We often only hear about social ‘consumer insight’ retrospectively, when it has been sorely lacking. There are innumerable examples of social ‘epic fails’; brands seemingly oblivious to groundswell concerns, failing to act before a crisis is upon them, or responding in the wrong tone, with the wrong agenda, and thus stoking the flames.

This is not surprising when you consider the ongoing misalignment between consumer expectations and commercial social presence: 42% of twitter users expect a response to their queries within an hour, and yet only 15.7% of businesses on social networks use a paid monitoring tool.

These are the public disputes and news-worthy stories. We do not hear as much about proactive social consumer insight inside the business, and across functions (not just marketing). This is because so few companies are doing it well.  Smart companies are moving from a fragmented and reactive setup, or one which heavily leverages external social monitoring agencies, to embedding a centralised consumer insights capability which drives rich and sustainable business value.

This is a new and sprawling area where terminology can be a little vague, so for clarity, I am referring to insights which can be developed using a range of analytics tools across multiple datasets (e.g. social listening, EPOS, web analytics, and other external data such as weather sources), with applied marketing expertise, to inform real decision making. In my view, insights must:

  1. Go beyond the single individual (ie. be scalable, for use pro-actively),
  2. Deliver a previously unknown (or not yet codified) understanding,
  3. Offer the potential of real, differentiated business value.

The state of play of insight within Consumer Products

It is widely appreciated that CP companies, in comparison with retailers and pure-plays,  are playing catch-up in the field of consumer insight, despite their enormous size and influence. The key differentiator is often cited as ownership of the purchase data and the more advanced analytics and modelling possible on the back of successful loyalty schemes.

In contrast, large CP companies are more dependent on a third party ecosystem which delivers a ‘patchwork’ of insights across multiple brands and markets. Hundreds of millions are spent by the big players globally on traditional market research which has proven limitations. To compound matters, a lack of central ownership and management of the insight (never mind the data) leads to vast potential for duplication of effort, minimal scaling, and a limited shelf life.

There are isolated examples of big CP companies starting to explore new approaches to social consumer insight generation,  following pioneering examples of social media ‘command centres’ by brands such as Gatorade. P&G has made a long term commitment to building a Teradata insight capability; Coke’s leveraging of online communities for topical content opportunities is a pillar of its 2020 vision. However, no-one has cracked the value question at scale. Without understanding how insight can be embedded across the business, these command centres risk becoming little more than glorified data visualisation hubs.

Getting the right insight to the right internal stakeholders

This is one of the key challenges for deriving value from an investment in a centralised analytics service. The value generated by insight lives or dies by timely delivery to the right people empowered to act on it, but the current ‘who gets what’ for insight is dictated by brand, function and (with senior leadership) reporting lines, rather than directed by business value. The key is recognising the huge potential for applicability / scalability of the insights developed.  Insights generated could be of interest to multiple end users – but what is often missing is the carrot (and stick) for collaboration. In fact, many organisations’ top-line KPIs actively encourage siloed working, with no mandate from senior leadership to act otherwise. The missing carrot is often a clear (and tailored) articulation of business value by function which would move insights from ‘quite interesting’ to ‘vital to my work’.

Answering ‘demand moments’ to demonstrate value

In order to articulate the value to different internal groups, organisations must tie insight capabilities back to different functions and their as-is ‘demand moments’ or points of need. In many cases, the same analytical capabilities can serve points of need across functions, but with stark differences in context and frequency. Some internal stakeholders need an on-demand model which enables ad-hoc daily or weekly access, whereas others only require updates on a campaign-specific basis, and others still on an annual basis, to inform strategy and planning. Understanding these various consumption models can lead to development of a ‘menu’ of services which can draw upon the same set of tools and capabilities for a tailored service with economies of scale.  

Real-time insight requires real change

One of the main challenges facing companies looking to invest in a consumer insight capability is how to model the shape of the value across different functions, and the organisational change required to deliver in those areas of greatest value.

This change required can be substantial in large organisations with deeply embedded ways of working. Marketing organisations will need to completely rethink their planning processes and be willing to embrace a more responsive approach to consumer engagement.  What use are real-time insights if they are only influencing an 18-month content calendar? 
The shift in marketing ways of working – in skills, in KPIs, in departmental structure – is arguably a much bigger challenge than the technology, and one which many organisations overlook in their race to have access to the next big thing.

In summary, here are three key considerations for those of you looking to build a social-led consumer insight capability:

  1. Demonstrate the value, shifting the perception of insight from ‘quite interesting’ to ‘vital to my work’
  2. Foster new ways of working with delivery of value. The tool is not the whole solution!
  3. Manage the change responsively, giving processes and services room to evolve.