Last month I talked about traditional customer information purchases. I discussed how these large databases of U.S. prospects and households help marketers target the most likely prospects and how this business is changing. Another profound change impacting the data purchasing industry is that organizations’ hunger for transactional and behavioral information is spilling outside of their walls. Organizations are looking for other behavioral information to triangulate hypotheses, identify segments and needs, and verify brand attributes. And this information may not always be found within their own systems. Most likely it exists on other Web sites, partners’ systems or social networks. Last year, I discussed in this column the way firms were aggregating information from Internet service providers to help industries understand how their Web site was functioning versus their competitors. They were able to rank themselves regarding traffic patterns, understand which products were being viewed versus competing products or understand how their own product launches and their competitor’s were resonating in the marketplace. The new twist on aggregating Internet behavior is the penetration of social networking and feedback sites. These sites allow people to provide feedback on products and services, and allow consumers to interact with like-minded people in order to receive recommendations from the right people.

Unsolicited Primary Research Data

Social networking sites are providing an avenue for dialog between consumers and any interested party. Through blogs, feedback and other postings, individuals are commenting on any and all things - from hotels to the iPhone. As organizations increasingly leverage their online capabilities to involve customers in product development and improvement, this type of information will increase exponentially. Marketers are hungry for this type of unsolicited primary research data that takes customers out of the focus group or survey scenario. The information that can be obtained from these types of sites includes:

  • Feedback regarding product satisfaction,
  • Feedback regarding current marketing and advertising promotions,
  • Understanding preferences for different product or service categories,
  • Understanding preference drivers for different customer types,
  • Understanding the attributes customers assign to your brand,
  • Understanding the customer-perceived attributes of your brand that differentiate you from your competitors,
  • Understanding the customer-perceived attributes of your brand that you share with your competitors,
  • Understanding which attributes are most important, and
  • Comparing customer feedback on your product versus competitive products.

This information provides a customer viewpoint of your brand, products and services that is hard to collect otherwise. Text mining your own customer service information may be a proxy, but it is error-prone based on whether the customer service agent has added their own interpretation of various comments. These are usually complaint-oriented and not truly product feedback. This information can be baked into segmentation models which can drive targeted advertising. As advertising becomes a prevalent method of revenue generation on these types of sites, ads can be tailored to the types of implied preferences by participating customers. This information can be used to tailor search results by including preferences as an input, tailor or test new messaging and start competitive campaigns.


The other aspect of these social sites provides insight into who the true influencers are. If you ask anyone about customer value, they will tell you that influential value is a big part of the equation, basically, the measurement of how influential a customer is regarding other customer’s purchases. If Oprah recommends a product, you know you are going to get a boost in sales. If you ask anybody how you might measure influence, you’ll probably get a blank stare. Leveraging information created by these new social sites, vendors are now creating models and algorithms to understand which customers are the leaders and which customers are the followers. This information will further help with targeted advertising and direct marketing communications. Firms may communicate with influencers to receive product feedback or offer special services and discounts. This information could allow marketers to try to influence the influencers. Research continues to show that most people trust personal contacts or recommendations by like-minded people over corporate advertisements. The new world of social networking has opened up a brand-new avenue for segmentation, targeting and customer feedback. This opportunity should provide a larger, less controlled, deeper set of customer feedback than surveys, focus groups or other traditional primary research methods. Companies are taking this information and creating a brand index to show the preference drivers communicated by customers for industries like hotels. Consumers and brand managers can compare their product versus their competitors regarding brand attributes, consumer preference drivers, interest and loyalty, and identify who in a social network is swaying the crowd.

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