercises, we’re looking for new and actionable consumer insights. So as you work through them, see whether anything takes you by surprise, and then whether you can use this to improve your products and communication.
We just looked at the how in great detail. And what also touched on what you could find. To recap, that includes:
- Audience- learn the age, gender, language, and location of people talking about your brand
- Sentiment - how social media users feel about your brand and products, or your competitors’
- Topics - see the themes and concepts most often associated with your business
- Platforms - it’s important to know the best places to reach potential buyers, including the social networks they use
You can mix and match these concepts to drill down. And you can do all of this for any brand, including your competitors.
So what else does social media let you do?
Social intelligence tools let you look closer at trending topics and see what’s causing them. You’ll know what kinds of audiences they appeal to, where in the world they’re most popular, and you’ll see other topics they’re closely associated with.
The most important part is that all of this can be done in real time. Your intelligence tool will identify these trends as they break out, and then deliver insights to help you take advantage.
For example, 2018 saw the peak of the dad shoes craze:
These “ugly sneakers” became a must-have fashion piece, and brands all over the world scrambled to catch up.
Companies that were able to understand the trend and react quickly were able to cash in. And plenty missed out.
But social intelligence isn’t just about reacting. It can actually help you predict the coming trends before they happen.
Because of the volume and quality of social media data available, consumer insights teams can create predictive models to forecast the trends of tomorrow.
Multinational food company Danone is always looking for new flavor combinations. Linkfluence was able to build it a model that would identify certain ingredients and score them based on their likelihood to become trendy.
We use four main KPIs to achieve this:
- Awareness (volume)
- YoY growth (annual growth rate)
- Recent growth (last 6 months growth rate)
- Visual appeal (image share of voice vs. text share of voice)
That last point is so important for food, fashion, and lifestyle brands. They all need to create products that will succeed on Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube.
In this case, the model was able to predict ingredients’ visual appeal as a portion of their overall viability for Danone. This model helps to shape the company’s product vision and marketing strategies.
Left: scorecards from Linkfluence on ingredients predicted to become trendy
Right: new products developed by Danone with the identified up-and-coming ingredients
Measure brand equity
Those familiar with social listening will already know all about sentiment analysis. As we saw above, it’s an easy way to see whether social users are generally positive or negative about an issue or product.
But there’s more to brand image than simply positive or negative. And it’s so important to try to capture the context around these ideas. If your target audience loves what you do, you’re probably not worried whether everyone else feels the same way.
To help brands measure this, we’ve developed the ADPR framework:
This lets you evaluate your overall brand power. Not just good or bad, but how much the way that people talk about it matches with what you’d hope they say, and where you fit among the other brands in your industry.
To illustrate, we conducted large-scale research on the automotive industry. This lets us compare (for example) Toyota’s brand equity…
...with Chevrolet and Ford’s:
Track “tribes” or audience segments
Consumer insights teams are in the business of understanding their buyers. When they’re able to identify and track tribes, they can then learn more about what motivates and excites their target audience.
You can do this with demographics - social users’ age, location, and gender. But you can also create tribes based on common interests, beliefs, and language.
Thankfully, social media users put all of this information out there for the world to see. Their profile pages, timelines, and conversations tell you what they care about.
And good social intelligence tools will group these users together automatically, without you having to look at every user one by one. They will then pull out other recurring topics and keywords (aside from your brand name), so you’ll know what else they care about.
Everything we’ve talked about should get consumer insights experts excited. There’s an endless and ever-growing amount of data just waiting to be explored. But the data should matter to more than just researchers.
Here’s how social intelligence tools benefit everyone in the organization.
Marketing and communication teams
Your marketers will likely already know all about social listening. If they’re running campaigns and publishing content to social media, it’s important that they’re able to see what’s said in response and track these platforms.
But making the upgrade from social listening tool to social intelligence lets them:
- Measure brand equity evolution. Are their marketing and social media campaigns moving the needle on key brand drivers? Are customers perceiving the brand the way you want to be perceived? Which areas of their brands are performing better than others?
- Track campaigns more accurately, and with better insights. They probably already know how much traffic comes from social media, and how much engagement their posts get. But do they know whether their campaign has hit the right social users? Or what those users also care about?
- Manage crisis and protect the brand’s reputation. We talked about brand equity above. In the short term, digital marketers have to care about building brand awareness without plunging the business into a harmful crisis.
- Find and work with authentic or niche influencers. Influencer marketing is one of the most popular strategies around, yet finding influencers is difficult, and 63% of those who do have encountered influencer fraud. There's also influencer fatigue.
Social intelligence tools not only spot the right influencers for you, but they give you tangible metrics to measure their effectiveness and ensure they’re doing what you pay them for.
The nice thing about this is that your marketing team can take control of these aspects, while you give them big picture insights to help guide their efforts.
We saw above how Danone uses social intelligence to develop new products. It can easily see both the products in its range that customers love the most (and want to share), real-time feedback on product launches, and also spot innovation opportunities based on what certain consumer tribes talk about most frequently.
Consumer insights should work hand-in-hand with product teams to make things that it knows customers want. And instead of relying on slower, traditional market research techniques, social media makes a lot more data available at all times.
C-level and executive leadership
If there’s one thing that the top brass cares about, it’s “brand health.” More than just units sold and profits made, they want to know that the company has a future thanks to its reputation and strong track record.
Insights teams should make a habit of showing executives how real customers feel. You can provide real measurements of buyers’ affinity for the products, the company as a whole, and even of senior management.
Customer service and experience
Your service teams care most about what makes your customers happy. They doubtless already use NPS scores and other feedback tools to gather opinions.
Social media offers a way to track customer responses without even having to ask.
Your intelligence tools can easily collect and collate every comment about your brand and products. Social users love to share their latest purchases, and their posts can be more honest than in-person conversations.
And best of all, you can gather this data in huge numbers with minimal effort.
Take advantage of this information treasure trove
Social media is an incredible data source for consumer insights. There are 3.2 billion social users worldwide, all encouraged to share their loves, gripes, and most immediate desires.
And we’ve only scratched the surface of what you can learn from social data. On top of what we’ve seen, you can also:
- Find leading influencers within your industry
- Identify trends as they emerge, and build your marketing around them
- See where your brand sits within the larger social media landscape
And so much more. It really just depends on your commitment to data.
Start taking your customers seriously, and create the products and services that matter most to them.
Of course, if you're on the lookout for a great social listening tool, we're happy to help: