ConsumerInsights | 7 min read

The Ultimate Consumer Intelligence Guide: Definition, Strategy, Examples

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Anyone can publish their opinions, their passions, their interests, spontaneously, and with great reach, anywhere, any time, and their stories can be viewed through any connected device.  This has revolutionized the way brands understand, communicate with, and engage with their consumers. 

In her Internet Trends 2019 report, the American venture capitalist and former Wall Street Analyst, Mary Meeker, said “The rapid rise of gathered / analyzed digital data is often core to the holistic success of the fastest growing & most successful companies of our time around the world”.

The stage is set. To be successful, brands must embrace an agile and customer-centric culture rooted in AI-enabled consumer intelligence.

Many of the world’s most successful and loved brands, including Nike and the Procter & Gamble Company, understand that being attuned to the voice of the consumer is what makes them more authentic and sets them apart. 

Leading brands have reinvented the way they achieve consumer intelligence to meet  fast-evolving consumer needs and preferences by combining new technology and classical research approaches to process millions of online posts and conversations. Their ability to innovate, plan and execute their product, marketing and customer strategies, and ultimately to maintain leadership, depends on this.

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Table of Contents

 

What is consumer intelligence?

Consumer intelligence (CI) is the process of gathering and analyzing information about customers and potential customers to better understand them and avoid using preconceived ideas about “what we think they think” to build deeper and more effective customer relationships and make better informed decisions. It’s the foundation of all strategic marketing.

Bringing consumer intelligence into the digital era, AI-enabled consumer intelligence uses technology to retrieve and analyze billions of online data and allows brands to understand consumers faster, deeper and in a consistent manner.

A case study

Pernod Ricard, the world’s second largest wines and spirits company, uses AI-enabled consumer intelligence to understand people at every stage of the consumer and shopper journey, including early on when they’ve only just started considering a product or are seeking one that resonates with their needs.

They deep dive into unsolicited and spontaneous consumer conversations and, with context and sophisticated data structure, provide the business with real insights and actions.

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Staying ahead of the curve: Why brands must adopt AI-enabled consumer intelligence

The need for global consistency 

A big challenge for global brands is maintaining a globally consistent brand promise, while still remaining locally relevant. 

AI-enabled consumer intelligence democratizes insights within the organization, making data available and actionable in a consistent and relevant manner from marketing and consumer insights to IT. Data can be seen as a single source of truth within the organization. It provides global governance, while still empowering regional teams to customize their activities to local circumstances.

AI-enabled consumer intelligence helps global organizations ensure   that methodologies and metrics are consistent across brands, teams, and locations. The growing needs for intimacy, authenticity and relevance.

The emergence of new consumer behaviours has changed the way marketing professionals do their job. They must rethink the way they do marketing. They must become more consumer-centric, more agile, and faster. However, many brands are still struggling to find authentic and innovative ways of relating to people and audiences authentically and finding consumer-centricity.

AI-enabled consumer intelligence is also a way to be responsive to uncertainty. Listening to what is said online in real-time allows brands to quickly understand the main concerns, challenges and questions poised by consumers, and gives brands a glimpse of everyday reality they might have ignored otherwise.

For instance, the COVID-19 crisis demonstrated that new concerns can surge suddenly and disrupt the way people interact, think, and live. With consumer intelligence, brands can tailor their content and communication quickly and demonstrate the responsibility and support consumers expect.

What does AI-Consumer Intelligence mean for the future of market research?

The limitations of market research 

Within the new customer-centric, digital paradigm  Consumer & Market Insight departments need to deliver actionable insights faster to enable informed decision making across the entire organization. they are under pressure to  transform their processes to stay in front of consumers and do more with less:

  • While retrospective analysis and quantitative recall studies help to understand the past, they are not enough to map out the future fast enough. Identifying intent and consumption moments when they happen gives businesses a better chance to address shifting demand.
  • The geographical limitations and cost implications of running traditional research in multiple markets are becoming harder to justify. Research budgets are often first to be cut or reduced and the danger of losing sight of valuable insights has increased.
  • While focus groups and surveys are a fundamental part of the research toolkit, bias is often created  in the way traditional surveys are built. Listening to unsolicited and spontaneous expression is critical to understanding consumers as they see themselves and should be integrated with classical methods.

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AI-Enabled Consumer Intelligence must complement traditional market research 

Generally accepted as the next generation of market research by CMOs and analysts alike, AI-enabled consumer intelligence allows brands to harness the voices of consumers and conversations from all public, social, and digital spheres and get insights as deep as traditional market research without being lengthy and costly.

 

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In a survey of over 50 global brands, exploring current and future use of classical and AI-enabled insights, marketing leaders shared their plans for 2021: 75% plan to complement classical methods with AI-enabled consumer intelligence. 

Classical and AI-enabled consumer insight should coexist within the organization to ensure brands have a full picture of their consumers, markets, competitors - which is as close to real-time as possible and consistent across markets.

Serving the needs of the full brand life cycle

Let's take a look at the brand life cycle: 

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Strategize

In a world where the competition is fierce, brands need to STRATEGIZE. The first step in creating, refining, or optimizing a market strategy is marketing intelligence. A fundamental understanding of consumer needs and desires, market trends, competitor positioning, and how all of this manifested in marketing communications and product offerings is the foundation of the brand life cycle.

Traditional market research entails multiple methodologies, including surveys, interviews, focus groups, and more purpose-designed types of ethnographic research, Done in static moments in time, these are fundamental to the brand lifecycle framework and give a snapshot of the current attitudes and behaviors of consumers.

By integrating the frameworks of these traditional approaches with AI-enabled consumer insight, researchers and marketers turn this snapshot into a “living view” of brand and consumer strategy, giving them agility to guide strategy based on the overnight changes that happen based on the digital nature of modern consumer lifestyles.

Brands must benchmark the competition to understand the battlefield and to define their go-to-market strategy.

For example, in terms of one of these strategic initiatives, audience segmentation, social media has overturned the ways consumers identify, bond, and communicate. Rather than demographic association, consumers seek authentic and meaningful connection based on shared interests and values. This means that marketers have to go beyond the traditional socio-demographic segmentation to identify tribes of interests to target. 

A tribe is a group of like-minded individuals who actively interacts with each other, looking for authentic and meaningful engagement, based on shared interests and values.


Their bonds are more powerful than their demographic group, because a tribe is defined as a network of heterogeneous persons - in terms of age, sex, income, etc. - who are linked by a shared passion or emotion.

Audience segmentation is key when it comes to positioning. Understanding who is their key target, brands will be able to define which topics will resonate with their target audience and connect with it with an authentic voice, showing dedication to their shared passions and behaviors, and by addressing their cultural and societal purposes.

AI-Enabled Consumer Intelligence crosses qualitative and quantitative analysis to avoid bets and intuition to define the perfect messaging that will resonate with the target audience.

Execute

With a living strategy defined, it's time to EXECUTE. The introduction of products, communication of features and benefits of the brand, functional and emotional, and management of a complex omnichannel campaign, both offline and online, is a highly evolved skill set that requires a highly evolved technology stack.

While it’s now well-accepted that digital marketing is the basis of customer-centricity for modern brands, it’s less established that the inspiration and tracking for marketing execution should have an equally strong data-driven approach.

Connecting to the audience example above, influencer marketing is one of the most critical applications for AI-enabled intelligence. Defining a reliable influencer network to relay authentic and trusted messaging means identifying influencers that both a) correspond well with the brand's image and communication strategy, but who are also a member of the tribes the brand aims to target. Social intelligence allows brands to automatically track tribes as the shift, grow, merge, and diverge.

Understanding the voice of the customer in real-time is fundamental for brands to fine-tune their execution. Listening to feedback on consumer review sites allows brands to adjust,  engage conversations with disappointed customers, to amplify positive experiences, and to turn detractors into advocates. This even empowers brands to improve their search performance or trade marketing.

Protect

A crisis can come out of anywhere, and PR and corporate affairs teams must respond swiftly to protect the brand. 

The best chance to make it through a social media crisis is to prepare ahead of time. Brands must monitor all conversations related to their brands, industry, and influencers, and define a crisis assessment and action plan based on potential scenarios. In addition to managing a crisis, it is equally important to measure impact on brand reputation.

To identify crises early, communications and PR managers must track sensitive topics over time along with related mentions of the brand. This is one of the first business use cases that social listening offered to solve and it is still essential. AI-enabled Consumer Intelligence can bring a deeper-dive analysis to measure brand reputation in terms of brand pillars, relative to each consumer tribe.

Measure

Once integrated cross-channel campaigns are launched, brands must stay agile with a test & learn approach. For that, they must MEASURE their performance. 

There are 3 ways to do this:

  1. Campaign performance: Measuring the reach & engagement of marketing campaigns across owned and earned media.

    Good campaign strategy requires great analysis. Brands must track marketing campaign performance, measure their effectiveness, and use this data to adapt the current campaigns instantly and make the next project even better.

  2. Customer experience: Understanding what the customers say by analyzing customer experience to fine-tune campaigns but also to adjust product strategy.

    Analyzing customer experience helps also to measure the performance of marketing campaigns. Listening to consumer feedback will allow brands to meet customers’ expectations and win their loyalty. With the emergence of online ratings and reviews, brands can count on a solid methodology to analyze quantitative and qualitative data and make sure they will harness customers' voices. 

  3. Brand equity tracking: What is the impact of campaigns on brand equity? Are they reinforcing strategic brand goals, and establishing consistency?

    Even if brand trackers are traditionally a fundamental tool for market research, brands should complement traditional survey-based trackers with AI-enabled consumer intelligence to understand equity in real-time, with the ability to filter by awareness and perception driver, and “ask-multiple questions afterwards”.

Innovate

To survive in this competitive world where not only are multinational brands introducing hundreds of new products a year, but where startups are disrupting the industry constantly with entirely new product concepts and service models, brands need to INNOVATE.

Via always-on insight based on structured data specific to the brand’s category, organizations can detect weak signals and emerging trends to “nearcast” what consumers want, and create compelling products and experiences ahead of the competition. 

AI-enabled consumer intelligence enables brands to use the power of AI and data science associated with a methodological framework to have a clear picture of what will shape the future of their industry and innovate before the competition.  

After new product introduction, brands can track customer experience by monitoring social media and consumer review sites in real-time to understand fast-evolving consumer needs and preferences, in terms of brand, communications, product, packaging, and every consumer touchpoint.

The brand life cycle, democratized 

As a theory, the product and brand lifecycle dates back to the 1950’s, and has continued to be a textbook framework for marketing management until today. However, while the model remains valid, the marketing intelligence tools used to inform it have not changed significantly, while consumer behaviors and the media environment have.

In order to keep up with the speed of changing culture, especially digital and social media culture, brands must complement classic methods with new technologies born in the same era that their customers came of age: AI-enabled consumer insights.

Consumer Insights vs. Consumer Intelligence: What's the Difference?

Consumer insights and consumer intelligence represent two sides of the same coin. They’re not quite the same, so let’s explore the nuances between consumer insights vs. consumer intelligence and the value they bring to your business.

What Are Consumer Insights?

We define consumer insights as the deep understanding of consumers that comes from gathering consumer intelligence and analyzing it carefully. The result is actionable  data your business uses that takes into account customer behaviors, feedback, and conversations and turns them into conclusions about your customers’ preferences.

To benefit from consumer insights, you need good data quality and reliable data sources, as well as a way to collect, organize, and translate the data. In other words, to gain real consumer insights, you need to first gather real consumer intelligence. 

Where Do Consumer Insights and Consumer Intelligence Overlap?

Consumer Insights in the buyer journey

Both consumer insights and intelligence play an important role in developing your products, services, and marketing strategy.

Consumer insights and intelligence can help you learn more about what makes your target audience tick. Insights are built by identifying trends in behaviors and actions throughout the customer journey that help you learn more about sentiments and the drivers behind customer decisions.

The results delivered by insights and intelligence differ from traditional market research in that you don’t know what you’re going to get. Instead of creating specific questions ahead of time, you receive answers to questions you may have never thought to ask. 

The data you receive from an insights and intelligence strategy can answer questions like:

  • How do customers view your brand?
  • How and where should you position your products or services so customers take notice?
  • How do customers feel about your competitors?
  • Is there a demand for your products or services, and how does demand change over time?
  • Are there opportunities to create new products or services?
  • What does your audience like, dislike, need, want, etc. and how can you connect with them wherever they are?

 

Introducing a New Era of Consumer Intelligence

Linkfluence looks at what people express online. We comb through blogs, forums, social media platforms, and other sources. In all of these places, consumers express themselves spontaneously without being prompted by brands for their feedback. 

Think of the online world as one huge, never-ending focus group. There is a lot of data to analyze. This enables us to surface insights that are very different from traditional marketing or consumer research. We’re not formulating the questions ahead of time. Rather, users are answering questions that marketers never thought to ask in the first place, and we can  learn a lot from their answers. It’s the solution to the age-old problem “You don’t know what you don’t know.” 

Using this approach changes consumer research from an activity that “pushes” consumers to one that “pulls” them instead. Historically, marketers pushed consumers to respond to customer surveys, panels, and similar activities. They had predefined questions coupled with comments sections for open-ended insights and relied on customers’ willingness to participate. What’s more, they also assumed that customers would offer their honest feedback.

Linkfluence’s approach eliminates these pieces of the puzzle by collecting insights without pushing customers. You’re no longer soliciting answers, but rather collecting them from various sources where customers have already willingly engaged. With no pressure to comply, there’s also no pressure to align answers and sentiments with what customers think that brands want to hear. They can be honest and open without a preconceived idea that they have to answer in a certain way.

How Brands Are Winning with Better Customer Insights

In a traditional market research survey, you might be happy if you get 500 people to respond. But when you consider the overall size of your market, which could be in the thousands or even the millions if you’re a global brand, you realize that those responses are just a drop in the bucket. They can’t fairly be viewed as being representative of your entire audience. What do you do with that? 

With AI consumer intelligence tools, you’re not relegated to direct responses to survey questions. Suddenly, you’re presented with millions of responses collected from various channels at any given time. Even better, you don’t have to comb through each one to pick out the golden nuggets, because our AI tools analyze results using Natural Language Processing (NPL) and compile insights on your behalf. 

One thing we’ve seen work really well for our users is detection of new trends in their respective industries. Consumers often start talking about trends long before brands catch on, so being able to detect and identify new trends early on gives brands a significant competitive advantage.

Finding the Signal in the Noise

One of the greatest challenges for marketers, no matter how they’re doing market research, is to find the “signal in the noise.” This is the thing that makes all your data collection and analysis worthwhile. Even with super-targeted, highly focused surveys or panels, there’s still a lot of noise that you need to tone down. This is also one of the differentiating factors of consumer intelligence tools.

Let’s say, for instance, that you notice a spike in brand mentions. How do you know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing? What are the sentiments behind those mentions? A successful PR campaign can just as easily cause a spike in brand mentions as a brand crisis. We turn that raw data into actual insights, giving you not just the what but also the why. 

Data is nothing without structure. We collect tons of content every day, but all that content is worthless unless and until you can turn it into something useful. One of the ways we’re doing this is through our Tribes product that helps brands find relevant online communities. This is important if you want to connect in an authentic way with specific communities that have a shared interest or perspective. 

5 Tips for Consumer Intelligence Success

 

1) Understand Your Project's Background

This seems obvious, but understanding the context of what you want to research is critically important. It’s much more difficult to find meaningful insights in social data if the people doing the research don’t understand the context and nuances of the market or subject they’re investigating. 

At Linkfluence our team includes specialists with deep knowledge of numerous industries, so when they help clients build AI Enabled Consumer Intelligence projects, they are able to do so with a solid understanding of the unique complexities of those markets. 

2) Know What Question You’re Trying to Answer

Often businesses embark on Consumer Intelligence projects with no clear idea of what they’re trying to achieve, beyond a ‘fishing expedition’ to see if looking at social data might throw up any interesting information. This is counter-productive and unlikely to yield valuable results. 

It’s better to start these projects with a well-defined problem that you want to solve. This will help the team set everything up properly, in a way that’s much more likely to give you some useful answers. Here are some examples of common use-cases, and how you can think of them as questions to be answered: 

  • Reputation Monitoring - how do people think of our brand and how is that changing? 
  • Competitive Benchmarking - how do consumers view our brand against our competitors?
  • Content Ideation - what topics interest my audience, what questions do they have? 
  • Influencer Discovery and Vetting - which influencers are most respected amongst my target audience? 
  • Campaign Performance Measurement - how have my online and offline campaigns performed? How can I measure them all on a level playing field? 
  • Brand Equity Tracking - is the value of our brand increasing, decreasing, or stagnant - what’s causing that trend? 
  • Tribes Identification and Activation - who are the main audience segments that are relevant to us, and how do we engage with them effectively? 
  • CX Analysis - what kind experience do customers have at our retail outlets, which are performing well, which need to be improved? Which of our products are people having good/bad experiences with? 
  • Trend Forecasting - what’s changing in our market, what new products and experiences do we need to offer our customers to stay relevant and competitive?

 

But remember that specificity is powerful. The more focused your question is, the more accurate the answer you’re likely to get. 

3) Identify Which Data Will be Useful

We’re very proud of the fact that we offer the most comprehensive social-data coverage on the market, but remember that not every project requires every data source. One of the advantages of having human research expertise involved in the process is that they will be able to call upon their experience and knowledge of an industry to decide which data sources are most likely to yield the best results in any given context.

4) Structure Data Properly

A mountain of raw, unstructured social data isn’t much use to anybody. You could perform some simple quantitative analysis to get an understanding of trends and keyword volumes, but it’s going to be difficult to uncover meaningful insights. 

Let’s use these two tweets as an example - they’re both returned by a search on the keyword “Hamilton” and they’re both about very different topics; the Broadway musical, Hamilton, and the Formula One racing driver, Lewis Hamilton. 

With unstructured data, you’ve got this kind of confusion happening at a huge scale and while it’s possible to use well constructed boolean searches to limit the problem, it’s very difficult to completely eliminate it. So the data is inevitably going to be ‘noisy’ to varying degrees. 

AI Enabled Consumer Intelligence tools, such as Linkfluence, structure the data intelligently. For example, we classify the data to three levels of detail, based on topic categories that are widely used across.the digital marketing industry. In this example, there would be no risk of false positives in our data, because the platform has classified all of the data points (whether they’re tweets, comments, reviews, or anything else) and can easily differentiate between Hamilton the musical and Hamilton the sportsman. 

We can even do this with images, since modern AI is easily capable of understanding the contents of an image file and classifying it in the same way as textual content. 

5) Interpret and Socialize Findings

It’s important to understand that findings and insights are different things. Uncovering patterns and trends in social data is only the first part of the puzzle. It takes human expertise in market research methodologies and experience of the context and nuances of the relevant industries or markets to interpret those findings into accurate, actionable insights. 

Without that relevant expertise or domain knowledge it’s all too easy to jump to the wrong conclusions and make bad decisions. 

It’s equally important to socialize the insights to relevant stakeholders across the business in a way that leaves little ambiguity or room for misinterpretation. The whole point of doing all this work to uncover consumer insights is to create value for your business, and that can only happen if the insights are communicated clearly to the people who are able to use them to make more effective decisions.

It’s Time to Upgrade Consumer Intelligence

Consumer intelligence and research are long overdue for an upgrade, and Linkfluence is helping to change the landscape from what is to what could be. We know that having eyes and ears into what’s being said about your brand matters to you, and we’re helping you capitalize on every opportunity to be proactive in shaping perceptions to improve your brand image.

It’s time to upgrade your consumer intelligence. Reach out to Linkfluence to request a demo.

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