This is a guest post from Jeni Chapman, EVP Harris Interactive Global Brand and Communications Consulting.
Brands must listen to consumers.
Of course, that's easier said than done. The number of places online where consumers voice their opinions is growing at a dizzying place--thanks to social media.
For instance, from January 2008 to July 2010, adoption of Facebook increased from 65 billion page views per month to approximately three trillion page views per month. The number of companies with Facebook pages has grown, too. Currently 1.5 million businesses have active pages on Facebook; 20 million people become fans of Facebook pages every day.
A recent Harris Interactive poll found that 60 percent of consumers on social networks say they know what's going on in friends' lives even though they do not personally interact with those friends. More than two in five Americans said they prefer social media to face-to-face interaction with acquaintances.
What does all of this mean?
Your audience is online--via their computers, mobile phones, tablets, et cetera--and they're talking. Sometimes, they're talking about you. So, the question becomes: How do we know when to listen to consumers and when not to?
"Mad Men" and the Gap ignite chatter online
Take two recent examples of brands that received a significant amount of attention in social media circles for their marketing efforts. One is the Unilever "Mad Men" campaign--a series of ads that included iconic brands Dove, Breyers, Hellman's, Klondike, Suave, and Vaseline. The second case is the social media tumult, which resulted in Gap retracting their new launched logo in fewer than five days.
In the first case, Unilever picked the second episode in the fourth season of "Mad Men" to launch the campaign, which is akin to an advertising miniseries. According to an Advertising Age article from August, "The first reactions from viewers and bloggers [to the Dove campaign] haven't been positive, with some complaining about how the ads too closely mimic the show."
With the Gap logo launch, there was the same outcry, along with numerous call outs and protests posted on the company's Facebook page and on Twitter. And yet, 80 percent of consumers said they had no idea the logo had changed, according to survey of 1,000 consumers that was commissioned by Ad Age.
One post noted: "Gap may have been quick to react to the outcry of a smaller, yet louder demographic. Social media is a great tool, but can amplify the voices of a smaller, more vocal group. The question is whether their voice represents the opinions of Gap's larger target market segment."
As someone who helps clients use research to inform their branding decisions and amplification decisions, I decided to use data that we have through our Harris Poll Research Lifestreaming Panel to answer the question, "How do we know if what we are hearing represents the opinions of your target customers?"
First, we looked to confirm if real people (that is, people who aren't bloggers, marketers, and brand fanatics) were talking about each marketer's perceived misstep.
Here's the thing about Harris's data: It collects these conversations from real people.
We not only collect comments that are publicly available on places like Twitter and Facebook, but through our panel we can yield the brand dialogues on these sites that are not publicly available. Since most people are talking on Facebook with their friends and family--but not necessarily posting comments, writing blogs, or giving reviews--we are able to explore and deliver insight based on the real postings of everyday people.
By virtue of being panel based, we can profile these dialogues by demographics such as sex, age, income, region, and brand loyalty among other targeting metrics.
Crunching the numbers
In the case of "Mad Men," we had extensive posts about the show, but only one post concerned the Unilever ads. Essentially, we identified that all the conversation about this topic in social media was not by typical consumers; real people were not talking about the ads with family or friends. (See chart below.)
Gap was a different story. We noticed that there was a spike in conversations during the logo launch, and that chatter was related specifically to the logo. The sentiment was negative overall. (See chart below.)
On the other hand, we quantified that while specific comments about the logo increased, the comments around the logo debacle represented only 16 percent of all conversation about Gap in the month of October.
Question is: Were those posts representative of their target market? (See chart below.)
Chart 3 shows that more than 40 percent of commenters were 35 years of age and older and that 29 percent were 25 to 34. Only 12 percent were from the Gap's core target market of 18 to 24 year olds.
We know that groupthink exists. It is a well documented phenomenon: If everyone is attacking something, people will feel freer to adopt that point of view and vice versa. So, managing a brand by the whims of the crowd is not a long-term strategy (hey, just think how well that worked for the French Revolution).
In the case of Gap, we noticed that the company heard the outcry of many customers that "were" rather than "are." We saw there was a segment of people that were talking about the logo, but it was by no means everyone. Those who were talking were both vocal and loud--a testament to the historical equity of the brand--but the outcry was from many people that are not part of their core target market of today.
3 important lessons
Maybe the whole thing was about reaching out to their customers of yesterday and bringing them back into the franchise? Only time will tell, but we can take away four lessons on how to use social media--or rather social intelligence--to inform marketing and branding decisions:
1. Listen. But make sure you know the magnitude.
2. Determine if those talking about your brand or product actually represent your core franchise; the voices of the "connected" or loyal consumer are important but may not always represent your wider customer group.
3. Create a two-way dialogue with those who talk about your brand; dive deeper to understand what is driving their opinions. At the risk of stating the obvious, have them come along the journey with you and use research that is socially intelligent to gather input.