Extensive research from TNS proves that social media and search data can accurately predict the results of brand tracker surveys months in advance. The implications for market research are enormous.
Marketers: the future is ready for you now
by Kirk Ward, TNS
In an ideal world, nobody would ask a market researcher to tell them what their brand equity was a month or two ago. Neither would they ask to know the thoughts and feelings only of people who were prepared to spend time answering questions. Marketers want a full picture of what’s really happening to their brand, right now. And they want to know in time to do something about it. Yet that’s not what they currently get.
It’s true that backward-looking, inevitably unrepresentative surveys are better than nothing when it comes to understanding your brand equity and making plans to manage it. However it’s vital that both marketers and researchers remember that traditional brand trackers are inherently a ‘make do’ solution. Our industry has been waiting its whole life for something better to come along. Now something better has arrived.
The next generation of tracking is ready
For as long as ‘big data’ has been doing the rounds as a concept, there’s been the promise of using social media and search content to provide an instant, realtime snapshot of what consumers are saying, thinking and feeling. The potential is obvious: you have access to a full range of unfiltered opinions about your category or brand that respond to events as they happen. They provide you with insights that are inherently actionable, in a timeframe that lets you do something about them. It helps too that mining the potential of search and social data is likely to be more cost-effective than enlisting an army of researchers to stop people in the street, call them on the phone or ping them with online surveys.
However, there have been plenty of understandable concerns about the real capability of search and social to perform the brand tracker role. On the one hand, the sheer noise of all the tweets, posts, updates and searches on the web makes isolating those that actually mean something to a particular brand look like a Herculean task. On the other, that megalith of social media and search content isn’t itself fully representative. Not everybody embraces social media with enthusiasm – what of the significant number of people who prefer to express their feelings and opinions the old-fashioned way? Do social media loudmouths who tweet 30 times a day inevitably outweigh those who restrict themselves to an hour or so of social media time in the evenings?
Representativeness has always been a central concern of researchers. However, if we are honest with ourselves, it’s a concern only because it affects our ability to predict the future accurately. We’re not in this business to give everyone an equal chance to have their say; we’re in it to reveal the real situation in as rapid and efficient a way as possible. The acid test isn’t whether search and social data captures the views of every single consumer out there; it’s whether we can accurately predict changes in brand equity on the basis of the consumers it does capture. In an exhaustive series of studies covering 61 brands across a broad range of categories, TNS has proven that we can.
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