OPINION7 September 2015

Using social to fast forward to the future


Gathering insight from social data may require organisations to adopt new approaches but they can’t afford to be left behind warns TNS’s Rosie Hawkins.


The value of market research has often been called into question, with critics pointing out the drawbacks of cost, long lead times and the ‘rear view mirror’ approach. Major changes in the industry are however enabling market research to reassert its importance as a powerful decision-making tool for marketing teams.

The internet, social media, big data; all of these developments are accelerating change and creating an environment in which brands need to act fast or be left behind. As Jacobs and Ordahl (Landor) have put it, “today, brands must live in the rough and tumble of the streets”.

To survive in this new environment, marketers need insights that help anticipate potential shifts in consumer preferences and the marketplace, to guide efficient business planning and investment decisions. Access to new information and technologies makes this possible. Social media and search data forms the basis of a predictive spine that predicts changes in consumer attitudes before they even materialise. These results are delivered months ahead of survey data in time for marketers to actually do something about it.

What does this mean in practice? This allows marketers to look ahead and to see that a decline in brand equity is likely to happen. Or, that the future looks good. If it is the former, the team can intervene and take action to mitigate risks. If it is the latter, they can stick with the current strategy or seek to amplify the drivers of success.

That same social media data can be explored to provide analysis of campaigns and product launches.  As well as the customary volumetrics and impact measures, we can map the campaign as it traverses different social media networks providing rich learnings on how to better plan and execute campaigns.

Mobile enables us to ask people closer to the moment what they have done, bought or seen. This not only gets over the issues of faulty memory but delivers a far more granular view of consumer behaviour.

Add this to mobile’s ability to access hard to reach communities or demographics traditionally under-represented in research, and we have a marked improvement in data accuracy.

Such intimate market knowledge can bring about real change within client organisations and create a powerful source of competitive advantage.

While all of this brings exciting new opportunities, there are also challenges be addressed, for instance, the ‘microscope vs telescope’ dilemma. There is a balance to strike between the strategy (based on a longer-term view of category and consumer dynamics – the telescope) and taking quick, reactive advantage of specific opportunities or disruptions in the market (the microscope). Marketers need to be truly agile as too much focus on real-time marketing risks losing the bigger picture. 

There is also the huge organisational challenge of adopting new approaches, as it can be hard and time-consuming. Some teams may feel they just don’t have the capacity and resources to deal with real-time information.

But there is no alternative. Ignore change and risk falling behind while others use forward-looking market knowledge to create a commanding source of competitive advantage.

While it may be a leap into the unknown, access to this kind of information ushers in a new and exciting era for marketing teams. Instead of looking over your shoulder, preempt the risks and opportunities before they even arise.

Rosie Hawkins, global head of brand & communication, TNS

1 Comment

6 years ago

Great article Rosie, I love the way you balance the excitement of access to new data with the realities of the challenges that will be faced by organisations initially in implementing change. The only layer I would add is that social data needs to be accurately collated and categorised, especially from a sentiment and relevance perspective, so that organisations can make solid decisions based off the insights gleaned.

Like Report