Market Research 3.0 Is Here (via @FastCompany)

By Kevin Randall  

This is the marketer's and researcher's dream. Reconciling the natural tensions that challenge and befuddle brand planning:
  • Feelings & Facts
  • Sentiments & Statistics
  • Qualitative & Quantitative
  • Focus Groups & Surveys
  • Subjective & Objective
  • Why & What
  • Art & Science
I'll admit, when I first heard about Google, Facebook, and Nielsen studying, decoding and monitoring language and chatter on the Web and "listening to conversations," the consumer part of me got a little bit of the creeps (Big Brother idea).

On the other hand, the market researcher part of me was excited about all of the possibilities. Market research has been stale for a while. Everyone knows about the limitations of the traditional focus group and survey. Do group respondents even tell the truth in an artificial setting where they are served finger sandwiches and paid $100? How can the group think be weeded out to get a real picture of the market? Are the right people answering online surveys? Are panelists professional survey respondents or representative customers?

The explosion of social media channels has the potential to revolutionize market research. New social media-based studies can be conducted more cheaply and efficiently, in real-time and may more accurately capture individual and group opinions. Companies are already mining the words, tones, streams and demographics of social media consumers for their own purposes. User data is deconstructed and then constructed into a picture on brand attitudes, market needs and social habits.

This field is in the early stages of development and there appears to be an overlap and competing terminology among: Sentiment Analysis, Social Media Analysis & Monitoring, Listening, Opinion Mining and Brand Monitoring, to name some.

Sentiment Analysis uses natural language processing (see Google Wave), computational linguistics and text mining to identify the attitudes among writer(s)/speaker(s) on a particular topic.

Companies and brands are interested in using the data to understand how they and their products are perceived and to help predict future developments and market trends.

Bo Pang, a Yahoo researcher and Sentiment Analysis pioneer, identifies three areas for measurement: polarity (positive/negative feelings); intensity; and subjectivity.

More sophisticated service providers include Newssift (Financial Times), Scout Labs, Nielsen Buzz Metrics and Jodange. Twitter and Twitter-based offerings also play in the field.

Sentiment Analysis has the potential to transform not only marketing research but also areas from search to public relations to product development.

But the practice is far from a perfect science.

Computer deciphering of word meaning is not always accurate and tone can be completely missed. Even the leading vendors acknowledge that the data is 70-80% reliable. For example, we may know that the phrase "quite interesting" means one thing in America, another in Britain, but the computer would see the same meaning. Note some of the long-standing issues with voice recognition technology.

There are questions about how robust or representative the data is. Are a brand's tweeters the key WOM influencers or are they just a small vocal segment?

Some brands and products may be under the radar for this technology. Yes we love to chat about Apple but are we prolific, public and passionate, blogging and tweeting away about Charmin or business insurance?

There are conflicting approaches, metrics and offerings; over time a common Microsoft, Google, Nielsen type platform may emerge.

We also need to look at social media as just a channel in the consumer experience mix, and Sentiment Analysis as just a market research tool that is part of a bigger research mix; in-person research and surveys for all their shortcomings offer benefits that social media research cannot duplicate. (even aside from the M&Ms and two-way mirrors!)
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