Marketing Research and the Rise of the Social Machines

I recently had the pleasure of providing a guest post for the AMA – American Marketing Association’s Marketing Research Conference held last week. These are times of transformation for an industry reputed to see the world through a rear-view mirror rather than drive marketing innovation. With this in mind, here are some further musings:
Mobile and the Generation ‘Effect’: Verizon just announced it is exiting the land line business by 2012. This gives credence to what some telecom industry analysts have been suggesting – the general public will have completely disconnected from land lines by 2020. Most consumers aged 16-29 currently do not have a landline subscription and are one of the most difficult target markets to contact for survey research. If you think your teenage son or daughter are hard to reach because of their preoccupation with mobile devices and the Internet, just imagine how mobile the world will be in 5, 10, 20 years. It’s quite possible that some market segments will only being reachable via a social site or mobile device; with portability or ‘go anywhere computing’ a term once coined by IBM, it will be difficult to ascertain whether or not the target respondent is actually based in a specific geographic location or physical market.

Brand Community Building: While some say “the consumer now controls the brand”, brands have commissioned companies such as Communispace to establish brand communities – online aggregations of consumers who have a specific loyalty, interest and adherence to a brand. Communispace has built over 300 online brand communities for clients such as HP, Kraft, Reebok, Starwood, and GSK. Brands use communities for direct feedback on product experience, innovation, service ideas, and value augmentation, allocating dollars that would normally go to marketing research budgets.

The complexity of business challenges will be augmented by the emergence of Owned Platforms. Owned Platforms, essentially a form of private label media, is moving the locus of brand management and control back to the brand. Procter & Gamble provides a great example of this with the multi-platform launch of Rouge Magazine www.rougemagazine.com. According to a recent report by WARC, P&G is also launching Supersavvyme,  a digital place for “savvy” mothers to gather. This Owned Platform will feature articles, blogs, discussion forum and special offers. In fact, P&G has put the ‘freemium’ concept on its ear by offering choc-a-block assortments of coupons and offers, a notable feature of the free Rouge quarterly.

Social Media Monitoring (SMM) Platforms: Five years ago the marketing research industry scoffed at such listening platforms. The biggest objection I heard was that social media monitoring “wasn’t market research.”  This would have been like saying that digital advertising wasn’t true advertising since it did not use traditional creative, media and pricing models. SMM Platforms will continue to grow in terms of capabilities, scope, cost and business applications. Back in 2003 there were less that a dozen viable SMMs in business; today there are over 50, at that is just in the US alone — and clients are buying their services with monies previously allocated to traditional survey-based research.

Many of the world’s largest and most well known brands are going digital in a large way – Coca-Cola, Ford, Dell and Lufthansa, are already there and leading the way; many others are migrating in that direction. In response, agency networks are reshuffling the deck. WPP, Omnicom, Publicis for example have acquired significant digital capabilities.  All are using social media applications to ‘sense and respond’ to customer requirements at times bypassing traditional marketing research as the need for “real time/on demand” consumer feedback grows.

These challenges also touch many related professional services including business intelligence and management consulting. Taking an ‘Outside-In view’, that of our the client, similar challenges exist at the functional and execution levels. The silver lining for marketing research in all this is the opportunity to take an active role in providing a foreword view for the brand. This means being a catalyst in the convergence of digital technology and marketing and placing innovation and invention at the forefront – Ted Morris ©4ScreenMedia

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