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Is social media all the market research you need?

In Mike Moran’s recent post, he pointed out that digital marketing is more about understanding marketing than it is about being a technology expert.  I could not agree more.  One certainly needs to understand the basics of marketing to be successful in digital marketing.   But, I would like to take this argument even further, understanding marketing is necessary but not sufficient.  It is all about understanding customers and their wants, needs and values.   Market research rocks!

In the fast-paced world we live in, carefully constructed research that focuses on identifying customer underlying needs and enables segmentation has largely fallen out of favor.   In our service economy, it is very easy to create new offerings and use digital media to establish a brand, put out messages, create buzz, etc.  The cost of entry is minimal and digital marketers have gotten good at using sophisticated tactics to reach their targets.  But, I am concerned that we sometimes lose sight of why things fail.  Even the most innovative products and the most sophisticated digital marketing campaigns  will fall short if at the end of the day they do not satisfy some basic or perceived need or are out of tune with prevailing norms and values.  Yes, we can tune in and listen to the chatter.  But do we really understand what our clients need? And do we take the time to do post mortems and understand what went wrong when we do not succeed?  Or, as I suspect, do we simply go on to the next new thing?

English: A business ideally is continually see...
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As we move further into a world where digital has replaced paper and online search terms have replaced 30 second TV ads, have we forgotten some of the basics?   It we only listen to the on-line  chatter might we miss the opportunity to fulfill desires that are not expressed?  And, are we failing to get the kind of insights or feedback we need?

At the end of the day, I think it is about balance.  I have seen companies eliminate brand tracking and customer loyalty studies because they believe they can find out what they need online.  Web analytics are important tools, but they do not necessarily tell us why.  Is a customer that reads your blog or clicks on your site necessarily a loyal customer?   The digital world is full of metrics and on-line behavior tracking.  What motivates that behavior is a little more difficult to discern.

So, while I am not advocating that everything be learned through one-way mirrors or phone-based surveys, I do propose that the right tools be employed to gain insights about current and potential clients.  The best of all worlds might be to pair the two types of data so that one can understand how online behaviors correlate with attitudes, satisfaction and loyalty.   In this way, one could, for example, understand the behavioral pattern of customers who are considering defection and develop a strategy to prevent them from departing.   Too often, we act only after they have already gone when it is too late.

Insights can come from online tools and communities.  But they can also come from analyzing data by segment or from simply asking why.  And, while old-fashioned, surveys, ideation sessions and focus groups may actually turn out be good investments, “Build it and they will come” might work well in the movies, but it never was a great marketing concept!

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