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    The Conversation

    consumer insights

January 24, 2017

What Social Listening Tools Don’t Tell You (That Conversation Research Does)

If there is one core reason the Conversation Research Institute exists it is that social listening tools only collect and represent data. They don’t analyze it. Try all you might, but you will never get an algorithm to produce 100% reliable insights from counting things. It’s the human processing of the counted things that results in usefulness of that data.

Case in point: The topic analysis of social listening tools. What this feature does in most softwares designed to “listen” to online conversations is count keywords. Topic analysis are often presented in word clouds. We prefer to look at them in terms of pie charts so there’s a more natural understanding of the volume of that particular topic in relation to the whole.

Here’s an analysis of specific “Dislikes” around Kentucky Fried Chicken I conducted in 2012. This is very much like the topics chart that a social listening platform would produce. You can see that 30% of the negative conversations mention “chicken,” eight percent mention “chip,” and so-on. (Note: Because this was produced from an automated topic analysis, the keywords it counted and collected are raw and what was present online in the conversation at that point in time.)

Topic Analysis Example - KFC

But looking at this you only know that these keywords were present or popular in those conversations. You don’t know the critical, insight-producing answer, which is to the question, “Why?”

When you perform conversation research, even if you do it using automated tools, you dig a layer or two down to uncover that answers. So here’s a look at Olive Garden’s negative themes from that same research in 2012. We broke out the negative theme of “Taste” to show that the qualifiers … leading to the answer of “Why?” … include Nasty, Disgusting and Like Shit. There’s also Bland, Gross, Like Microwaved Food and Weird.

Topic Analysis - Olive Garden

So we can now apply more specific context around why people who didn’t like the taste of Olive Garden. Drilling down yet another level, to analyze the mentions of “Nasty” or “Disgusting” to see if there are specific menu items, specific reasons or perhaps even specific locations where those qualifiers emerged, we may uncover insights that inform Olive Garden’s business.

The point here is certainly not to pick on KFC or Olive Garden. These charts were produced in 2012 using automatic theme analysis. Chances are, the results today would be very different. But the automatic theme analysis is the key point to consider. At Conversation Research Institute, we insist on human analysis to break down the “Why” and offer more concrete insights to help your brand.

While a few researchers can’t possibly analyze hundreds of thousands of conversations manually, our process is a two-step one for larger conversation sets. We first isolate posts we consider to be the voice of the consumer. That definition changes slightly depending on the client and project at hand. Once we have filtered out posts that do not fit that definition, if necessary, we sample at rates much higher than traditional research sampling standards.

The bottom line is this: If you are relying on machines to spit out insights, you are being tricked into thinking charts and graphs are insights. There’s a big difference in counting (to get the what) and analyzing (to get the why).

Let us help uncover more about the voice of your consumer. Drop us a line today for an introductory discussion.

December 22, 2016

How Conversation Research Supports Traditional Advertising

An advertising agency friend recently challenged me that conversation research isn’t relevant to traditional advertising. “We focus on print, radio and TV, so that online stuff isn’t a primary concern.” Yes, I laughed and performed a hearty shaking of my head.

“So when consumers see those advertisements, what do you think they do next?” I replied.

“They either buy or they don’t.”

More furious head shaking.

“No, they go online to research. They talk to friends to see if someone knows more about that brand or has experience with them. They look for validation. In fact, I would argue that the online conversation is more important to purchase consideration than your ad in the first place (though they go hand-in-hand and one isn’t likely without the other).

So he asked me to prove conversation research would support traditional advertising. Even in a three-month-old company, I had a case study.

We were approached recently by a high-end home and lifestyle brand who had some suspicions about their advertising campaign. They didn’t think their messaging around quality and style was really resonating with consumers. Their campaign was developed on assumptions, not assertions and they felt like they’d guessed wrong.

So we analyzed what consumers were saying about their brand — when they turned to the social web to find out more about it — and discovered the brand’s suspicions were correct. The buying decision topics that emerged were almost completely focused on price. There were no (as in zero) conversations discussing quality and style.

Now, the presence of topics (or lack thereof) doesn’t an insight make. Deeper conversation research could yield more understanding of why. Were style and quality assumptions? Did those decision points even matter? Were they simply too high priced for consumers to focus on anything else?

All of those questions made for a great follow-up research project.

The point to my friend was to say that conversation research supports traditional advertising many ways. Some include:

  • Validating assumptions made without adequate consumer research
  • Confirming consumer talking points about the product to focus one’s messaging
  • Discovering tangential topics or qualities resonating with consumers the brand isn’t aware of
  • Uncovering audience segments for better targeting that fall outside the brand designation of its target

And there’s more.

So how’s your advertising doing? Are you happy with the results? Does your messaging resonate with your audience? How do you know?

If you don’t, we can help. Drop us a line and we can chat about how.

November 16, 2016

Understanding your audience with conversation research

There’s a spirits brand we’re familiar with at the Conversation Research Institute, not because they’re a client, but they’re a favorite for us when we break for a drink at the end of the week. Their marketing is not unlike other sprits brands in their category. It’s focused on tradition, heritage and quality. It’s aimed at men and of a particular status in life.

Honestly, you could take one of about two dozen brands in this category and put them in the same advertisements or even social media posts and, generally, the communications would work.

But we did some snooping around the conversation about the brand and found something interesting. The professions of the people who talk about the brand don’t exactly align with who the brand thinks they’re talking to.

Over the course of two months time, almost one fourth of the authors talking about the brand online listed themselves as artists. While certainly more research needs to be done to determine what type, what gender, how serious and the like, if you are targeting your messaging at male executives, does this data not give you pause?

Yes, 15 percent of the authors talking about the brand fall into the executive label. But the labels of “artist” “teacher” and even “journalist” add up to almost half of the online conversations about your brand, don’t you think segmenting and targeting them could result in more, bigger or better?

Conversation research isn’t just about finding sentiment and tone. It’s about uncovering insights about your brand that help you make critical marketing and business decisions. This particular brand of spirit is missing out on a huge content marketing or even targeting paid spend potential if they aren’t paying attention to the data that conversation research can unearth.

More can be had for your brand. Let us know if we can help.

October 10, 2016

Diet soda buzz is flat, but so are listening standards

As I write this, I’m on day nine without drinking diet soda. This coming from someone who has probably averaged 6-12 cans of soft drink per day since childhood. And no, I’m not exaggerating.

The caffeine withdrawal headaches are gone, but I still don’t like drinking water all the time, though I do feel a bit lighter and healthier, which was the point.

While I jokingly said when I started this process that the sales and marketing teams at Diet Pepsi were in for a rough fall wondering why their Louisville, Ky., volume just disappeared, it seems I may be the least of their concerns.

Engagement Labs released a report last week of soft drink brands that shows a surprising decline in online and offline conversations about diet sodas. Their report claims consumer’s passion for diet soda has “gone flat” but that people are still talking about their love for sugared soft drinks more than ever.

Engagement Labs combines online conversation research, like that I am a part of at the Conversation Research Institute, with person-to-person discussions in focus group form. They combine those two scores into what they call a “TotalSocial” tool and present a baseline score to compare brands.

While all the details of how the score is formulated are certainly proprietary, if you assume all are scored on the same measurement system, the results are intriguing.

 

Coca-Cola is the standard bearer of the soda world, as you would expect, scoring a 50 on the TotalSocial scale. The industry average is around 40. Diet Mountain Dew and Diet Coke are the only two low-calorie options that hit that 40 mark, the rest are below. Diet Pepsi (30), Coke Zero (31) and Diet Dr. Pepper (36) are at or near the bottom of the list.

The main concerns or topics Engagement Labs points to as reasons? Health concerns about sugar and artificial sweeteners, the push for natural ingredients and backlash to recent formula changes by some brands. Engagement Labs offers the opinion that soda brands need to find ways to drive positive consumer engagement for their diet soft drinks the way many do for their sugary brethren.

Of course, Engagement Labs is a marketing company with what looks like a subscription-based measurement tool trying to hook a brand or two as a client, too.

When I see data like this, I’m certainly interested. Looking at how one company, agency or tool ranks and qualifies social media data is always interesting. My skeptic brain kicks in and tries to punch holes in the methodology.

While I don’t know a lot about Engagement Labs’s approach (maybe they’ll chime in and enlighten us in the comments), my skepticism tells me they’re likely using some mass social media scan using a listening platform without appropriate disambiguation. But that’s balanced by the fact that claim to also offer focus group-esque person-to-person interviews. And those require some work and often offer much more valid responses as the questions can be directed.

We don’t really have an industry standard for analyzing and understanding online conversations.

What these reports and surveys typically lead me to, however, is that we don’t really have an industry standard for analyzing and understanding online conversations. Each tool brings in its own volume of online conversations and the volumes never match. NetBase might show 380,000 mentions of a brand while Crimson Hexagon shows 450,000, Brandwatch 145,000 and Radian6 something completely different.

This is why CRI takes a tool agnostic approach. We’d rather assume that sampling enough from each and pulling together an aggregate survey of the online conversation space gives us meaningful data. At least more meaningful than what any one tool offers.

And certainly one that I can defend to clients who won’t then drive me to drink (Diet Pepsi) again.

For more on how the Conversation Research Institute can help you uncover insights about your customers or brand, give us a call or drop us a line.

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