In recent years there has been a sea change in the way consumers buy, and the pace of that change is increasing. As consumer behaviors shift more rapidly, we at Linkfluence think it’s time for consumer research processes to reflect those changes.
The consumer research process has remained relatively unchanged over the last 30 years or so. Surveys, polls, and focus groups still dominate the consumer intelligence landscape. However, the modern reality is that these methods simply cannot keep pace with the speed at which consumer trends are changing.
There have been a number of new doors that have opened for researchers to take their discoveries and findings to the next level. Word of mouth now has a digital element. Social media also adds an extra dimension to consumer insights. Brand perceptions are being shaped directly by consumers, and brands can speak directly to their customers. Strangers connect with other strangers online based on shared interests and passions. The customer journey has become more complex, with buyers checking prices in store and then buying online, or vice versa.
With so many new ways to interact with products and brands, companies can do themselves a favor by ensuring their consumer research processes support these new ways of consumer interaction with brands.
Introducing a New Era of Consumer Intelligence
Linkfluence is looking at what people are expressing online. We comb through blogs, forums, social media platforms, and other sources. In all of these places, consumers express themselves spontaneously without necessarily being prompted by brands for their feedback.
Think of the online world as one huge, never-ending focus group. There’s lots of data with lots of points 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.
Linkfluence’s consumer intelligence platform leverages an always-on approach with real-time insights. The spontaneity factor benefits brands by gauging consumer insights and sentiments in the moment rather than days, weeks, or even months after the fact. Brands can use this intel to make decisions at the speed of the web rather than taking time to organize and analyze a feedback or intelligence project.
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 developed by Linkfluence, 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. Our AI tools analyze results using Natural Language Processing (NPL) and compile insights on your behalf. You’re left with clean, tidy reports on demand with done-for-you insights.
One thing we’ve seen work really well for our Linkfluence 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.
Another thing we’ve seen put to good use are the marketing metrics Linkfluence data provide. There are all sorts of things you can measure, which isn’t true when you have dedicated, one-dimensional surveys with specific desired outcomes.
Finding the Signal in the Noise
Every data tool tries to market itself with the idea that there’s gold somewhere in the data. It’s the ultimate failed promise of social listening. Linkfluence also “gives you the gold,” but what we do that other data tools don’t is show you exactly where the gold is and what it really means.
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 Linkfluence’s AI 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. It’s the difference between raw data and helpful, actionable information that defines Linkfluence.
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 new 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.
For example, one recent Tribes project identified outdoors-related communities for a fashion brand. This Tribe is a group of people who love camping and solo outdoor trips, and usually live in large cities and use their camping trips as a means of escape. Our next goal became to learn how these people connect with each other online. Do they share on blogs, social media, etc.? What are their other passions? What else are they talking about? We identified who these people are so that brands can connect with them in ways that aren’t disruptive, salesy, or heavily marketed. It’s all about inserting yourself into conversations in authentic ways and creating content specifically for the most relevant communities.
Combining Human Intelligence with Raw Data
Despite our heavy use of AI technology and data collection, we still maintain a strong human element that brings all of our efforts to life. It’s humans working with machines, not machines replacing humans.
Going back to our Tribes product, we see humans and AI working together to find the most relevant communities for brands. In the past, we’ve brought in analysts to work alongside our platform and help to answer some add-on questions we had from our clients.
What we noticed from doing this over time is that there are a number of recurring questions. These are high-value questions, things that brands always want to know. Some of these we can anticipate, such as “What is my brand equity?” or “What is my brand perception?”.
We’ve developed standardized methodologies around a dozen or so use cases to answer these recurring questions. For example, when we’re talking about brand perception, we’re going to build a data set a certain way or based on a certain structure. We’ll produce certain KPIs that focus on those questions.
Humans create these methodologies, not AI. And when we create these methodologies, we define how we’re going to use AI in topic modeling, sentiment analysis, NPL, and other areas. When designed around specific use cases, Linkfluence’s AI-powered platform can automatically turn data into easy-to-understand visualizations.
In essence, our human analysts build the frameworks, then our AI tools come in to fill the gaps and create a polished, well-rounded outcome. This allows us to create and deliver the kind of deep marketing research that other social listening and sentiment analysis tools just don’t have. Instead of mega lists of keywords and hashtags and statements that don’t offer context or action steps, you gain data with perspective on why that data matters.
We’re not building our tools around what can be done, but rather what needs to be done. For the consumer intelligence industry as a whole, that approach is long overdue.
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.