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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